WWE Hall of Famer Booker T likens MMA pay to WWE, would like fighters to ‘get paid as much money as they possibly can’
It is often said that the UFC has a lot in common with professional wrestling and the WWE. With each organization’s pompous and controversial leader (Dana White and Vince McMahon respectively) and a business structure that prioritizes monthly pay-per-view events, fans often draw parallels between the two organizations. But for all their similarities, WWE Hall of Famer Booker T believes that at the core of their company, they’re in completely different businesses.
“I look at them individually,” Booker T told Ariel Helwani in an interview. Hour of MMA. “The only way I look at pro wrestling and MMA from the same perspective is when professional wrestling has to try to really walk that tightrope to make it real and we know it’s fun but still trying suspend fan’s imagination to buy in. I think this is where wrestling and MMA come into play. But as far as the fan base from wrestling to MMA, I really think it’s completely different, even though we have a lot of fans on both sides. But I think, MMA fans, it’s a different feeling in the MMA arena, a different feeling in the boxing arena, it’s a completely different feeling in professional wrestling.”
But for all the differences between the UFC and WWE, both companies seem to be facing similar challenges lately, including an increased focus on athlete compensation. While WWE broke its annual revenue record in 2021, WWE fired more than 80 athletes last year as a result of “budget cuts” and also faced criticism for compensating athletes.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the UFC found itself in a similar situation recently. The UFC has had a hugely successful 2021 but continues to part ways with established talent in favor of signing athletes from Dana White’s Challenger Series. On top of that, YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul took notice of the UFC’s pay structure, and some of the UFC’s biggest stars began to speak out against the UFC’s business tactics. But while Booker T. thinks the two companies are different, he admits that the pay structure is fundamentally similar and—in a sense—that will never change.
“It will always be like professional wrestling: the best guys will be the ones who make the most money,” Booker T said. “It’ll be this way forever. But to be able to negotiate when you’re good, when you’re the best guy, you have to be paid this money. When your name is on the poster, we always said to The Rock: “Thanks for the house, brother.” [Laughs]. It’s no different and I think these fighters should be treated the same.”
This does not mean that Booker T. would not like improvement. Currently, UFC fighters collectively earn about 20 percent of annual income. This number contrasts sharply with other sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA, where the revenue split is closer to 50/50. And given the risks fighters face every time they compete, Booker T says he would like the athletes to be taken care of properly.
“The fight is hard and most of these guys don’t walk away unscathed,” Booker T said. “This could be a hell of a deal after their career. That’s why I stand for fighters. I think these guys should be paid as much money as they can get for the fights they put out there, because every time they get into a fight it’s a matter of life or death.”