UFC's new Venum uniform deal gives fighters slight pay bump

Fighters will be getting a small increase in pay under the UFC's new uniform deal with Venum.

UFC 260 on March 27 was the final event under the UFC's outfitting policy with Reebok. Beginning April 1, the UFC's official uniform partner will be martial arts brand Venum, UFC senior executive vice president and chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein told ESPN. The design for the new fight kits will be revealed next week, and they will make their debut at UFC Fight Night on April 10.

Beginning with the Reebok contract in 2014, the UFC instituted what it refers to as "fight week incentive pay." That policy bundles together the outfitting policy, promotional duties and the code of conduct for a per-fight bonus in addition to a fighter's purse. With Venum coming in, the fight week incentive pay will see a bump, albeit an incremental one. Epstein said the UFC will be boosting the pay scale by about $1 million annually.

Champions will now get $42,000 per bout in fight week incentive pay, compared to $40,000 under Reebok. Title challengers will get $32,000, compared to the old rate of $30,000. Fighters with 21 or more UFC fights get $21,000, up from $20,000. Athletes with between 16 and 20 fights will also see a $1,000 increase, from $15,000 to $16,000.

Entry-level fighters with between one and three UFC fights will now get $4,000 compared with $3,500 previously. Athletes with four or five UFC fights also get a $500 bump, from $4,000 to $4,500; athletes who have six to 10 UFC fights will go from $5,000 to $6,000; and fighters with between 11 and 15 fights get $11,000, compared with $10,000 under Reebok.

Epstein said "essentially" the entire value of the Venum contract will be going back to the fighters.

"This is not a profit center for us," Epstein said. "Whether it's cash out the door or where it's product, we're delivering it to the athletes. All the value is essentially going to them. We're not really making anything on this. We do feel the look and feel of the product itself is great for the UFC brand, but when it comes to cash it's all going to the athletes, whether in actual cash or product."

The outfitting policy was controversial when it was instituted seven years ago. Before the UFC and Reebok signed an agreement, fighters wore all of their own gear with their own sponsors during fight week and inside the Octagon. That went away in 2014 with Reebok. Fighters were no longer allowed to wear the logos or clothes of their own sponsors during fight week and in competition, which resulted in up to six-figure losses per bout for some popular fighters. That policy will not change under Venum.

Epstein said the UFC encourages corporate sponsors such as Monster Energy to come to a direct sponsorship deal with athletes, and said fighters are "free to enter into any sponsorship for non-fight-week related stuff."

The UFC is well within its rights to unilaterally change policies. UFC fighters are not unionized and have no collective bargaining agreement, so they get no say in how much revenue gets shared with them with regard to sponsors, unlike most other major sports athletes.

Sources told ESPN last year that the Venum deal is not as lucrative as the one with Reebok, which was $70 million over six years. The $70 million was not all cash; it also incorporated the value of the products the fighters got for free. Epstein said the UFC's deal with Venum is for "three or so years." Reebok will remain in a relationship with the UFC as its footwear partner.

"As good as the Reebok product was, Venum has taken this up a notch with just the quality of construction [and] the thoughtfulness of how our athletes will use the products," Epstein said.