Recently it came to my attention that a local promotion in Denver, called Made for War, would be offering winner-take-all contracts for some of its fights. While the idea is not something new—it was even used in the movie Warrior—it is far from common practice in the MMA world and there’s a plethora of reasons why.

First and foremost, the whole concept is a marketing ploy. What better way to build up a fight than to dangle a monetary prize in front of two combatants and make them fight for it? Fans don’t have to think about how much each fighter will make for showing up or how much they might get as a win bonus. It’s all out in the open for everyone to see.

But, from a fighter’s perspective, it’s a high-risk situation. What fans may not realize when they’re sitting cageside and cheering on the action is that fighting is far from free. Even on the regional level, fighters must pay gym dues, buy supplements and absorb expenses related to recovery—therapy, massage and the like—before they ever step foot into the cage.

Furthermore, offering a cash prize that is significantly larger than a typical show purse is going to push fighters to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Instead of focusing on technique and executing a game plan, fighters will be taking unnecessary risks. While everyone in the sport enjoys watching a finish, there’s nothing worse than watching a grappler throw wild haymakers in search of a knockout or a striker attempting ill-timed submissions out of desperation.

The reality of the sport is that fights go the distance when matchmaking is done properly. Even at the highest level, where knockouts and submissions are rewarded with post-fight bonuses, there are “Fight of the Night” bonuses that go to the most evenly-matched and exciting fight of the evening. Baiting fighters to fight out of character in the fear they will walk away empty-handed is a dangerous practice.

Take the $5,000 prize being offered by the aforementioned Made for War promotion to two up-and-coming fighters. Those fighters would likely be able to ask for $1,000 to $2,000 to show, and double that to win. If the promotion wants to entice the fighters to put on a show, do it in the form of reasonable performance bonuses. Offer each $1,500 to show, $1,500 to win and a $500 bonus for a finish. The cost to the promoter remains the same and no one risks their athletic career for free.

Another thing to consider is the winning fighter’s ability to secure their next fight. If they reveal they earned $5,000 in their last outing when their experience and skill level are valued below that, will another promotion grant them an opportunity? It’s possible that the high-reward purse could result in a fighter outpricing themselves from future bouts.

Fighters can’t fight forever. There is injury risk in both training and competing. Removing the financial reward for the hard work involved in fight preparation is exploiting the fighter’s desire to earn a paycheck in the name of selling tickets. However, it’s not solely on the promoter. Their role is to put on fights and make money by putting people in the arena to watch.

The onus falls squarely on the fighters and their managers to put an end to this before it becomes more prominent. If any promoter offers a winner-take-all contract, the right thing to do is to decline. After all, there’s more at risk than walking out of the cage empty-handed.

 

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