Mixed martial arts is a dangerous sport, and Robert Whittaker says UFC fighters do not make enough money for participating in it.
Whittaker, the UFC middleweight champion, said in a recent interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that he and his fellow UFC fighters are “sorely underpaid for what we do.” Whittaker said because the UFC is considered the place to be if you’re an MMA fighter, it can choose what it wants to pay its athletes — and if you ask “The Reaper,” it’s not enough.
“It’s just one of those things when UFC has monopolized the whole sport and if you want to make it in the field you have to fight with the UFC,” Whittaker said. “When they’re the only ones that own the sport, they can pay you what they like.”
Whittaker meets Kelvin Gastelum in his first middleweight title defense in the main event of UFC 234, which takes place Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Whittaker’s rematch against Yoel Romero last year was supposed to be his first title defense, but Romero missed weight for that fight. Whittaker won a close decision in the non-title bout.
Over an eight-fight winning streak since moving up from welterweight in 2014, Whittaker has proved to be one of the best fighters the 185-pound division has ever seen. But he hasn’t resonated with fans, selling only 250,000 pay-per-view buys for the Romero rematch, and in the range of 125,000 to 150,000 buys for his first fight against Romero, which headlined UFC 213 in July 2017. (Whittaker won the interim title in that fight, but months later was promoted to undisputed champ after Georges St-Pierre vacated the belt.)
Whittaker, ranked No. 12 on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list, said he has realized that popularity has a big impact on fighters’ earnings in the UFC. One could very easily argue that skills don’t matter as much in MMA as they do in other professional sports.
“Every fighter has to negotiate his own contract with the UFC,” he said. “The more popular you are, the more leverage you have with them.”
Whittaker looks to extend his winning streak to nine in a row against Gastelum, who has won two straight.