Sports in the United States have inestimable value. We need to pay athletes properly in all domains.

In the wake of the pandemic, sporting leagues worldwide justifiably canceled or postponed their events. It came as a surprise that despite all this, UFC president Dana White pressed on.  Like many other long-time sports lovers, I went from a casual UFC fan to a diehard one (it’s the only thing on!)

The UFC, an MMA promotion company based in Las Vegas, seems to be taking extreme precautions. Fans are not permitted to attend its events. White predicted this early on; it didn’t come as a shock. It was also the initial plan for the NBA before full season suspension. The NCAA canceled both men’s and women’s annual basketball tournaments in all divisions, including Division I.

As many mourned the loss of March Madness, Justin Gaethe made our hearts glad. His determination and resiliency as he defeated Tony Ferguson in Round 5 at UFC 249 was a cause for hope among underdogs everywhere.

One interesting side effect of UFC being virtually the only live sport on lies in increased attention to the lives of the fighters. MMA fighters show incredible value and craftsmanship. It’s the athletes, not the company, that leaves viewers with a deep understanding of vast ambition and deep humility.

The brutal strength of UFC lies in its fighters, but they are unable to organize and form a union when the company classifies them as independent contractors instead of employees. They have no bargaining chip to better their circumstances, especially financially, when attempts to unionize are continuously suppressed. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang called the UFC exploitative. He estimated fighters earning a mere 15-16 percent of the sport’s revenues. For example, most of the major sports have their athletes earning about 50 percent. In 2019, UFC revenue hit nearly $1 billion.

Top tier and undeniably entertaining fighters Jorge Masvidal and Jon ‘Bones’ Jones recently attempted to combat pay disparity. Jones relinquished his title the UFC platform. In the blink of an eye, Masvidal followed with very vocal financial frustration. He demands to be released from his contract. Did Dana White drive Masvidal away for good?

They leave it up to White to attempt to recapture the magic and drive pay-per-view buys without them. They’re certainly not the first two to sit at the proverbial picket fence, but their actions may cause turmoil on a new level. Perhaps White will face upcoming months of personal and economic humiliation as fighters are urged to “know their worth.” If the fall from grace eludes White, perhaps Bellator MMA, a main rival that appears to treat its players better and on a different pay scale, will have an upsurge in popularity.

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