Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud: Dana White on Kayla Harrison’s ‘obscene’ PFL pay

Kayla Harrison

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison is going to fight for another one of those giant PFL checks on Wednesday night, which means it’s time again for reporters to ask UFC President Dana White if he’s ready to get serious about signing her.

The answer? Eh, not really. Not if she actually expects to be paid that kind of money on the regular. Here’s White talking to the Canadian homie Aaron Bronsteter.

“They pay her an obscene amount of money to fight over there. If I was her, I’d stay right where she is and keep picking off the people over (there). When you come here? You know, Amanda Nunes is no joke. (Valentina) Shevchenko is no joke. Rose Namajunas is no … these are all the best women in the world. These are the best female fighters in the world. I don’t blame her. I would stay there and keep fighting the type of women she’s fighting there before I would come here and fight an Amanda Nunes, that’s for damn sure.”

So that’s helpful career advice for Harrison. Might give you something to chew on if you’re one of those women fighting in the UFC, however, especially when you consider the ramifications of that whole “obscene amount of money” comment.

When Harrison signed a new deal with PFL in the fall of 2019, she said it would likely make her one of the highest-paid female fighters in the sport. Her disclosed payout for her win at PFL 7 that October was $125,000 – and $100,000 of that was in base pay. Of course, that was two years ago and she also gets to fight for the million-dollar grand prize at the end of the season, which at this point feels like money in her pocket seeing as how she is much, much better at fighting than everyone she faces in PFL.

That’s good money, sure, but is it really so crazy? She’s a goddamn Olympic gold medalist who gets in a cage and fights people three or four times a year. She’s basically the main attraction for PFL these days, and even if you take the grand prize as a given for her, she’s still probably making mid-range NFL kicker money after you take her training camp expenses and management fees into account.

So if you’re a female champion in the UFC and you just heard your boss refer to that kind of money as “obscene,” what has he just told you about the limitations on your own earning power within his company?

Here’s where we could also point out that the UFC itself is obscenely profitable. And White? He’s gotten obscenely wealthy over the years. (Just saying, it ain’t Harrison who’s buying her neighbors’ houses so she can knock them down. Shit, she might not even have a weapons room in her house. Fucking pauper by comparison.)

But forget all that for a minute. Just picture yourself as a female fighter in the UFC. Maybe you’re already champ. Maybe you’re trying hard to get there and hoping for a $50,000 bonus on your next fight to keep you from falling into debt. Then you see the boss out there rolling his eyes at the idea of another female fighter – an undefeated one with two gold medals on her shelf at home – making actual pro athlete money. Not Lebron James money, mind you. Not Aaron Rodgers money. Just, like, pretty good left fielder money. And in MMA! How obscene!

So say you’re a UFC fighter. How are you not supposed to hear that and not spend the rest of the day staring blankly out the window and thinking about your life?

And then there’s the other part, all this stuff about quality of competition. White’s not lying when he says Nunes and Shevchenko and Namajunas are great fighters. But he’s also offering all this up as a sort of public negotiating strategy. The unstated premise is, ‘of course she’d rather make more money fighting easier opponents, because she’s not BAD ASS enough to come take a pay cut in exchange for harder fights.’

Don’t kid yourself, that is really the argument he’s making here. Instead of trying to offer Harrison more money than she’s making in the PFL, he’s trying to make the case that she’s overpaid already and doesn’t have what it takes to fight cheap.

Does that seem likely to bring Harrison running to the UFC? It does not. But White has the luxury of not having to give a shit, since the current UFC business model is based on churning out hours of content and doing it as cheaply as possible. And. It’s. Fucking. Working.

Just don’t think too hard about it if you’re one of those women he name-checked as a contrast to Harrison. If you do, you might realize what he’s really saying here. And then you’ll just get sad.

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