Punching the Clock: The Nate Diaz Approach to Asking for a Raise

photo via Arnold Tijerina

Nate Diaz at UFC 141; photo via Arnold Tijerina

Few fighters are as divisive as Nick and Nate Diaz.  For every fan who appreciates their honest, non-canned responses to questions, there are camps dedicated to loathing them for the way they deliver their honesty. It’s no surprise then that when Nate Diaz talked to Ariel Helwani yesterday about his problem with how much he is paid by the UFC, that both sides—the pro and anti-Diaz throngs—found something to talk about… loudly.

Nate Diaz already had his employer in his cross hairs when he tweeted that he wouldn’t be available to headline a fight against Gray Maynard, citing a conflicting engagement with his high school reunion.

After poking the bear in fall of 2013 (which later was revealed to be a result of his unhappiness with his pay), news about his close friend Gilbert Melendez’s new deal with the UFC was announced. Nate then asked for his release from the company via Twitter.

In his talk with Ariel Helwani, however, Nate reveals that his anger over his compensation stems from a result of talking to his fellow colleagues and friends about their own contracts.  Says Diaz, “I want to be paid like these other fighters. I’m over here getting chump change. At this point, they’re paying all my partners and other people I train with are getting real money, and it’s too embarrassing for me to even fight again for the money they’re paying me.”

You hear that?  That’s the sound of the anti-Nate Diaz faction rattling their sabers.  They will say Nate Diaz is getting exactly what a fighter who is 1-2 in his last 3 fights is supposed to get, especially one who lost in a title fight.  They will argue that a contract is a contract, and he should honor it, win some fights, and re-negotiate in a forum other than the Internet.   They are a loud mob, and they have valid points.

Of course, honoring a contract is the right thing to do, but on Monday, the UFC cut ties with Jake Shields even though Shields still had one remaining fight on his contract. So it seems contracts aren’t necessarily as true as the North Star.  Also, to further wave a red flag in front of the horned anti-Diaz-ites, it’s only human to look at a coworker or boss and start to compare value and worth.  Everyone who works at a regular 9-5 has had the same reaction at some point.  Someone you work with makes more than you.  Some make meaningfully more than you. Some make an obscene amount of money more than you. Granted, there’s a significant gap in seeing your boss drive around in a sports car compared to Nate’s boss who once shipped snow into his Las Vegas home to make it feel more like Christmas or who brags about losing millions at a poker, but it’s only human to compare one’s worth that way, especially if you take pride in what you do.  Especially if what you feel you do is more than a job.

All things being equal, the blame doesn’t lie with Dana White or the UFC for Nate’s contract. They presented him with an offer.  Nate took said offer.  If Nate doesn’t like the deal he signed, it’s not the UFC’s problem.  If Diaz is a broke as he claims and desperately needs the money, there are avenues outside of fighting he should look into.  His IRS issues, his mother’s needs, his embarrassment around his colleagues who make more than him—those are Nate Diaz issues. And, he’s likely not the only fighter on the roster in the UFC in a similar position.

However, the backlash against Diaz for looking out for his own best interests and vocalizing his displeasure is also misplaced.  Whether it’s similar to his interview with Helwani or on Twitter, more fighters should take a page out of the books of both Nate Diaz and Josh Burkman.  The wants of the fans, the promoter, the sport—they should all be secondary to the fighter’s own best interests.  In the end, no one should care more about your career than you do.

Unless you pay someone care, that is.  Nate is doing what he can to be better compensated.  He’s shouting at the mountains, when he should be training and fighting.  Say what you want about Team Takedown’s management percentage in its agreement with Johny Hendricks, the welterweight champ has never had to go to Twitter to be his own advocate.  Someone else gets paid to do that for him.  Avocation should not be on Nate’s “to do” list. That’s his manager’s job.  The same manager who said, “I suck as a manager lol.” Nate Diaz went from making $50k to show/$50 to win in a title fight loss against Ben Henderson to making $15k to show/$15k to win in a fight against Gray Maynard (a fight in which Gray was paid $45k just to show).   Hopefully, Nate Diaz isn’t the only person who took a pay cut in his last fight.  “LOL” indeed.

Where Nate Diaz’s situation with the UFC goes now is anyone’s guess.  It feels like a stalemate, which is a shame because Diaz is a tough out for anyone at 155-pounds.  Whether fans love Nate Diaz or love to hate Nate Diaz, he generates interest by simply being himself in a sport where too many competitors are trying too hard to sell themselves in order to make fights interesting.  The price tag for something or someone like that seems pretty invaluable.

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The Power of Social Media: Josh Burkman & the WSOF Make Nice

peace, love, & understanding

peace, love, & understanding

It may have not been a national nightmare, but the speed bump in the 5-fight relationship between Josh Burkman and The World Series of Fighting is over.  Jeremy Botter has the details of the reconciliation.

At the center, money and Burkman feeling he had not being compensated via the terms of his contract while fighting on last minute notice at WSOF 9 against Tyler Stinson.

Burkman took to Twitter 24 hours after voicing his desire to be let out of his contract:

Contract negotiation tactics via Twitter.  Promotional executives attacking fighters’ integrity over social media.  This is MMA; still in its infancy.  Imagine an NFL executive or a CFL executive by comparison implying that a linebacker was scared of an opposing tight end or fullback. It would never happen.   It’s absurd.  It’s also why the NBA, NFL, and MLB have policies for their players, coaches, and executives regarding social media.  That’s what differentiates MMA and promotions like the UFC and WSOF from those more established leagues.  It’s also the tradeoff.

This is an exchange I had with UFC lightweight Donald Cowboy Cerrone earlier today:

The NFL or MLB doesn’t have the same fan connection or access.  Jerry Jones doesn’t indulge players’ complaints via traditional media let alone Twitter.  Russell Wilson doesn’t trade Tombstone quotes with fans.  So the drama of a Twitter conflict between an employee and an employer becomes something unique to MMA.  It becomes just as much a draw as the fighters who face off in the cage. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

In the short term, seeing the airing of grievances via Twitter eight months before Festivus proved to be a good thing for Josh Burkman.  In fact, it could be argued that Burkman is now 5-1 in the WSOF after taking on matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz and getting not only what he asked for from a monetary perspective but also a title fight against the winner of Rousimar Palhares and Jon Fitch.

Lost in the reconciliation and tidings of comfort and joy is what happens after Burkman’s next fight, the last fight on his contract with the organization.  Is there a title clause that prevents him from taking the WSOF welterweight title to a different organization if he beats the winner of Palhares/Fitch? Does Burkman want to continue fighting for the WSOF once he has completed his contract?  Will the WSOF institute a social media clause that keeps its fighters from pressuring them in public the way Burkman did?  Lots of questions remain despite the resolution.