When the list of fighter-salaries for UFC 139 was released this week one glaring amount stood out among the rest – $350,000. The figure was not attached to headlining legends Dan Henderson or Mauricio Rua, nor fan-favorites Urijah Faber or Wanderlei Silva. Rather, the event-high pay – more than the entire preliminary card combined – went to Cung Le whose astronomical earnings exceeded his peers’ and was on par with the UFC’s biggest stars such as Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre.
The question is, “Why?”
The 39-year old Le is a terrific talent but has done nothing to merit a paycheck as large as the one he took home last Saturday night. Entering his fight with Silva, Le held a 7-1 record, had zero major wins, and was only a single bout removed from being knocked out by one-dimensional gatekeeper Scott Smith. He’d also been out of action for nearly a year-and-a-half since avenging his loss to Smith and had fought a grand total of three times since November 2007.
Not necessarily the credentials of someone making the same base pay as pound-for-pound greats or mainstream draws, are they?
The only logical assumption I can make – and it is just that since the only people who have a true grasp of the involved factors are Le’s management team and Zuffa brass – has to do with the kickboxing ace’s drawing power in the San Jose area where he’s extremely popular, something they may have gambled on in terms of Le having a significant impact on sales given it being his UFC debut and the appeal of a match-up with Silva. However, given that the live gate came in at around $1.27 million with a third of those in attendance receiving complimentary tickets, it seems the effect he had in that department was overestimated to say the least.
My real problem with the situation is not Le’s $350,000 salary since he has every right to make as much money as he can. Rather, what irks me is the message it sends to the rest of the roster similarly to the ridiculous half-a-million James Toney was paid in a one-sided loss to Randy Couture. Guys who bust their asses six days a week for twelve months out of the year in order to succeed as Mixed Martial Artists can only hope to achieve a payday as large as an individual who isn’t fully dedicated to the sport; fighters who compile impressive winning streaks or spend years working their way up through the ranks with comparable, even better, records to Le’s are lucky to crack the six-figure plateau let alone $300,000+ per fight.
It’s time to reward deserving parties and do away with the notion of giving casual competitors an ungodly sum as though they are doing fans some sort of favor by strapping on their gloves before it results in the UFC’s association dreaded “B” word. Not broke. Boxing.
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