Leslie Smith (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

UFC Sends Poor Message to Fighters and Fans

When a company throws money at something (or someone), it does so hoping the issue resolves itself and goes away. However, in the case of the UFC paying bantamweight fighter Leslie Smith to essentially go away, it showed that the promotion still cares little for the well-being of fighters.

Smith was scheduled to face Aspen Ladd at UFC Fight Night 128, the UFC’s Atlantic City, N.J., card. However, Ladd weighed in nearly two pounds over the bantamweight limit. She claimed to offer Smith additional compensation to still accept the fight, but Smith denied that was the case. The planned fight with Ladd was also the last on Smith’s current UFC contract. The promotion paid Smith her show and win money anyway, but the organization declined to negotiate a new contract.

Smith happens to be the interim president of Project Spearhead, an organization devoted to improving working conditions for fighters and advocating fighter unionization. It isn’t very difficult to connect the dots and determine that the UFC declined to negotiate a new contract with Smith not because of her performances in the cage, but because of her advocacy for a fighter’s union.


As you would expect, the fans who continue to drink the UFC’s Kool-Aid had the typical response to the news:

Smith’s win-loss record in the UFC and her overall record are irrelevant, as is the fact that Ladd “only” missed weight by less than two pounds. Ladd was contractually obligated to make weight, just like any other fighter, but she didn’t. Therefore, Smith had every right to turn down the bout if she felt it wasn’t in her best interest to compete.

It is perfectly fine to debate if Smith’s offer to the UFC of wanting $100,000 per fight on a two-fight deal is reasonable, as was reported. That is why negotiations take place — to reach an agreement that makes both parties happy. The fact that the UFC didn’t even attempt to negotiate with Smith, despite the fact she is a top-10 bantamweight and has a 3-1 record in her last four fights (with her only loss since 2014 coming to current UFC featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who no one else besides Smith volunteered to fight at the time) clearly shows that Smith basically receiving $62,000 to no longer fight in the UFC has nothing to do with her performance.

The message sent by the UFC with Smith’s release is that fighters should refrain from speaking out, and just tow the company line and accept what they’re given. If fighters continue to speak out about wanting better compensation, the best-case scenario is that the UFC will pay them to go away, like it did with Smith. The worst-case scenario? Fighters may end up like Jon Fitch, who was essentially blackballed from the UFC for similar reasons and is now involved in litigation against the promotion.

The message sent to UFC fans is similar to the one sent to fighters, and fans should pay just as close attention. Every dollar spent by fans on tickets, pay-per-view purchases and other expenditures goes almost exclusively to the promotion and not to the fighters, with the exception of a select few. Do fans really want fighters to only receive compensation akin to the salary of someone who only has a high school diploma or less? Don’t fighters, many of whom have families and who literally put their bodies at risk for our entertainment, deserve better?

Another message the UFC is sending to fans is that its priorities at the moment are messed up:

The UFC signed former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy to compete on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series this summer. Hardy was previously arrested and suspended by the NFL after being charged with domestic violence and cocaine possession. The fact the UFC would rather have someone like Hardy in the fold instead of someone like Smith pretty much says it all.

Smith announced this week that she is planning to take legal action against the UFC as a result of last weekend’s events. Someone with a far better knowledge of the legal system could speak as to whether or not Smith has a case, but Smith’s willingness to put her career at risk to stand up for what she believes in should be lauded, not derided. It continues to be shameful, though not surprising, that so many fans appear adamantly against fighters requesting a little more in return for risking their health for our entertainment.

The decision to support the UFC despite its several glaring flaws is an ongoing dilemma for many fans. How do we reconcile wanting to watch great fights and fighters — many of whom are upstanding members of their local communities — while also having to deal with instances like the UFC releasing Smith because of her beliefs and signing someone who was charged with domestic violence?

The UFC could play a bigger role by choosing to work with fighters to improve their well-being. Unfortunately, the promotion would rather send the message that some lives are worth more than others.