In the past year, two of the UFC’s biggest stars—Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz—have publicly ripped the UFC for the large gap between the UFC’s revenues and fighter pay. There’s been rumblings that many of the UFC’s contracted fighters feel the same way, but aren’t in the same position as Couture and Ortiz to do anything about it. Well, no matter which of those categories Roger Huerta falls into, he’s no longer one of the fighters keeping quiet about it.
In the latest issue of FIGHT! Magazine, Huerta opens up about his dissatisfaction with the UFC and how they treat their fighters.
Huerta is one of a growing number of Zuffa-contracted fighter who feel that there is a disconnection between the company’s success and the way fighters are compensated. Huerta’s disillusionment with the UFC began when he did press tours for his employer in Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, and London and received a $50 per diem for his troubles. It sounds like a a good deal until you factor in time away from training, friends, and family, days often stretch twelve hours or more, and an exchange rate of one UK pound for two American dollars. “Why do you think I don’t do PR for the UFC any more?” he asks.
He’s also unhappy with the terms of his current contract, but to Huerta, the press tours underscore a larger point: by and the large, Zuffa does not treat its contracted fighters with sufficient loyalty or respect. He argues that many UFC fighters barely make enough to cover their training expenses. He brings up teammate Keith Jardine repeatedly, incensed that a main event fighter is working for ten and ten- $10k to show and 10k to win – while his opponent regularly makes ten times as much.
Many people will point to the fact that the UFC offers the fighters exposure that they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily get leading to lucrative endorsement deals. But according to Huerta, those deals aren’t always as good as they’re made out to be.
Huerta’s expression hardens and becomes more animated as talk turns to endorsements. The common counter-argument for complaints about fighter pay is that fighters often make more from endorsements and sponsorships than they do for competing. But Huerta has soured on the system after receiving lowball offers from companies who expect fighters to jump at the chance to endorse products. He rails against a Fortune 500 company for offering a deal to build him as a spokesman that included unpaid work. “Are you serious?” Huerta ask. “I know Dale Earnhardt Jr isn’t doing appearances for free.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. probably isn’t the best comparison considering his popularity is about ten times as much as the most popular fighter in mixed martial arts. However, considering that the fighters are the ones primarily responsible for the UFC’s revenues, the gap between that and what they pay the fighters needs to be much closer than it currently is, regardless of whether a fighter can make $10,000 or $10 million in endorsements.
So what does this mean for Huerta? Is he leaving? Well, he can’t yet since he has two fights left on his current contract. MMAPayout.com suggests if he beats Kenny Florian at UFC 87, Zuffa may sit him out like they did with Andrei Arlovksi. If that happens, Huerta plans on returning to college to finish his degree.
It will be interesting to see how Zuffa reacts to this. Will this get Huerta in hot water with the UFC? Or will they throw a bunch of money at him to shut him up? It’s anyone’s guess at this point, but according to Huerta, he really doesn’t care.
“The truth is, I don’t really care if I fight in the UFC or somewhere else,” Huerta says. The fighter says he understands that Zuffa has to keep an eye on the bottom line, but he wants to work, “For a company that is as loyal to me as I am to them.”
Those who don’t care are always the most dangerous.