James Vick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

For Some Fighters, Stepping Into the Cage Is More Than Just a Choice

Earlier today while scrolling through the work of my fellow writers on Combat Press, I landed on an interesting article that made me stop and think. I usually never feel the need to respond to a fellow writer’s editorial, but here I am, ready to respond to one now.

My fellow writer, Schwan Humes, argues that fighters don’t have to fight, but rather they choose to do so. Do check out the original opinion piece, because it’s an excellent editorial about his feelings on a genuine matter.

In the opinion of Mr. Humes, fighters choose to fight, and he has difficulty in understanding why some fans get extremely heated and defensive about fighters. He makes good points. Fighting professionally is just another job in this world where there are hundreds of jobs.


However, the the argument lies in whether a fighter has a choice. Maybe so. Maybe being a fighter is a choice. If we are talking about world-class fighters competing in the top five of their respective division, those fighters have likely earned enough to support themselves and their family. Maybe they do really have a choice. With someone like Conor McGregor or Georges St-Pierre, there is no question about their love for the sport. Of course, money is a big attraction as well for those mega-stars, but you cannot be involved in a sport for nearly two decades and not enjoy it greatly. Yet, they are wealthy and could walk away at any given moment.

So, let’s forget about the world-class fighters at the top of the sport for a minute. Let’s talk about the majority of the fighters — the ones who are not competing in the UFC or Bellator. Let’s talk about the professional fighters that get paid less than five figures per paycheck. Let’s talk about the fighters that fight locally and for far smaller promotions.

The primary requirement for a professional athlete to become successful is passion and a willingness to put in the work. By now, it is well documented how some of the best fighters in the world train to fight. They work extremely hard every day, multiple times a day. There is no secret to success in the sport of MMA. There are no shortcuts.

Fighting is a full-time job. You may only need to show up to work once or twice a year, but the training is constant. Those few days when you actually step into the cage for a real fight, they are the hardest days.

We are talking about a sport where there isn’t a successful union present to represent the fighters and protect their rights. This is one reason the UFC falls short of leagues like the NFL and the NBA. The money a fighter can make in the UFC can be as low as the ballpark of $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win. Meanwhile, leagues like Major League Baseball pay minimum salaries of more than $500,000 per year. Do fighters really have a choice to call it quits at the age of 28? Most of the fighters started training in their teenage years, and many of them gave up on everything else to become professional fighters. If they suddenly stop, can they all of a sudden find a job to support themselves until retirement?

Let us not forget that fighting and training are escape routes people find while struggling. How many times have we heard stories where a struggle turns into a passion for the sport? How many times have we heard about how MMA changed a person’s life? What about those fighters? Fighting may be all they have. Do those fighters really have a choice of what they are doing in life?

Mr. Humes also compared fighters with social workers, and how fighters get far more attention and care than those social workers. It’s completely true. However, the major difference between the two jobs is that one has entertainment value and the other doesn’t. Sports is business. Sports is entertainment. The fans who come into the arenas and fill up seats or purchase pay-per-views at home essentially pay the fighters. Social workers, as difficult and essential as their jobs may be, do not hold this same entertainment value. If the basis of the argument turns into other jobs that are hard that don’t make as much as money, then why do we even talk about sports?

Sports stars, especially once they become massively popular, make millions of dollars. Sure, it may not be fair to everyone, but what are we going to do about it? What about the rest of the entertainment industry? Movies, shows, music and so on. As much as some people are not interested in entertainment, it’s a big part of most people’s lives.

What my colleague wrote was heartfelt. It was a genuine take that made me think hard on the issue. However, fighters don’t always have choices. Take James Vick, for example. Vick just suffered a brutal loss to Justin Gaethje. With a win — and in particular an impressive one — Vick would have boosted himself far up the lightweight rankings, and his next fight would have been a guaranteed main event. Yet, with one vicious loss to one of the best fighters in the world, Vick is now bumped out of the division’s top 10 and likely will not get another opportunity like this one for a while. This is the sport. It’s the business of the fight game. It’s brutal at times, and fighters can get cut at any moment if they’re on an extended skid.

These are special athletes. Yet, sometimes, no matter how well they are performing, they don’t get paid what they deserve. Time and time again, fighters get on the microphone after their fight and ask for a bonus. That’s in the UFC, too. Now, just think about someone at the lower levels. For them, fighting isn’t a choice, but a way to survive. These fighters are special, but they are humans as well.