Although heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes has chosen to fight on during the quarantine thanks to UFC's persistence in becoming the first pro sports league to return amid the coronavirus pandemic, the current debate regarding fighter pay is very much on his mind.
Blaydes (13-2, 1 NC), who headlines Saturday's UFC Fight Night card in Las Vegas against Alexander Volkov (31-7), has nothing but respect for the recent public stands taken by star fighters like Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal against UFC president Dana White over pay. Those debates, mixed with sudden retirements from Henry Cejudo and Conor McGregor which have been suspected to be financially motivated, have opened up the floodgates for more current and former fighters to have their voice be heard.
"I'm very proud of the sacrifices they are making and I know that they are putting their careers and paychecks in jeopardy," Blaydes told CBS Sports' "State of Combat" podcast on Wednesday. "I respect what they are doing because we need big names to speak up.
"We do deserve more money. I'm not even trying to be greedy. We are on ESPN now. That is supposed to mean something. We should be able to live the lives of other professional athletes in hockey, baseball, NFL and NBA. I'm not saying we need to make $20 million a fight but top guys like Jon Jones, Jorge, McGregor and those other top guys, they should be making a minimum of $5 million per fight. That should cause a trickle down effect."
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The 29-year-old Blaydes, whose only pro defeats have come to Francis Ngannou, earned an average of just under $167,000 per fight (including win bonuses) over his current three-bout win streak, according to athletic commission reports. He was only guaranteed, however, between $75,000 and $80,000 per fight to show despite headlining a Fight Night card in January and twice co-main eventing cards during that span, including a pay-per-view at UFC 242.
"I don't like seeing guys go into a war against one another where both guys are amazing and are fighting for $12,000 [to show] and $12,000 [to win]," Blaydes said. "It's a little embarrassing. These are top athletes and a lot of them have to have [other] jobs still. If you want this sport to grow, you need to provide more amenities for us as far as training. You can't have guys who are ranked who have to drive for Uber. That's embarrassing."
One of the main issues brought to light by Masvidal was what he feels to be a lack of revenue share from the promotion. According to court filings from a recent anti-trust lawsuit, the New York Post reported in February that UFC paid out just 16% of its $900 million in 2019 revenue to the fighters (during a year that White called the best financially in company history).
A regular refrain from many during the quarantine has been that although the fighters are right in their complaints, it's coming at the wrong time considering White estimates UFC will lose upwards of $100 million in 2020 due to the lack of a live gate.
It's a reality that many experts believe will prevent the promotion from staging super fights this year without the help of a hefty foreign site fee given how unwilling top stars are to fight for less than their used to. For reference, McGregor's return in January at UFC 246 produced a live gate of $11 million.
"I don't want to hear all those excuses, the money is there," Blaydes said. "I don't want to hear the excuses. Even if you just bumped us up to like 29% of revenue, that would be a giant raise for guys. I don't want to hear that. If you don't want to pay us, just say you don't want to give us the money. Just say that and don't make excuses like, 'I don't know where it's going to come from.' It's like, bro, don't do that. Don't disrespect our intelligence like that. We are worth more. If you don't want to pay us, just say that and we can make our own informed decisions.
"It's like you trying to pee on us and calling it rain like we're dumb. I know we get hit in the head a lot but we are not dumb."