John Cholish: UFC Underpays Fighters, Many Don't Break Even

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMay 20, 2013

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Former UFC lightweight John Cholish, who abruptly retired before his loss Saturday night at UFC on FX 8, said Monday that he retired from fighting because his pay was too low.

“I can say from how I’ve been treated directly and on my understanding of what the UFC takes in on an annual basis that they could compensate the lower-level fighters…and even the upper-level fighters a little bit better," Cholish said Monday on The MMA Hour broadcast.

The issue of fighter pay has long been a radioactive topic for MMA in general and particularly for the UFC, a promotion that has long defended itself against claims of undercompensation and resisted calls for reform but does not formally release fighter salary or revenue figures.

Cholish, 29, finished 8-3 in his MMA career and 1-2 in the UFC Octagon. Cholish, who also works full time for an energy commodities brokerage firm on Wall Street, said he had spoken with other fighters and professionals in and around the sport and in both the UFC and other promotions who share the belief that fighters are underpaid.

To date, however, few have spoken out on the issue. Apparently, as a result of his public stance on such a sensitive topic, Cholish said an unnamed fighter who also was on the UFC on FX 8 card Saturday refused to take a picture with Cholish.

“I just think a lot of fighters feel the same exact way I do but are just in a situation or a position where for lack of a better word they’re just scared to speak out because they’re worried about the repercussions,” Cholish said.

Cholish said he personally earned $8,000 to show up for his fight Saturday night, with another $8,000 if he won (he lost to Gleison Tibau). However, Cholish said he "probably won't receive any money" for his efforts after subtracting expenses. Cholish estimated that the costs of his camp and for his team to travel to Brazil for UFC on FX 8 would probably total between $5,000 and $10,000. Those costs included medical tests, extra visas, licensing fees and payments to coaches and management.

“I think if you’re a fighter on the lower level you should at least be getting enough income win or lose in your fight so can go into that fight fully focused on the fight,” Cholish said. “I don’t understand how [lower-level fighters] can live off the income at this level.”

Cholish said a relatively small difference—adding "$5,000 or $10,000" to the base pay of lower-level fighters—could go a long way for fighters.

"Going into these fights, I knew I was going to lose money," Cholish said. "If I'm losing money, is it really something I want to keep doing, especially if I'm putting myself at risk?"