Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dollars & Sense - UFC 148 Recap

Chael Sonnen may be a world class mixed martial artist, but his mouth tends to steal the show more often than not.  UFC 148 was no different.  Sonnen’s fight with Anderson Silva was touted as one of the most anticipated fights in UFC history.  Anticipated being the key word. 
Chael’s mouth accomplished some impressive feats leading up to the fight.  It got the normally quiet and humble Anderson Silva to give a surprisingly quotable interview saying he was going to break Sonnen’s teeth.  It got Silva to throw a vicious and now infamous shoulder… at the weigh-ins.  It got Silva’s blood boiling so badly that the two didn’t even do the customary touching of gloves at the onset of the first round. 

Could Chael’s mouth finally have done some good for the fighter’s career in the octagon and throw the seldom-rattled Silva off his game?  Of course not.  Sonnen looked strong in the first round, probably taking it by a slight margin.  The second round was classic Silva.  About two minutes into the second round, referee Yves Lavigne stopped the fight after a dominating flurry of punches and knees.  Silva’s TKO of Sonnen proved that the only thing that may be able to stop Silva at this point is the 37 year olds age.
To give some credit to the American Gangster, Chael Sonnen has been able to point out two of Anderson Silva’s very few weaknesses in their two fights against each other.  1) Silva has the most trouble with wrestlers. It seems that if age doesn’t beat Silva first, a wrestler will.  2) It is possible to get under Silva’s skin (for better or worse).  Judging by the result of Saturday night’s fight, I wouldn’t advise the approach going forward. 
The Dollars
The difference between the appearance fees of the two fighters was a point that I found most interesting.  Naturally, Silva, the middleweight champion going into the fight, earned more than the challenger Chael Sonnen.  The disparity however, is what struck me as interesting.  Silva brought in $200,000 for showing up to the fight.  Sonnen’s contract seemed to be a bit more incentive laden with a $50,000 appearance fee and $50,000 bonus for winning the fight.  Of course, the $250,000 in appearance fees between the two pales in comparison to the reported $2.5 million that Tiger and Phil brought in at this weekend’s Greenbriar Classic (and they both missed the cut!). 

The total appearance fees between the main event fighters Silva and Sonnen weren't even the highest of the night.  Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin combined to bring in $375,000 in appearances fees for their battle and Tito Ortiz’s “final fight” ($250,000 went to Ortiz and $125,000 went to Griffin).  UFC 148 Fighter salary data is from
The Sense
Within the past few years, UFC has been under some scrutiny from fans, fighters and the government from their relatively low fighter pay outs.  The business model that the UFC uses for paying their fighters is heavily structured around incentives.  Fighters fight for bonuses like Fight of the Night and KO of the Night.  Bonuses are typically capped around $70,000. 
The UFC will be an extremely interesting case study to follow into the future because they are blazing their own trail.  Mixed martial arts is most often compared to boxing, but that’s like comparing basketball and football because they are both played with balls.  Amazingly, the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC are still growing in popularity.  However, with growing popularity of a sport comes growing popularity of fighters.  UFC is often complimented on its innovative social media strategies.  As fighters become more and more visible, there has to come a point that fighters want to capitalize big time on their popularity.  Appearance fees have to rise eventually.  I wonder, can the UFC business model absorb rising fighter dollar demands?
One thing is for sure, the UFC has put together an impressive global approach.  The top three fighters in the world are (arguably) Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, and Georges St. Pierre.  Their countries?  Brazil, USA, and Canada respectively.  Although Japan does not have a top fighter right now, the country loves the action just as much.  This diversity at the top levels makes global expansion a demand of the fans, not just a want of the UFC suits (would they be called suits? I’m pretty sure Dana White only wears sport coats). 
Going Forward
In boxing, a majority of the money is with the few top fighters in the world (let’s start a campaign Occupy Boxing).  In MMA, the money is dispersed relatively even.  Boxing and MMA are completely different in the respect that boxing is one perfected discipline, while MMA is a combination of disciplines.  I strongly believe that that inherent difference between boxing and MMA, is why the money will always stay relatively evenly dispersed.  Why?  It is tougher for one person to dominate long enough to make the type of name for them that would command $1 million plus appearance fees.  There are many more factors to success in mixed martial arts. 
Given the UFC’s global business approach, social media presence and their plethora of unique sponsorship/branding opportunities, the Zuffa-owned company is constantly growing.  Appearance fees for fighters will more than likely be growing in the next 3-5 years with the increasing visibility of the sport and personalities alike.  Even though there is the stiff competition that comes naturally to mixed martial arts, is that competition strong enough to retard the growth of fighter appearance fees so that the UFC can absorb the costs?  With the uniqueness of UFC’s product and the tremendous platform they provide in the sports business world, one would have to think so. 
Anderson Silva is one of the few fighters that have been able to build a big name for himself in the UFC.  He kept held onto his middleweight championship belt with a win over Chael Sonnen.  Keep in mind that Silva, possibly the best pound for pound fighter on the planet, did not even have the highest appearance fee of the UFC 148 fighters.  As the UFC evolves, the model for paying the fighters will evolve as well.  Right now the UFC uses contracts with heavy incentives.  When will the fighters’ cries for more guaranteed money be answered?  Only time will tell.
UFC 148 Business Notes
According to, UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2 grossed $6.5 in ticket sales which makes it the highest grossed UFC event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and also puts the event among the top 35 boxing gross gates in the state of Nevada’s history. 
Another salary note, according to, Cung Le earned $150,000 for his appearance while his opponent, Patrick Cote earned $21,000 for his appearance with a $21,000 bonus for winning (he lost). 

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