It was a somewhat surprising announcement when former UFC welterweight Matthew Riddle declared his retirement from MMA earlier this month. His was a career that was just as promising as it was self-destructive. At the end of the day, there will be little sympathy with his absence based on his exit.

The 27-year-old fighter first made a name for himself on the big stage with a brutal knockout of Dan Simmler on the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter. Other than Uriah Hall’s spinning back kick of Adam Cella that came five years later on season 17, it is still considered by many as the most brutal knockout in the show’s history. Riddle broke Simmler’s jaw in multiple places and handed him a harsh concussion.

Although Riddle didn’t win the show, he, like many TUF alums, went on to have a career in the UFC. In fact, his entire professional MMA career, from the time he was 22, was contested in the Octagon.

Upon his release from the promotion, Riddle signed to fight for the Texas-based Legacy Fighting Championship, but his contract was snatched up by Bellator MMA. Riddle recently suffered an unfortunate rib injury that led to his exclusion from an upcoming welterweight tournament. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Riddle didn’t feel like sitting out for a long period of time nor did he feel waiting for another fight was worth it financially. Therefore, Riddle announced his retirement.

It’s understandable that Riddle was so fired up about fighter pay when it comes to him not being able to provide for his wife and children first and foremost. If the guy can’t make enough money because he has to sit out until another Bellator tournament rolls around, then retirement is an honorable decision if he wants to pursue an income elsewhere. It makes sense. Yet Riddle shouldn’t expect much sympathy for his decision.

A career in MMA is one where an individual fighter is going to have to stick it out for long periods of time—through rough training camps, through injury, through low pay, through having few opportunities, through dealing with criticism for being in the public eye, and so forth. According to Riddle in an interview with MMA Junkie’s Ben Fowlkes, continuing to fight wasn’t worth it for him anymore, namely in the face of injury, pay and criticism from fans. While he may cite various issues and point his finger at people, Riddle had four more pointing back at himself, as the saying goes.

The biggest reasons that most won’t feel sorry for the former UFC welterweight’s retirement is simply based on his two drug-test failures for marijuana metabolites in the UFC and the fact that he did not have enough of an assumed good sense to know what kind of sport and level of pay he was getting into. How many long-respected and successful champions have followed the same path as Riddle and made the same decisions? It’s more likely that he can find things in common with the multitude of athletes that dream of being a great champion, but end up being part of the supporting cast. At the end of the day, Riddle sounds like a bitter version of the latter.

Riddle’s biggest complaint was money—him not receiving enough of it, to be precise. This is a topic that he and a handful of other fighters have been vocal about. Jacob Volkmann and John Cholish are former UFC fighters, like Riddle, who decried the pay structure of the most successful MMA promotion out there. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t fighters that demand a high salary. They are the kind of fighters that are lost in the mix for whatever reason, whether it be that they aren’t popular enough with the mainstream majority of fans, didn’t earn enough wins against great competition, or, most likely, are frustrated with their lack of control when it comes to demanding higher pay.

Riddle stated that his yearly salary equaled around $50,000, which is not too shabby a sum, especially when compared to the general public of MMA fans that are working stiffs and likely earn less money than he did. Yet that number could have been higher for Riddle had he not failed two drug tests. At the very least, he’d still have a job in the world’s biggest promotion if not for those failed tests.

At UFC 149 last July, Riddle earned a “Submission of the Night” bonus of $65,000, which sat on top of his $15,000 show pay and $15,000 win bonus. That’s double his personally listed salary of $50,000. That’s money that could have easily slipped through his fingers due to his actions, much like it did for Pat Healy for the same offense of failing a drug test to the tune of $130,000.

The UFC didn’t “screw” Riddle out of it or not pay him enough, nor did the bonus get “unfairly” eaten up by expenses. Riddle got to keep it. Yet he didn’t act with the same maturity or decency as Healy, who lost twice the amount that Riddle didn’t.

Did Riddle learn from his fault the first time around? Not really. Seven months later at UFC on Fuel TV: Barao vs McDonald, Riddle had a second win overturned due to a failed post-fight drug test for marijuana metabolites. This second instance gave the UFC more than enough due recourse to hand him his walking papers. Because of that, Riddle lost his employment and wasn’t eligible to make any amount of money. That’s not a smart choice for a guy that wants to provide for his family.

Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that I am a marijuana advocate and user myself. I can totally appreciate Riddle’s position of feeling like he got unfair treatment towards using the drug when studies show it to be relatively harmless. However, that doesn’t change the consequences of the way things currently are. I’ll tell you a similar story of my own to illustrate.

Through the first half of this year, I applied for a job with the city’s Sheriff’s Department. It was a pretty decent-paying job and it took several months of going through testing and evaluation to even be considered for the position. In that time, I never stopped using marijuana, even though in the back of my mind I thought, “Hey stupid, you know this is eventually going to become an issue, right?”

Well, fast forward to the day that I had the final step in my evaluation process and had to do a polygraph test. Before the administer can even strap me to the device to begin the test, I’m spilling my guts that, yes, I do smoke marijuana and wondered if I should have even been there trying to earn this position with law enforcement. A police sergeant was kindly brought down to the testing room to explain to me that being an illegal drug user and having a job with the Sheriff’s Department was not going to be a good fit. I left their office with my guts twisted in a knot and feeling like a real dope.

It’s a similar scenario t what Riddle faced: we wanted to have and maintain a good job, but our marijuana use got in the way of the rules we had in front of us.

Is it high time that marijuana should be legal anyway? I know I would agree that it should be and also would be confident enough to say that I could offer just as good work as anybody on the planet while also being a user of the drug. But the fact is that we both know that it is indeed illegal (in his case coming over the threshold of allowable marijuana metabolites in a competitor’s system) and we didn’t put ourselves in a favorable position with our actions.

Either of us could have stopped using it in an appropriate time frame before it would have been an issue, but we didn’t and it cost us good amounts of potential money. That’s nobody’s fault but our own, and blaming things such as fighter pay or being held down by outdated rules when we knowingly blew the opportunities ourselves is nothing short of irresponsible. It can be a black-and-white issue or a fairly complex one, depending on where you’re standing.

If you’re willing to add up Riddle’s listed earnings for his three fights in 2012, you’ll find that he earned $15,000 to show and $15,000 to win for each fight, which totals to $90,000. That’s not including the $65,000 bonus he was graciously allowed to keep, which brings the tally up to $150,000. That amount is a far cry from the sum of 50 grand that he’d like us to believe. Look at the lowest earners on any card that Riddle fought on and you’ll see paychecks as low as $6,000. Why does he deserve any more sympathy when others are making due with less and under the same circumstances?

By laying the blame anywhere but on himself, Riddle didn’t make a gracious exit from MMA competition. His recent rib injury was a major factor in his decision to retire, but he can’t be faulted for that. However, injuries are a fact of life in this brutal sport. Not much blame can be given to chance.

Understandably, his injury and inability to compete for a paycheck pushed him over the edge and he needed to take some time away from the sport. It’s just unfortunate that he exited the way he did on the heels of drug-test failures and bad-mouthing his old employers as though they were more to blame than himself.

Already, in his absence, the threshold for the allowable levels of marijuana metabolites in a fighter’s urine for drug tests has been raised threefold by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to keep in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s own change. That change have many fighter’s who partake in marijuana usage breathing easier going forward.

Who knows, maybe fighter pay is something that will be addressed for the better in the near future too, however unlikely that is to happen in sports in general. The point is that these issues can be met in a better fashion than just calling it quits and giving the industry the finger.

Again, look at the setbacks in the career of Pat Healy. He was passed over for a title fight against Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce. When he got to the UFC, he lost a large sum of money due to a failed drug test for enjoying a harmless smoke. However, he apologized for his wrongs and patiently waited through each setback so he could hang around long enough to have the opportunity to make it right for himself. That’s the difference between a mature fighter and an immature one.

If Riddle were to return to MMA, I’d welcome him back and look forward to watching him compete, because before he left, his potential foray into Bellator was intriguing. I just hope that this time around he spent his time off gaining a more realistic perspective of what he’s getting himself into with MMA. If he does decide to take the plunge back into the sport, at least he knows he can use his medicine a bit more liberally while fighting in Nevada these days.

Photo: Matt Riddle (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.

  • mark

    A someone who has trained in Muay Thai and “MMA” since 2000 I can say that there is no money in it. If you are lucky enough to get a pro fight and get into the UFC the money just isn’t there. Yeah, it’s a big payday compared to the years of going without, but in comparison to what Pro boxers earn other professional athletes MMA is still at the bottom payday wise. I fought amateur and walked away because in the end there is no money. Went back to school and got a regular job. I do miss the competition of it fighting. sooner or later you have to face that hard fact and the fact of keeping a roof over your head and food on the table. But, you have to love the fight, I mean really have it in your veins. Top fighters, true fighters LOVE fighting and don’t do it for the money. They just love facing off with another dude and going at it. But, even they have to face the eventuality of life and providing for oneself. I don’t believe Matt Riddle was making bank. he was breaking even. I don;t believe Dana White is being completely honest about salaries either. Zuffa, owned by the Fertitta brothers, is making MILLIONS and Dana White is getting a fat paycheck as well. They market and sell UFC globally. They have PPV in various countries, merchandise and have licensed the name for UFC gyms. They have the convention every year and market and sell merchandise. They are making huge profits. The fighters are getting cheated on pay, that’s a fact. And, it’s a shady business. Boxing is seriously shady and MMA is just the same.

  • mmafan 25

    Nice article , Dave. This isn’t your first article I’ve liked. I hope you can continue to write because a lot of writers especially in mma are like the commenters. Useless. Thanks for thoughts and time. And as for mark, you really are delusional. I don’t know if you were born with feminine hormones or just more girley than most guys. If you are a guy that is. It’s not hard at all to get a pro fight .Mr. I been training for thirteen years . Yeah is that like showing up once a week after a ufc ppv because you think you can do it? Your one of those kids who watched martial arts movies and thought you could do those moves too right? I’ve trained a lot of years and every comment I read from you. Just seeps mental weakness. So your right, fighting is not for everyone and I imagine any amateur or street fight you took. Was a one sided @$$ whooping. Just my opinion. We all got one, right? I suppose just keep commenting because your life must be pretty sad. And mma is a decent escape from your life you have no control of.