Opinion: CM Punk’s Salary Magnifies Fighter Pay Issue

By Andreas Hale Sep 14, 2016

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Well, that went about how we all expected it to go.

Phil Brooks, aka “CM Punk,” finally made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut almost two years after the start of his formal mixed martial arts training. The end result at UFC 203 on Saturday in Cleveland was a one-sided demolition at the hands of Mickey Gall. Most of the MMA community had a laugh at the former pro wrestler’s expense. Then we learned how much he was paid for spending just over two minutes getting beaten down: $500,000. Not so funny now, is it?

There are a few ways that you can look at this, and none of them are favorable to the fighters in the UFC. On one hand, Punk’s debut drew a ton of attention and likely sold a significant amount of pay-per-views. If that’s taken into consideration, a $500,000 payday sounds appropriate. However, if we assume that UFC 203 sold somewhere around 800,000 PPVs and the UFC can pay a fighter with zero MMA experience half a million dollars, doesn’t that mean the rest of the fighters on the card should be raking in more money?

Obviously, nobody paid to see Gall fight. However, there will be a bit more interest in his next fight. Either way, Gall making a disclosed $30,000, his win bonus included, seems like a bit of an insult to the other half of one of the more intriguing fights on the card. To suggest that Gall only deserved 17 percent of what Punk made is ridiculous. More importantly, the idea that Punk made only $100,000 less than UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic sounds absolutely ridiculous and is the reason why more and more fighters are asking for “money” fights.

This isn’t Punk’s fault. He was presented an opportunity to live out his dream on a major stage and was paid a boatload of money to do it. Was he supposed to turn it down for the sake of MMA honor? Punk isn’t the issue here. The issue is the powers that be who allow such an egregious amount of money to be paid out to a man who had a very slim chance at winning.

The UFC never considered Punk to be a top contender. It used him as a vehicle to draw people in. If he never fights in the UFC again, it won’t matter because the hope was that more people than normal would tune into a UFC pay-per-view and new fans would be made. Whether that happened or not remains to be seen. However, to a company that was just sold for $4 billion, a $500,000 investment isn’t so bad.

What does this say about everyone else that fought at UFC 203? All in all, the card was pretty entertaining. Miocic and Alistair Overeem engaged in an exciting, albeit brief, firefight that saw Miocic retain his title in front of a hometown crowd. The card also saw Urijah Faber compete, but the man who may go down as the most popular fighter to never hold a UFC title was paid $160,000 in a losing effort against Jimmie Rivera. Granted, Faber isn’t what he once was. However, getting paid a third of what Punk made is rather insulting to a man who carried World Extreme Cagefighting on his back and remains one of the more recognizable faces in all of MMA.

There’s a money problem in the UFC, and it is only exasperated further when you look at how Punk raked in a hefty payday to live out his dream. In all honesty, he would have probably fought for less. However, he “earned” his check at UFC 203 because the idea is to get people through the door. Whether or not they are entertained doesn’t matter once the money is in hand. Unfortunately, the sideshow took home a lot more money than a longer-tenured UFC fighter.

This is why a fighters union makes sense. It’s not because the fighters are greedy, but checks and balances need to be done. If the UFC can afford to pay someone like Punk half a million dollars, it can definitely afford to cough up a little more cash for the rest of the fighters on the card. They don’t need to be paid Punk money, but they certainly deserve more.

If you want to compare Punk’s payout to someone who was a proven talent and deserved more than what he received, let’s look at what Rory MacDonald earned in his classic brawl with Robbie Lawler at UFC 189: $59,000. That’s $59,000 to get his face broken, $59,000 to put his health on the line and come oh so close to becoming a world champion, $59,000 to be laid up in a hospital bed wondering whether or not he’ll ever be the same again. Oh yeah, Lawler made $300,000 -- $150,000 to show and a $150,000 win bonus -- at UFC 189.

If you put their paydays together, they still don’t make more than what Punk made in two minutes; and that was a title fight. If you look at the main event of UFC 189 between Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes, each made a disclosed $500,000; and UFC 189 likely drew more than UFC 203. It just doesn’t make sense that a 37-year-old man with no experience who just wanted to live out his dream was paid significantly more than most fighters who have dedicated their entire lives to mixed martial arts.

Yeah, we definitely have a problem, and somebody needs to fix it.

Andreas Hale is the editorial content director of 2DopeBoyz.com, co-host of the boxing, MMA and pro wrestling podcast “The Corner” and a regular columnist for Sherdog.com. You can follow on Twitter for his random yet educated thoughts on combat sports, music, film and popular culture.
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