The Don King Effect – UFC’s Dana White and Zuffa Boxing to Promote Big Fights
By: Jesse Donathan
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White likes to shop for groceries and is a Tom Brady fan, according to an April 19, 2019 CNN article titled “Boxing ‘shooting itself in the foot,’ says Dana White.” Beyond those interesting facts about White, he also thinks he can do a better job at promotion than boxings current crop of charismatic front men. And White points to the lack of drawing power of Anthony Joshua in the United States, the heavyweight champion of the world, as evidence of boxing’s “strategic” mistakes in failing to properly market one of its biggest stars. CNN openly asks, could Dana White be the man to change this?
It’s possible, however unlikely in my opinion. Although I am willing to bet Dana White and company will be more successful than most are initially willing to admit. Boxing and mixed martial arts share much of the same infrastructure; the various state athletic commissions across the country issue licensing for both boxers and mixed martial arts fighters. White also has extensive experience in jumping through the various corporate hoops necessary to get new promotions off the ground and running and has demonstrated the business acumen necessary to be successful. Still, Dana White and Zuffa, the former owners of the UFC, are not without their detractors.
According to a May 3, 2019 badlefthook.com article titled, “Oscar De La Hoya doesn’t see what Dana White can bring to boxing ‘other than him screaming and yelling’” author Scott Christ quotes the boxing legend as stating, “I wish him all the best. I think he’s done a phenomenal job with the UFC. I have my opinions in the past on how I feel about the fighters getting treated by the UFC, but at this point in my life, I have so much on my plate, I’m sure he has lots on his plate.”
“Good luck. Be prepared for the ride of your life. Boxing is a roller coaster, and it’s sometimes not a fun one,” De La Hoya said.
What De La Hoya is referring to is when he called Dana White and the UFC out on how they treat their athletes. The fact is UFC fighters like to shop for groceries too, only their pay in comparison to professional boxers is grossly deficient, bordering on criminal. “We’re basically fighting for crumbs,” one fighter told ESPN.com who declined to be identified in a January 15, 2012 John Barr and Josh Gross article titled, “UFC fighters say low pay simply brutal.” According to the write up, discussing how the UFC compensates their fighters has been described as “career suicide” by one mixed martial artist.
“While paydays for top draws like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre can run into the millions,” writes Gross and Barr, “entry-level fighters who compete under the banner of the UFC do so for as little as $6,000 if they fail to win their first match,” wrote ESPN in the 2012 report.
According to Aeric Koerner, a PHD candidate student at America University who conducted an inductive analysis on UFC fighter pay 2016 marked a change in UFC compensatory policy. In an interview by MMA analysist Luke Thomas uploaded on May 2, 2019 to YouTube.com titled, “The Truth About UFC Fighter Pay: An Examination,” Koerner describes how a transition occurred in June of 2016 that marked the end of the low-end compensated UFC fighters being paid $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win. At that point they transitioned to $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win.
Colloquially referred to as, “that Rebook money” in mixed martial arts circles the social media connotations behind it are anything but flattering for the UFC and Rebook. According to a March 1, 2019 forbes.com article titled, “UFC 235’s Ben Askren On Reebok Outfitting Program Pay: ‘It’s Pretty Terrible’” author Trent Reinsmith writes that, “The UFC signed a six-year agreement with Reebok in 2015.” According to Reinsmith, with the Reebok deal the UFC is in fact operating on tiered system of compensation based on the number of fights a fighter has within the UFC promotion itself, not their overall record which only raises more questions than answers.
“The current pay structure under the deal sees fighters with one to three UFC fights earning $3,500. Fighters four to ten UFC fights on their record make $5,000. If a fighter has 11 to 15 bouts, they receive $10,000, while those with 16 to 20 bouts make $15,000. The top tier, for those fighters who have more than 21 UFC contests pays $20,000. Title challengers make $30,000 and champions receive $40,000.”
To put these numbers into perspective, Canelo Alvarez is reported to have signed a $365-million-dollar deal with DAZN. Alvarez is said to have made $35-million from his most recent fight with Daniel Jacobs alone according to a bloodyelbow.com report.
If Dana White and company run their boxing promotion anything like they did with the UFC, future boxers signed under the Dana White and Zuffa boxing banner can expect to get the Don King treatment, always coming up short in the financial department as their handlers make off with the majority of the earnings. A sure-fire recipe for success when the backbone of your operation is paid peanuts while the corporate, Boss Hoggs kick back and watch their pile of slop grow. It worked for the UFC in mixed martial arts and it can work for Dana White and company once again as they move into pro-boxing as well.
“I am making all my boxing moves after this summer,” White said. “When this summer is over, you’ll be hearing a lot about what I’m doing in the sport of boxing,” writes Jed Meshew in his April 24, 2019 mmafighting.com article titled, “Morning Report: Dana White says boxing plans are still a go: ‘I’m making all my boxing moves after this summer’.” According to mmafighting.com:
“When Dana first began making overtures towards boxing, (Anthony) Joshua said he would “100 percent” consider signing with Zuffa boxing if the offer made sense. It was later reported that the UFC was interested in a $500 million deal to sign Joshua but White has denied those reports and Joshua went on to sign a three-year extension with Matchroom Boxing last summer.”
Whether White and Zuffa like it or not, the public perception of how they treat fighters is a stigma that they will find hard to shake moving forward, regardless if they attempt to throw the world heavyweight champion Joshua a bone and make an offer most athletes would find hard to turn down.
With the apparent exaggerated reports of a Joshua offer, one would think Zuffa would be willing to open up their wallets in order to acquire top talent. Not so, says undefeated (23-0-1) heavyweight boxer Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. “Once upon a time MMA was a realistic option, but after he signed with K-1, Miller says he thought better of stepping into the cage,” writes Tristen Critchfield of sherdog.com in his June 19, 2014 article titled, “Glory 17’s Jarrell Miller: Why MMA is Not an Option for Me.” Critchfield would go on to quote “Big Baby” as stating:
“I did before I signed with K-1 because boxing was slow at the time. But at this point in my career: Nope. Definitely not,” Miller told Sherdog.com. “Just because the money those guys are getting and the injuries…. Listen, 99.9 percent of guys that finish their MMA career, the only thing they can do is open a gym and maybe coach, just because their face and their ears are deformed.”
“I’m not gonna be Dana White’s puppet,” Miller said. “Hell no. I’ve worked too hard,” declared a defiant “Big Baby.”
And with this inside look at how Dana White and Zuffa boxing will undoubtedly do business, its hard to agree with Oscar De La Hoya that Dana White won’t bring anything to boxing beyond yelling and screaming. What Dana White and Zuffa boxing bring to the table is a proven business model, where the fighters who are signed for pennies on the dollar will undoubtedly free up capital elsewhere for the promotion to handle the unexpected problems De La Hoya all but guarantee’s will be in White and Zuffa’s future as they transition into the sport of professional boxing.
That additional capital can go a long way in sewing up any loose ends White believes boxing has been left dangling in the wind with the lack of big money fights and promotion of some boxings biggest stars in markets like the United States where White, Zuffa and company see an opportunity to exploit the holes that boxing has thus far remained asleep at the wheel in minding up.
Dana White thinks Zuffa boxing can promote big money fights better than the current, existing infrastructure in professional boxing and I am not so sure that he isn’t right. It is entirely possible that White and company can breathe new life into the stagnant pool of inactivity we are currently seeing in professional boxings heavyweight division.
So, Dana White likes to go grocery shopping and I am willing to bet so do a lot of other people too; including the vast majority of his fighters under contract making pennies on the dollar, short changed, while the company big whigs reap the rewards without so much as a fat lip or a black eye. This business model helped propel the UFC to a four-million-dollar sale to the company’s new owners, WME-IMG. This same business model will undoubtably be used to drive Zuffa boxing into promotional contention in the world of professional boxing in the foreseeable future. Look for Dana White and company to break into boxing in a big way moving forward, unfortunately likely at the expense of those who do incur injury as a result of their efforts.