After laying out in crystal-clear detail the Faustian bargain many fighters make to find success in the UFC, Sean Strickland was about to dole out advice — presumably on how to stay sane in the face of insane adversity.
Then the UFC middleweight champ’s mic cut out.
Moments earlier, Strickland had dispensed some blunt advice — pretty much his stock and trade since he turned from journeyman welterweight to every censor’s worst nightmare — to a parent who’d asked how to support a child’s MMA dream.
Don’t, Strickland told Extra Rounds host T.J. DeSantis and UFC Hall of Famer Don Frye, who suddenly found themselves on the hot seat after a half-hour of mostly good-natured ribbing from the champ.
The trio were there to promote the UFC in a live broadcast from Professional Bull Riders, which is owned by UFC corporate parent Endeavor. Suddenly, Strickland was pulling the curtain back on how the business goes for most who fight in the cage.
Strickland started in the way he always starts something — by asking questions that make people uncomfortable. In this case, it was how much Frye made in his octagon career in the UFC’s early, No Holds Barred days.
“I think we all wanna f****** know this, bro, because I’ve heard numbers of like guys [from] your time, and they tell me how much they make, bro, and it makes you want to cry a little bit,” the champ said with a smile.
DeSantis pointed to the $50,000 prize awarded to the tournament winners by the UFC’s previous owners, Semphamore Entertainment Group. Frye revealed the wage for everyone else: $500.
From there, it was off to the races for the perpetual provocateur.
“Hey, you want to be a UFC fighter,” Strickland said in a video he posted to his Instagram. “$500 bucks. … But you know, it’s not that much different now, man. It’s funny, this guy came up to me, and he said, ‘Hey, you know, my son’s 17, he trains, he wants to be a fighter. Do you have any advice?’
“I said, ‘Don’t do it.’ He goes, ‘What do you mean?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, let me explain to you, sir.’ Let me explain if you guys have kids at home who want to be a fighter. Let me explain to you the joy of being an MMA fighter.
“I was like, ‘You see the Contender [Series fighters], what do you think they make?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t know.’ I go, ‘They make five and five. If they lose, they make five.’ And he goes, ‘Damn.’ I go, ‘If you lose, guess what, you’re not going to UFC.’ So this entire life you could have spent building a life, doing any other aspect in life, you chose to train fighting.
“So let’s just say you make it now you make it to the UFC. Well, hey, guess what, what do you think they sign the average guy on? … Ten and 10 for this man. So you make it to UFC, you get signed, 10 and 10, and now you fight for 10 and 10, and you’ve spent your entire life working for this one goal. You get the blue check mark, you get the UFC in your logo, you get all the people, you get all of it now. So you go 2-2 and maybe they’re boring fights, and the UFC cuts you, and now guess what? You have made a total of … $60,000 your entire career, and you have no other option, because you can’t be a part-time fighter. You’ve got to be full time.
“So now you’re a 24-year-old man looking yourself in the mirror saying, ‘I spent my entire life doing this one thing and I’ve made $24,000, or $60,000. What do I do now? You go teach cardio kickboxing.
“And that’s, like, the damn shame of like most industry. It’s like you get kind of Weinstein-d. They put this big old f****** UFC logo — and again, I love UFC, guys. I make more money in the UFC than f******, I mean, I am not a poor man, you guys. I would be in the rich category, which still f****** shocks me every time I think about it. But they put this big old f****** logo and you sell your f****** soul for it. You sell your f****** soul for it, man.”
That’s where the live spot ended, at least on the UFC Fight Pass YouTube channel that streamed the show. A search for Sean Strickland on UFC Fight Pass had a clip of the middleweight champ blasting the choice of Khamzat Chimaev as his first title defense. On Strickland’s Instagram, he managed to capture a little bit more footage.
“How many people in this sport end up not being poor after they’re done? And this isn’t NFL poor … they’re not gonna hear this s***. They’re not going to air this s***, but I’m just telling you how this f****** goes.
“We’re not talking about, ‘Hey, I was in the NFL, I got paid millions of dollars, and I went and gambled on drugs and hookers.’ That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking on, I made $60,000. Now, what’s next? So when we talk about how much Don Fry made and goddamn, it’s shocking and how much most guys make.
“My advice to anybody, enjoy….”
In the caption for his Instagram post, Strickland poked fun at his microphone problems and tried to cast a wider net around the problem of lower pay. After all, earlier in his career, the 32-year-old gleefully compared he and other UFC fighters to sex workers. Strickland always added the caveat that as tawdry as the business was, it was one that uniquely suited him.
“Think this was cut????” Strickland wrote. “‘They’re not going to air any of this’ technical difficulties lmao!!! This is an all industry thing, Jeff Bezos can go build a rocket to go to space but can’t pay a couple more dollars. This isn’t a UFC thing, this an American thing, that’s what I was saying when the stream cut.”
Did the UFC take it as a UFC thing? A request for comment from the promotion seeking clarification was not returned.
Below is the clip Strickland posted, and the YouTube link to the interview from UFC Fight Pass.