Former UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione appeared recently on Inside MMA, and told Mauro Ranallo and Bas Rutten why he left the world’s dominant MMA league. Mitrione started pro MMA in the UFC, via The Ultimate Fighter. He was cast on the show not because he had compiled an impressive MMA record, but because of his personality and background in professional football.
Mitrione took that opportunity, and built a name for himself. But the advent of the sponsor tax and then theReebok Deal meant the fighter could no longer capitalize on his own name, and he was reduced to his official purse (36/36 his last fight), plus $50,000 performance bonuses (he won three), plus locker room bonuses (size and number is unknown).
UFC fighters are of course free to pursue out of competition sponsors now, but those are remarkably hard to come by in the MMA space. This highlights the complexity of the issue – sponsors seem interested in being associated with fighters during UFC broadcasts only. There has not been a massive migration of sponsor money from the UFC to Bellator, or anywhere, following the Reebok Deal. Sponsors want to be associated with the UFC. So does the UFC have the right to levy a sponsor tax and determine which apparel can be worn, and at what level of compensation?
Mitrione stressed that he is not a UFC hater, but detailed the reasons behind his seeking free agency, and ultimately leaving.
“I don’t mean to make this like I’m anti-UFC because I’m not at all,” said Mitrione, as transcribed byJed Meshew for MMA Fighting. “The UFC gave me an opportunity. I was a nobody. I was a creep on the show and they gave me an opportunity and I capitalized it. I’m thankful for that opportunity. I’m not unappreciative, I’m just outspoken about stuff that I feel like we as fighters need to be vocal about.”
“The biggest part [of leaving the UFC] isn’t the money part, it’s the freedom to go get your own money. You can now express the fact that the emperor is not wearing any clothes…It’s sponsorships, it’s being able to voice an opinion without fear of getting your back end bonus that may or may not come anyways.”
“It’s just in general like, who the hell are you to take away my money, my sponsorship money, to take that away from me without even a conversation about it? Knowing that we don’t fight hard for our contract money because the contract money was far outweighed by the sponsor money… But now all of the sudden you take that away from me and now I’m depending upon the 8 and 8 [thousand dollar, show and win purses] that I never fought on and now it’s going to be tooth and nail to get it bumped up to 12 and 12 or 10 and 10. We had no say in that and that’s what hurt.”
“So it’s not necessarily the sponsor money or the money that Bellator might pay. It’s the fact that we can cause a change. And I understand that’s dangerous talk but it’s relevant.”
“When they first hit us over the head with the sponsorship tax, the 50 [thousand dollars]. They said that was to prevent other organizations from coming in and not paying out their bills; like Fear the Fighter. They come out, they promise all this money to all these people and they don’t pay but they got 7 or 8 shows worth of exposure…
“Originally it started out with Affliction. The started the organization and built their name off of the UFC’s back. Well that could have easily been handled by just saying ‘we have a non-compete. If you’re going to put your name on anything from our athletes or our organization [then there is a] non-compete for 7 years, can’t create a competing promotion or whatever else.’ That could have been easily handled that way but then they did a $50,000 tax on top of that.
“Well why didn’t they take that tax and put it into an account and let interest accrue on it from all these organizations or companies that want to pay in or advertise, let it gain interest, and then anytime a company like Fear the Fighter or whoever else bails out or flops or doesn’t pay their bills then that fighter can get X amount of money back out of the interest account…That way we are still getting something and we aren’t getting hosed for it. The UFC’s not capitalizing on that, we as fighters are…Instead of padding their pockets why not give it to us because we are the ones who are [giving our] blood, sweat, and tears. We’re your product.”