By Andy David
As the UFC continues to be the fastest growing sport in the world thanks to the likelihood of highlight reel knockouts and submissions, it’s Artaudian nature, and a helping hand from the likes of Conor McGregor; what thought goes out the roster of 500 fighters currently employed by the UFC, but who’s names, personalities and stories go untold? With the disparity in pay between the ‘superstars’ and ‘everyone else’ being in the tens of millions, and recent research revelations in regards to traumatic brain injuries, is the juice worth the squeeze?
Four fights are called off. UFC fighter Michael Chiesa is covered in blood through several lacerations on his face from the impact of the dolly against the shuttlebus window. A UFC employee’s hand is broken. A viral video of one of the most famous athletes alive today circulates of him attacking a rival with a 20-man-strong entourage. President of the UFC Dana White calls it “the most disgusting incident in UFC history”. One should assume that lawsuits, punishment and a potential firing is en route Conor McGregor’s way. He has just almost halved a huge event of its scheduled fights and broken a library’s worth of company rules, as well as the law.
While the NYPD, and the people he injured will most likely see that Conor McGregor is punished in some facet for what he did on Thursday the 5th of April, the UFC will still be booking him for whatever fight he wants. Why? Because he is their biggest money-maker, the poster-boy for the sport; and although what he did was publicly condemned by Dana White, the man’s a promoter, and Conor McGregor has just given him a lot of material to promote a fight with.
A fight that President White could only imagine would probably get a huge amount of attention. A huge amount of attention inevitably leading to more pay-per-view buys. More pay-per-view buys is the business model the UFC thrives on, and rightly rewards. Rewards including but not limited to, not firing you for smashing up the buses – but in fact giving you the fight you were actually trying to make by smashing up the buses.
Unfortunately, these rules don’t apply to everyone. In fact, they only really apply to Conor McGregor to that degree; but a handful of fighters would have an above average leeway with the UFC, due to their popularity or infamy with fans. As of the last ten years, the easiest way for a fighter to do that is through their phone. Jon Morgan, journalist of MMA Junkie said: “Social media is an incredibly direct, incredibly inexpensive way an athlete can help build their brand… the real key to increasing your income as a fighter is making sure people care about watching you fight, whether it be because they love you or hate you.”
Where does this leave, the uncharismatic? The introverts? The stoic and humble even? When in the 18 UFC events held in 2016, 79 fighters earned $20,000 or less. You’re only allowed to fight a certain amount of times a year as goes commission rules in an attempt to stop severe brain trauma happening to an already wounded brain.
“I think the key is to be true to yourself, but just turn that self, up to 11”
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) affects most people in contact sport to varying degrees. Mixed martial arts includes a lot of brain trauma, as an unprotected shin bone, attached to essentially an assassin, connecting with your head is not good news and can happen multiple times in a bout, along with everything else that is available in MMA. According to the Concussion Foundation “In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. Common changes seen include impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia. The best available evidence tells us that CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head sustained over a period of time.” Hmm, a career in fighting anyone?
When talking to Scott McKinnon, of Monstars MMA he said: “Six out of ten cards, (UFC events) there are fighters on them who should really call it a day.” Why do these athletes keep fighting when the majority of them know the dangers they are inflicting upon themselves? Why don’t they as Scott also said: “Leave it on a high”? Well, the inconvenient truth here is that they have to keep fighting far past where they should as they need to pay the bills. As the majority of the roster don’t have the personalities needed to be famous, the purse they receive throughout their career after they’ve paid for trainers, sparring partners (who inflict more traumatic brain injury), and all the other costs of fight camp they aren’t left with much money put away at all. They become the forgotten ones after retirement, potentially broke and brain damaged with a very niche set of skills.
What option is there for fighters up and coming now? John Morgan said on the subject “It’s always going to be a little bit different for each person based on who they are, but I think the key is to be true to yourself, but just turn that self, up to 11. MMA is a fantastic sport, but it is entertainment, as well – and it’s a personality-driven business. When you ask people who their favourite fighters are and why, they rarely answer with discussion of someone’s technique or game. It’s more about who they are and what they represent.” – In short, don’t try and be a gregarious, cocky loudmouth if it doesn’t suit you, but the social media game is as John says “imperative” nowadays, it’s up to fighters to promote themselves whenever the UFC is not.
Conor McGregor hasn’t got the blueprint for exactly how you should act, maybe in fact far from it, but he does have the blueprint for making the juice worth the squeeze. He tweeted in 2013 “Get in, get paid, get out.” What he has done, is spend as little time fighting while making the maximum amount of money he possibly can; earning over $100,000,000 fighting Floyd Mayweather in one boxing match last summer. 36 minutes. $100,000,000. Social media fame and headline-grabbing behaviour seems arrogant and at times thuggish, however bear in mind that these are usually calculated publicity moves hoping to make the tough life of a fighter worth it all, in the end.