UFC MONOPOLY?

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UFC MONOPOLY?
Pride Fighting Championships, World Extreme Cagefighting, Strikeforce - this list reads as a who's who of large scale promotions over the past 10 years or so, all with one thing in common; they were all purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa. Commenting after the acquisition of the Japanese MMA giant Pride, Lorenzo Fertitta (UFC owner) stated that he likened their business plan "to when the NFC and AFC came together to create the NFL"; put in layman's terms as their aim was to create one unified fight league. Over the coming years this statement was arguably proven to be true, as the company drafted in a roster of lighter weight classes from the WEC and cherry picked stars from the talent laden divisions of Strikeforce. Initially, as a fan of the sport, I was excited about the fact that the inter-promotional match ups we'd all debated over could finally be made and we would see the best in the world fighting each other. After all, the sheer mind bending number of boxing organisations with their own individual belts is widely regarded as that sport's downfall in recent times, and I for one was glad to see Mixed Martial Arts avoiding this. However a conversation this weekend with UK MMA veteran and Bellator Fight Master Contestant, Rob Mills, showed this particular issue from a different perspective. "I think the sport is actually going backwards to be honest, where the UFC monopoly is now harming the sport; fans of the UFC have this blind love for the organisation but have no idea. I know guys who have 'made it' to the UFC and still have to work full time jobs just to be able to pay the bills! The money may have been no better in Strikeforce, Pride or WEC but there was 4 times the opportunity to be on a world class show getting paid decent money... Now its either fight for the UFC, or if you don't like it take a pay cut and fight on small regional events." Rob also shed some light on his dealings with Bellator, who are no strangers to controversy surrounding contract issues and claims of fighter's being unhappy. "Bellator (when filming Fight Master) were great with me, good contact and paid for everything I needed, including the flight to LA just for the try-outs." In regards to the criticism aimed at Bellator he said: "If you sign a contract then that's what happens. Guys are singing contracts with Bellator, wanting big fights and exposure, then when the UFC comes calling they want to jump ship. Its unsurprising Bellator say no. They've built you, they want to use you!" Lorenzo Fertitta's vision of the UFC being a 'one stop shop' for all the best fighters in the world is one to be admired and in theory is without doubt the ideal situation for fighters and fans alike; however when money and big business is involved is when things start to complicate. The underlying issue here is fighters do not get paid enough. There are a handful of fighters in the top tier of MMA who's paychecks are proportionate to the amount of work and sacrifice that goes into competing within the sport, but the other 95% are underpaid and overworked. The UFC has made some improvements towards the welfare of their fighters by broadening the health coverage they are insured for however the promotion at the end of the day is a business and will always be about maximizing profits. Now of course there is the option of trying to lever a bidding war for your services, between the few promotions out there (à la Gilbert Melendez) however this is a luxury reserved for only those athletes with a big promotional draw and again does not help the guys on the under-card and on the lower end of the pay spectrum. Could a much discussed fighters union be the answer? I'm not so sure, and I think the endless difficulties and problems involved in the conception of such a union would mean it would be years in the making should the idea ever come to fruition. In my opinion the solution to this so called UFC monopoly is in the hands of us, the fans. As spectators we need to support the under-card, preliminary fights. We need to take to social media, using the hash-tags and online forums to talk about these up and coming guys; create a buzz around the awesome fights that happen every single event between fighters who are sometimes scraping a living. If there is one thing that I think the UFC does well, is it listens to its fans therefore the onus is on us to demand these guys get paid more and win the performance bonuses etc. Until this happens, the sport could be losing many talented athletes and future champions to other sports in search of the big bucks. Author: Rob Graham

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