Fightin' Ain't Easy: Michael McDonald and the Rising Tide Against UFC

© Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports Michael McDonald

By Shawn Smith

Despite headlining a UFC card and being ranked ninth in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings, things haven’t been easy for Michael McDonald as of late.

The 26-year-old, once considered the future of the weight class, went 1-1 in 2016, including a slick rear naked choke of Masanori Kanehara UFC 195.

Citing the UFC’s ‘dishonest’ business model, McDonald has asked for and been granted his release from the UFC, months after telling ESPN that he had to put his career on hold and find a part-time job before he could afford another training camp.

In the ESPN interview, McDonald said he is “trying to make enough money right now to pay my bills and still have a little savings for a camp” and that “my goal is to fight, but I also have to keep my possessions.” He goes on to say that “I’ve went through injuries and lost everything, twice. I’ve lost my home and moved back in with my parents.”

While it’s common knowledge amongst followers of mixed martial arts that fighter pay is something that needs to be addressed, McDonald’s story shines a light on the challenging contracts many fighters accept.

According to, McDonald made $27,000 ($22,000 to show) for his headlining bout against John Lineker in July of 2016. As well, McDonald made $40,000 ($20,000 to show, $20,000 to win). He also would have made $5,000 in Reebok sponsorship for each of these bouts.

While a combined $77,000 doesn’t sound bad for a yearly salary, it doesn’t include the cost of training camp (which McDonald inserts is about $15,000), as well as managerial fees and any other costs. It’s not difficult to see how challenging that could be for a young man to live off.

So, like so many other fighters have been doing as of late, McDonald has decided to try his hand elsewhere. It’s not difficult to see him landing in Bellator or any other major promotion.

For a fighter like McDonald, the sponsorship opportunities alone could mean a rising paycheck.

Promotions like Bellator, ONE FC, Rizin and even Absolute Championship Berkut (ACB) are starting to gain the attention of former UFC fighters, either to help these fighters rebuild themselves or to gain notoriety for a hometown talent they would like to develop.  

It was only three weeks ago that Kyoji Horiguchi announced he would be parting ways with the UFC to return home to Japan and fight for Rizin. On March 16, it was announced that Lorenz Larkin would be signing with Bellator after failed negotiations with the UFC. Even Nikita Krylov, one of the light-heavyweights expected to take the spots of the aging fighters at the top of the division, left for the greener pastures of Eurasia Fight Nights.

This list doesn’t even include exciting fighters like Ali Bagautinov, Nicholas Dalby and Zach Makovsky, all of which are no longer apart of the promotion.

There is a growing tide against signing with the UFC as they continue to tighten the bank account. Young fighters looking to make a living in the sport are no longer forcing themselves into poor paying UFC contract.

If there’s a bright side, it’s that the UFC will be forced to up their game if they hope to keep their spot at the top of the MMA food chain. When Strikeforce and PRIDE FC were pushing to be the top promotion in the mixed martial arts landscape, the UFC had to keep up by putting on excellent cards to keep fans interested.

Wrestling fans will remember the late 90’s “Monday Night War” period between World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) as a particularly fruitful time creatively and financially for professional wrestling.

The UFC will not be able to undercut fighters if other promotions are willing to pay.

There’s no denying that most fighters hope to come back to the UFC someday, it’s still the holy grail of the sport. But more opportunities outside the promotion can weaken the UFC’s monopoly-like grasp on MMA.

For fans and fighters around the world, this isn’t a bad thing.

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