Former UFC lightweight fighter John Cholish lost to Gleison Tibau via highlight-reel submission at this past Saturday night’s UFC on FX 8 event, but it’s he, not Tibau, that’s the one making headlines today. The New York native abruptly retired from the sport of mixed martial arts following the loss to Tibau — he says he would have retired win, lose, or draw — and has since spoken out against fighter pay in interviews with both MMAjunkie.com and MMAFighting.com. Amongst the concerns voiced by Cholish — who is also a Wall Street energy trader during the day — was the fact that after paying all of his trainers, coaches, and all of his other training camp expenses, he actually made nothing for fighting Tibau this past weekend and it actually cost him to fight, which is absolutely ludicrous when you think about it. Mixed martial artists compete in one of the most dangerous sports on the planet yet their pay doesn’t reflect the risk. Sure, there are fighters like UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and UFC welterweight champion who are raking in seven figures for fights but those fighters are few and far between. The average UFC preliminary card fighter likely makes about $36,000 a year if they fight three times and win all three of their fights at $6000 to show and $6000 to win, a common figure. But if they fight only once a year like Cholish — who makes only $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win — and lose, then they’re making such little money that one could barely call it employment. One thing I would really like for the UFC to do is to institute a minimum salary, which other profesional sports leagues like the NFL, the NBA, MLB and the NHL have. Of course, the minimum salaries in all of those sports is likely half-a-million dollars, but even if the UFC paid something like $10,000 to show and $10,000 to their fighters at a minimum I bet a lot of them would be much happier. Regardless, fighters such as Yuri Villefort — whose contract calls for him to make $4000 to show and $4000 to win — need to be paid better for the entertainment they provide. It’s only fair. Yes, the UFC is its own entity and they can run their company however they choose to run it, but Cholish’s comments are bad publicity and the UFC would be smart to recognize that fans and observers of the sport spent all day today talking about what Cholish said. Although some think that the UFC can do whatever they want and that the fighters should just be happy they have a job, those more sympathetic to the fighters believe that the UFC should raise their salaries and give them a better opportunity to provide for their family. One thing that Cholish said that was interesting is that he believes many fighters are afraid to speak out against the low pay for fear of backlash by Zuffa and I agree with his hypothesis. The UFC is the big dog in town and every fighter wants to be in the big show so when they’re offered a deal — unless they’re a superstar fighter — they often sign on the dotted line with no negotiation since they are afraid to speak out and get cut. It also doesn’t help that there aren’t many good managers for these fighters to turn to for help with contract negotiations. I don’t know if I’m for a union in the UFC but I would like for UFC president Dana White and co. to realize their is a growing concern by their employees that they are underpaid and to fix it by instituting a minimum salary.
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