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Jon Jones vs the UFC - what's causing the impasse and which side will back down?

Jon Jones has seemingly reached an impasse with the UFC regarding his pay.
Jon Jones has seemingly reached an impasse with the UFC regarding his pay.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 07 Apr 2021
Feature

In a piece of news that will frustrate UFC fans heavily, it’s now been suggested that the promotion is “moving away” from the idea of a Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones fight for the UFC Heavyweight title.

Anyone who’s followed this story will know that the impasse between the UFC and Jon Jones is due to money. But can the rift be closed?

Essentially, Jones has priced himself out of the Ngannou fight, reportedly claiming that an offer of somewhere between $8m and $10m is not worth his time.

Whether Jones is worth this amount, or more, is obviously up for debate. It could be argued that Jones – as one of the UFC’s biggest draws right now – is worth much more than the money on offer.

However, there’s an alternative argument that suggests that Jones doesn’t add that much interest to a UFC pay-per-view – not like say, Conor McGregor. Snd so for the promotion to shatter its wage structure for him wouldn’t be smart.

However, to look at this issue simply in terms of the money would be a mistake of sorts.


Does the UFC pay its fighters too little?

The UFC has often been accused of underpaying its star fighters.
The UFC has often been accused of underpaying its star fighters.

The issue of fighter pay in the UFC has been a contentious one for years. As has been reported on numerous occasions, the UFC pays its fighters approximately 17-20% of its revenue, an amount which is a drop in the ocean in comparison to other major sports.

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However, in comparison to other MMA promoters like Bellator, the UFC pays far better wages, despite Bellator actually paying more revenue percentage out.

Think of it like this: the UFC gives its fighters a smaller slice of its pie. But because the UFC’s pie is so much larger than Bellator’s, the UFC’s fighters make more money practically by default.

Big-name fighters like Jones and McGregor, meanwhile, can make even more money by engaging the UFC in an agreement to receive a percentage of their pay-per-view revenue.

Essentially, the higher the pay-per-view buyrate, the more money a big-name fighter can make.

By this metric, it’s been reported that McGregor has made upwards of $35m for a number of his UFC fights.

Jones, meanwhile, has reportedly asked for “Deontay Wilder money” – or around $30m – for a potential fight with Ngannou.

If this takes into account that pay-per-view revenue, then Jones certainly isn’t being unreasonable. If he’s asking for $30m as his base pay however, it’s a bit trickier to justify when you consider that McGregor was paid a $5m base rate for his recent fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 257.


So could Jon Jones earn more in Bellator?

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Former UFC champion Cris Cyborg has urged Jon Jones to join Bellator.
Former UFC champion Cris Cyborg has urged Jon Jones to join Bellator.

Former UFC Featherweight champion and current Bellator champion Cris Cyborg has recently suggested that if the UFC isn’t willing to pay Jones the figure he has in mind, he could instead move to Bellator.

There are a few issues with this scenario.

Firstly, as a major star under a multi-fight contract, it’s unlikely the UFC would ever let Jones walk. But could he really earn more in Bellator anyway?

The truth is that it’s highly unlikely. Bellator is owned by media giant Viacom, but it’s never paid its fighters close to the kind of numbers being made by McGregor and it’s unlikely to change for Jones.

Sure, the likes of Ryan Bader and Benson Henderson have moved to Bellator and done well for themselves. But those fighters were never earning millions from the UFC like Jones reportedly is.


Why does the UFC need to keep so much control over its fighters?

The UFC could never risk allowing a star like Conor McGregor to leave and promote himself.
The UFC could never risk allowing a star like Conor McGregor to leave and promote himself.
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One common misconception that MMA fans make is that the UFC fears competing promoters such as Bellator. They point to the UFC’s acquisition of previous competitors like PRIDE and StrikeForce as proof of this.

In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The UFC has rarely – if ever – stood in the way of an out-of-contract fighter such as Bader moving to a competitor like Bellator.

If anything, it’s good for the UFC to have a competitor as it allows them to refresh their roster on a regular basis, as we’ve seen with fighters like Michael Chandler and Ben Askren entering the UFC in recent years.

Instead, what the UFC really fears is a fighter becoming bigger than the UFC brand.

That’s because if that were ever to happen, that fighter would essentially be able to walk away from the UFC not to a competitor like Bellator, but to promote themselves - ala big-name boxers like Floyd Mayweather.

If that were to happen, then the fighter in question would be able to claim what the UFC does now – the lion’s share of any revenue produced by an event. In turn, that would push their earnings more towards the top end that we see in boxing.

Right now, though, the only fighter capable of doing such a thing would be Conor McGregor.

The Notorious One is the only UFC fighter to essentially guarantee over a million buys for every pay-per-view he headlines. If he were to leave the UFC to promote himself, he’s got the fanbase ready to follow him.

And of course, that’s why the UFC has always bent over backwards to accommodate him.

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Essentially, if McGregor were to jump to a competitor like Bellator, it’d be terrible for the UFC, but their brand would still endure. If McGregor were to begin promoting himself, though? Other fighters may follow and the whole house of cards could come crashing down.

And so it comes as no surprise that the UFC is willing to back down to McGregor’s demands, while fighters like Jones simply find themselves cut out of the equation.


So could Jon Jones promote himself successfully?

Jon Jones may not have the drawing power to promote himself like Conor McGregor could.
Jon Jones may not have the drawing power to promote himself like Conor McGregor could.

The answer to this question is a mystery, pretty much.

On the one hand, Jones is undoubtedly one of the best fighters of all time, and definitely has a sizeable fanbase despite some of his past indiscretions.

On the other hand though, he’s never proven himself to be a consistently large drawing card like McGregor. And outside the UFC machine, he may well end up finding things harder than he might first imagine.

After all, UFC fans have become conditioned over the years to expect a card full of highly-ranked contenders, not just the one-fight fare we’ve become used to in boxing. And where would Jones, the promoter, find those highly ranked fighters to fill his undercard?

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The truth, though, is that the UFC simply can’t risk such a thing even happening, due to the potential ramifications.

So what can we expect to happen from this mess?

Basically, it’s likely that after this impasse, the UFC will come to some kind of deal with Jones to fight Ngannou. Will he get his $30m for the fight? Probably not – but a number somewhere between that and his current $5m salary will probably settle things.

After all, the UFC simply can’t risk losing control in this one, just as they can’t ever risk losing control when it comes to McGregor.

Published 07 Apr 2021, 00:05 IST
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