Ahead of the final fight on his UFC contract earlier this month, Nate Diaz took aim at Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson over the movie star’s recently announced shoe deal with the UFC.
“These shoes suck,” Diaz said while holding one of Johnson’s Project Rock shoes for the camera during an ESPN interview ahead of UFC 279. “Look at these shoes. They made me put this shit on. Damn those shoes.
Although Diaz’s comments were cut from the official broadcast, the clip later went viral after being posted anonymously on Twitter. At the time, it was the only example of a UFC fighter speaking out publicly against the organization’s newest sponsor – a sponsor whose money is unlikely to enrich athletes putting their bodies on the line. play in a punishing sport.
In late August, the UFC announced a multi-year partnership with Project Rock, a partnership between Johnson and Under Armor to create co-branded shoes that would be provided to fighters as part of their official kit for fights. All UFC fighters and corner teams are required to wear Project Rock shoes during fight week events, practices, as well as during their march to the octagon.
The partnership was signed in January 2022 and officially kicked off at UFC Fight Night: Gane vs. Tiuvasa on September 3.
“The warrior men and women of the UFC battle it out in their iconic octagon with pride, determination, passion, intensity and MANA,” Johnson said in the UFC press release. “Legacy is a very important word to me and our Project Rock is proud to provide training materials to help support and fuel all UFC athletes looking to establish their own impactful legacy in the UFC. and beyond.”
Earlier this month, Project Rock launched a new marketing campaign in which Johnson called the fighters “the hardest workers in the room” while spotlighting several UFC athletes celebrating the commitment of the actor towards sport.
However, while Johnson may appear to have the respect of some of the organization’s athletes, the Guardian has learned that UFC fighters will see none of the benefits from the movie star’s lucrative deal. According to several fighter reps who had athletes competing at UFC 279 and wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic, none of their athletes received additional money for wearing or promoting Project Rock shoes. .
The Project Rock deal is apparently integrated into the UFC’s Promotional Guidelines Compliance (PDC) program, where fighters receive a lump sum fight week to comply with the organization’s gear policies and promotional duties. required. The figure depends on how many fights an athlete has had with the UFC or if he is a champion or title challenger for a particular event. For UFC 279, the program’s highest payout was $21,000 while the lowest was $4,000 (these payouts are separate from the fees they earn for actual fights).
The contractual compensation structure does not change with the addition of new UFC sponsorships, including UFC’s profitable deals with Venum and Crypto.com: if a fighter previously received $4,000 from the PDC program, they will earn the same amount even with the new income. of the Project Rock deal. However, neither the UFC nor Under Armor will shed light on the extent of the agreement.
“We do not disclose this level of detail about any of our partnerships,” a media spokesperson for Under Armor told The Guardian. “However, we are proud to work with Dwayne Johnson and the UFC to provide UA’s performance footwear solutions to UFC fighters.”
Importantly, the UFC has long been able to maintain a stranglehold on its roster due to the fact that its fighters are independent contractors with no unions or associations to collectively bargain their rights.
Unlike the vast majority of sports leagues and organizations, where athletes receive between 47% and 50% of sports revenue, the UFC has historically paid out between 16% and 19% of revenue to its fighters. In 2019, the promotion brought in $900 million in revenue, but only 16% went to the roughly 600 UFC fighters. This contrasts with the NFL, for example, where two-thirds of the money from jersey sales goes to players.
According to US financial services firm Moody’s, UFC revenues as of 2021 were over $1 billion, with similarly high numbers expected in 2022. Despite the UFC’s record profits, fighters’ salaries remains terribly low.
During a recent marketing campaign, Johnson noted that “the values and fundamentals of Project Rock…are so aligned with the values and fundamentals of the UFC and the fighters.” However, given that the UFC’s foundation was built on the back of labor exploitation, that may not be a comparison Johnson wants to associate himself with.
While it’s not yet clear how much of a say Johnson had in the UFC deal, other fighters have called on the actor – whose industry has several professional acting unions – to fight. for a more favorable agreement for the athletes he claims to respect.
“Hey brotha @TheRock if you’re a fan of what we do make a favorable deal for whoever models your shoe,” UFC lightweight Terrance McKinney tweeted Last week. “I understand it’s not your fault or your business, but show us the love you think you are. Come into our corner and support us.
The Guardian could not reach Johnson’s management for comment. However, it should be noted that Johnson is represented by Endeavour, which also owns the UFC.