UFC veteran Dan Hardy has seen a lot of changes and some improvement in fighter pay in recent years. But he knows there’s a long way to go until athletes are being compensated at a truly fair level, and the Francis Ngannou situation illustrates that perfectly.
Francis Ngannou sought better pay and additional concessions from the UFC when he attempted to negotiate a new deal. Health insurance and a representative to help fighters in contract negotiations with the UFC were among his requests, but he claimed those suggestions were quickly disregarded.
In the end, Ngannou opted for free agency rather than inking a new deal with the UFC. Hardy wishes more high-profile fighters stood by his side, because he said that’s the only way the UFC will ever truly be impacted.
“You look at what just happened to Francis Ngannou and who knows where he will end up signing,” Hardy told MMA Fighting. “It’s very exciting that he’s a free agent, but imagine if the moment when Francis Ngannou stood his ground for the fighters, that one or two or three other champions maybe stood by him.
“We see a lot of people pose for photos with him but don’t stand by him. Because it’s going to make a difference for the whole entire sport, but these are the moves that people make movies about in the future. Francis Ngannou, heavyweight champion, ambassador for the fighters.”
Perhaps the loudest voice opposing the UFC and fighter pay lately has been social influencer turned boxer Jake Paul, who routinely went out of his way to target UFC President Dana White over pay to athletes.
Paul soon gets his own taste of MMA promotion as an equity partner in PFL with plans to introduce a 50-50 split for athletes competing on pay-per-views.
Hardy said it’s a sad state of affairs that Paul is usually the loudest voice in the room lodging these complaints. But he also knows the 26-year-old fighter has the means to stand up to White and the UFC in a way that most athletes don’t.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s coming from outside of the sport of mixed martial arts but the reality is there aren’t any people in the sport of mixed martial arts that have the money to stand their ground like Jake Paul does,” Hardy said. “The media can’t do it because your credentials disappear. The fighters can’t do it because your opportunities disappear.
“It’s an awkward situation right now in mixed martial arts, and we’ve got to be grateful for Jake Paul turning his attention to it. He could completely ignore mixed martial arts if he wanted. He could completely focus on boxing, but for whatever reason, he’s decided that there’s something to be said about mixed martial arts, and he’s willing to say it because he’s got the money in his pocket.”
Hardy has also teamed up with the PFL after he split with the UFC following his run with the organization as both a fighter and eventually a color commentator on broadcasts.
In an effort to separate the organization from other promotions like the UFC, the PFL instituted a season long, tournament format that ends with a $1 million prize being paid to the winner across every division.
Hardy knows that’s not enough to fix the sport as a whole, but he’s definitely seen the positive impact the PFL has made on the sport, especially with fighters who otherwise could never even imagine the potential for a seven-figure paycheck while competing in MMA.
“The depressing thing is we know full well that everyone should be making proper money because of the risks they’re taking,” Hardy said. “But at least with the PFL and the key is in the word ‘professional,’ you know what you’re doing — you’re in a league, you’re fighting opponents that are on the same footing with the same opportunity you’ve got. It’s about being the best martial artist in the cage and everything else gets put to one side. If you do your job well enough in a year’s time, you could be a millionaire. What fighter wouldn’t want that opportunity?
“Brendan Loughnane is the one that stands out. Because of the trials and tribulations that he went through of not being good enough and not being selected [by the UFC]. Now at the end of last year he became a millionaire. Straight away people in his bracket in his division in other organizations are being very bitter towards him. Not because of his success in the cage but because of his success financially. That shows you where everybody’s at.”
On a personal level, Hardy certainly understands how tough it can be to thrive financially as a fighter, even at the highest levels of the sport as a top contender and a title challenger.
When he battled Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title back in 2010, Hardy says he never came close to sniffing a million dollars — or even six figures for that matter — and it does take a toll on you.
“I didn’t get anywhere near [a million dollars],” Hardy said. “My contract for the GSP fight I think was $22K and $22K ($22,000 to show, $22,000 to win).
“Of course I didn’t get the win bonus and most of that money goes on training camp and travel. It is depressing. Because you feel like you’ve given everything you’ve got.”