A standard-issue UFC fight contract consists of standard practices, bout terms, and incidentals. Boardroom is here to break down the details that make up a bout agreement.
“Hurry up and sign the contract.” “Send location.” “Quit ducking.” If you’ve spent any time on MMA Twitter, these are among the most overused terms regarding all manner of matchmaking, from the imminent to the purely hypothetical. But while fans can be as vocal as they want to be on social media about who should be next to smash whom, fights only happen in the UFC when terms are fully agreed and both competitors sign on the dotted line.
When a fight doesn’t ultimately come to fruition, rumors always swirl as to why; it usually boils down to one fighter not agreeing to the contractual terms — and you can count on UFC President Dana White to let the public know which party refused put ink to paper.
So, why would a fighter refuse to sign a contract? More fundamentally, what does a UFC bout agreement actually look like? What sorts of terms are included? You have questions, Boardroom has answers.
Initial Promotional Agreement
The UFC issues fight contracts through Zuffa, LLC, the entity that operates the promotion under the Endeavor corporate umbrella. Included are many of the standard components of most contractual agreements: The targeted date of the fight, the fighters intended to be involved, and a friendly reminder that the fight takes place under Zuffa’s purview.
Determining bout terms is the next step; here, the involved parties dive deeper to determine the upcoming contest’s details. Here, a fighter’s management team pays the closest attention to the process to determine if the fight’s parameters make sense for their client. In the mindset of a casual viewer, a fighter should have an “anywhere, anytime” approach to belligerence; however, beyond simply opponents and dates, any one of the following factors can emerge as a sticking point as negotiations proceed:
- Bout location
- Weight divison
- Number of rounds
- Fighter purse
- Win bonus
Negotiations can break down over the inability to agree on the weight division. For instance, injuries can happen, but the remaining healthy fighter will still want to show up and get paid, forcing the UFC to court a short-notice opponent. This candidate may not have time for a full fight camp and weight cutting schedule, creating a series of possibilities: fighting at a catchweight (an agreed-upon threshold that’s not a normal weight division limit), fighting at one weight class above the originally intended one, postponing the bout, or canceling it.
Let’s say the fight proceeds as scheduled at a catchweight or at one division above. For the fighter now forced to prepare for a different sort of opponent at a different weight, is the money worth the risk? Naturally, fighting outside of one’s normal division usually doesn’t get a fighter closer to their ultimate goal of securing a UFC title in that division, but it does guarantee a payday that may not otherwise exist.
Want to find perhaps the primary source of negotiation breakdowns, however? Follow the money. Famous fighters like Nate Diaz may only average one or two fights per year, or skip a calendar year or two entirely. Consider it an expression of self-awareness about personal value to the promotion, like when an NFL player holds out from training camp in search of a deal that better reflects what he does for his team on the field.
Diaz reportedly only has one fight left on this UFC contract. Expect him to keep his leverage against the promotion by driving up the price of that potential last fight to ensure either a massive payday on his way out the door or a new benchmark for future fights inside the organization.
The amount of a win bonus, though, is not negotiable. The set cost is determined by the amount of money a fighter makes on their current pay scale. Usually, fighters that make below six figures per fight sees their standard fee doubled if they win (for instance, $40,000 guaranteed to show, plus an additional $40,000 with a victory). However, fighters who make six figures usually get an extra $100,000 with a win.
The gold standard? Fighters in pay-per-view main events who can manage to negotiate for a portion of the PPV sales. Naturally, this is reserved for only a modest handful of the UFC’s foremost stars.
For instance, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
This is usually the section of the contract where the itinerary lies. Specific rules about hotel arrangements and methods of travel are factored into the incidentals as well as a per diem, which is usually anywhere from $60 to $250. This allowance is meant to be spent on meals for a fighter or their affiliates, including coaches, training partners, and managers.
Of course, the UFC has the final say on who counts as an affiliate.
Lastly, a medical report is featured at the bottom of the agreement. This information is generally locked in two weeks before the listed date of the fight.
Finalizing the Fight
Now that you understand the basics of a UFC fight contract, it’s easier to understand the factors that might lead a fighter to be hesitant to sign. This is the hurt business, after all, and playing fast and loose with even a single detail can contribute to unfortunate results with potentially wide-ranging implications for an athlete’s future outlook.
A perfect combination of opponent, timing, weight division, and money has to match to finalize the fights that fans want to see.
Fortunately, more often than not, the show goes on.