On the MMA Hour podcast with Ariel Helwani Aljamain Sterling said he wants to be paid on the level a pro athlete should. Many athletes for various sports don’t get paid enough to make it their full-time job but MMA fighters, a sport that is exploding financially, should have bigger pay increases for fighters.
Sterling is the fifth ranked fighter according to the UFC’s rankings and was only paid $12,000 for fighting Johnny Eduardo and another $12,000 for winning a very exciting fight. Sterling has a 12-0 record, a lively personality, and is in exciting fights, so logically you think he would be getting paid more. However, he was buried on a Fight Pass card featuring Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt, the new UFC darlings.
The UFC has been putting its PR efforts behind Paige-Sage resulting in more money for the two. This puts fighters, deserving fighters like Sterling, on the outside making less than perceived market value.
The UFC is often viewed as the top promotion company and has name value but Sterling had this to say:
Whether it’s Bellator, OneFC, World Series, whatever, the door’s open for me. Financial stability is the most important thing for me. To be in the UFC and have the name but not the earnings, good for you, you get a hand clasp and a shake and a don’t let the door hit you on the way out sort of thing. I want to exit from this sport with my head intact.
Sterling is clearly doing a cost-benefit analysis. MMA is a grinding sport with a huge time commitment and the costs associated may not outweigh the psychic benefits of competing combined with the monetary gain.
This ‘is my shot’ is slowly starting to feel like this ‘was my sho.’ I’m a realist and in doing the math, I will not be able to have a financially stable future if things don’t change. I teach my students to focus on what you can control and the only thing in my control right now is furthering my education and hoping I get my big break into MMA… If you aren’t at the top of the game in your division, count your blessings if you’re able to retire with any money, and with your body and brain intact
Sterling will be entering a free agency period where he can test his true market value and possibly earn more money than he currently is. He’s an exciting 12-0 so I hope he sticks around.
What this means:
Aljamain Sterling is treating fighting as a real athlete and business person. It might be a result of the ongoing research on concussions and sports or just putting a lot of time and energy into competing, being at the top of his game, and barely making any money once you take into account money going to his trainer, taxes, and so on. His statements remind me of Floyd Mayweather saying he wants to retire from the sport, not have the sport retire him.
Sterling will be able to enter free agency and test his true market value. I’d like to imagine an undefeated fighter will be able to make more than $12,000 for showing up but we will see.
Sterling’s situation is a textbook example about how fighters need to be their own promoters and brand managers or have someone in place to do so. The UFC puts their money behind the fighters that they think will make the most money for them. It’s up to the fighters themselves to create a large social media following, create a brand to attract sponsors, and gain revenue streams independent of fight purses.