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Contract Negotiations in the Social Media Age: How Nate Diaz is Changing the Way Fighters Strike a Deal

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Hours after Gilbert Melendez negotiated a new contract with the UFC Nate Diaz followed suit, only his proposal begins and ends with 140 characters.

Diaz, the UFC stalwart whose social media exploits have been an issue in the past, requested his release via Twitter on Wednesday. The tweet is directed at Dana White and the UFC and concludes with Diaz asking “Its time to be on my way..?”

The fighter’s ultimatum may seem foolish given his tumultuous relationship with the UFC, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. Tweets and Facebook posts are taken seriously by the public and one comment can alter contract negotiations between fighter and promotion. If anything, Diaz may have created a bidding war for his services.

MMA promotions want fighters to use social media as a means of endorsing themselves and the product, but Diaz may be the first to use it as leverage in haggling for better pay. Many have come out in favor of higher salaries but none have publically submitted ‘take it or leave it’ type offers. If Diaz’s brazen technique works, Twitter and Facebook may become where contracts are signed, sealed, and delivered.

Diaz earns about $15,000 per fight with and additional $15,000 tacked on with a victory. Taken at face value this figure exceed the U.S. median income of about $50,000 if he wins at least twice a year. That’s a big “if” given the potential for injury and the uncertainty of getting booked. Factor in miscellaneous expenses and Diaz, along with a majority of fighters, compete to make ends meet.

As Scifighting’s Bryanna Fissori illustrated earlier this month, MMA success isn’t cheap. Gym fees, trainer fees, hospital visits, and travel expenses aren’t covered for up-and-coming fighters. The UFC offers accidental insurance coverage, but other promotions can’t afford the luxury. If Bellator or World Series of Fighting offers Diaz more than enough to cover these costs, the UFC may match it solely to avoid negative publicity, as they did in giving in to Melendez’s contractual demands.

If the UFC doesn’t give in, they can cite Diaz’s haughty attitude as enough reason to let him walk. In May 2013, Diaz was suspended for 90 days and fined $20,000 over a gay slur directed at Bryan Caraway and last November he called Anthony Pettis a “p—y” after the champion bowed out of a fight due to injury. He isn’t the only fighter to get disciplined as many including Forrest Griffin, Matt Brown, and Tyler Manawaroa learned. Other promotions, however, may be more forgiving.

Diaz’s Tweet this week made MMA circles take notice and if anyone should read between the lines, it’s Bellator. Their ‘big splash’ signings of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Tito Ortiz haven’t panned out and an offer out to Melendez was matched by the UFC.

Bellator is looking for an established fighter who can take them to the next level. Diaz is a former WEC Lightweight Champion who would be an immediate title contender with any promotion and could potentially bring in a new audience. Aside from any language in one’s contract prohibiting them from negotiating with others, social media is an innocuous way of fighters like Diaz reaching out without physically saying so.

Twitter’s role in the Diaz situation is ironic in that it played a pivotal role in the UFC’s current streak of success. White hired a PR firm to teach fighters how to properly use Twitter and later implemented a bonus program where the most creative and most followed fighters received quarterly cash prizes. In essence, the UFC wouldn’t be what it is without White’s forward-thinking and candid honesty with fans.

As fighters, owners, and fans continue to interact online, their forums will continue to grow in importance. Maybe Diaz re-signs with the UFC despite his threat, or maybe another promotion finds his not-so-subtle message as reason to take a flyer on him. Either way, the power of his message is clear: when an agreement can’t be reached, let social media’s influence run its course.