Phil Davis, Josh Thomson, Benson Henderson and now Matt Mitrione (pictured) are four former UFC stars who appeared to voluntarily leave the planet’s premiere mixed martial arts promotion before the twilight of their careers in favor of Bellator MMA.
Financial terms of MMA contracts are never disclosed, but it’s assumed that, although Bellator is backed by Viacom’s billion-dollar bank account, the contracts that they offered these four free agents were likely far below what the UFC was able to promise. However, the not-so-fine print in Bellator’s agreements allows its athletes secure their own in-cage sponsors, which can help quickly close the gap.
As we all know by now, the UFC signed a highly controversial six-year, reported $70 million endorsement deal with Reebok in July that prohibits its fighters from wearing anything but Reebok during fight week.
Many UFC fighters were irate about being forced to exclusively don Reebok because, for some, it was taking tens of thousands of dollars out of their pockets each time they took the cage. Mitrione was one of the most outspoken.
“Congrats @Reebok, you got the deal of the century. Unfortunately, it was at the cost of the fighters. Hope the bad press is worth it. @ufc,” Mitrione posted on his verified Twitter account at the time. “I’ma professional fighter w 13 fights in the @ufc and I can’t express an opinion of my money being taken out of concern of the punishment.
“Per advice from my legal professional, I will refrain from further comment on this @reebok matter. Y’all know my sentiments.”
The UFC pays fighters their Reebok money based off tenure with the promotion. Mitrione was in the 11-15 bout layer that lands $10,000/fight. The 16-20 bout tier goes up to $15,000/fight.
Mitrione did not disclose how much he was making in sponsorship dollars prior to Reebok, but it was clearly much more. Otherwise, the 37-year-old wouldn’t have said anything negative for fear of retaliation.
Before losing to Travis Browne at UFC Fight Night 81 in January, Mitrione was forced by UFC officials to removed his Jordans during fight week media day. Instead of wearing Reeboks, he decided to just conduct his interviews in bare feet.
Bellator was quick to spotlight that fact in Monday’s press release announcing Mitrione’s signing.
“Prior to his last fight with his former promotion, Mitrione was forced to participate in a media session barefoot, as his shoes didn’t adhere to the strict company uniform policy,” Bellator’s statement read. “He will have no such problems at Bellator, where he is free to secure his own sponsors and keep his feet warm with the footwear of his choosing.”
One fighter bouncing because of the UFC’s take-it-or-leave-it stance could be considered an outlier. Four could signify the start of a trend, and Bellator isn’t shying away from highlighting that competitive advantage to lure future free agents.