Paige VanZant has carved her own household name and brand around her UFC career—much like many of the popular men in UFC whose names are synonymous with the sport. Not only did she launch her career in MMA as a teenager, but she also impressed viewers and judges with her performances on Dancing With the Stars. Now, she’s speaking out against the lack of equality in the UFC octagon.
“I genuinely believe—and I don’t know if we’re ever going to get a true answer from the promotional companies—that the women outsell the male fighters,” VanZant told CNN. “There are the few that stick out—such as Conor McGregor because he’s a superstar—but when you’re looking at the card, the women are bringing in the money, they’re bringing in the eyes, they bring so much to the table.”
To understand more about the current inequality at UFC, it helps to analyze the receipts among popular fighters. For instance, although Ronda Rousey is one of UFC’s most popular and notable fighters across the board, she earned $140,000 for her win against Bethe Correia in UFC 190 ($70,000 to win, and $70,000 to show up). Chris Wiedman, on the other hand, earned $500,000 total to win UFC 187 against Vitor Belfort. Both athletes were undefeated at the time, and Wiedman had 13 wins while Rousey had 12.
Hai Njuyen, who runs Elite MMA and teaches Brazilian jiu jitsu in Houston, commented on the flexibility of the sport across genders. “There’s a reason why a mixed martial art discipline like Brazilian jiu jitsu is considered a ‘gentle art.’ Careful skill, swift movements, and execution are what’s most important, regardless of whether you’re a male or female. This is an art that knows no gender roles.”
Although CNN made a request to UFC on how it pays men versus women, the organization failed to respond. However, back in 2015, the UFC did respond to inequality allegations when fighter Sara McMann sued the organization based on gender inequality in their Reebok uniform policy.
“I feel like this is a really touchy subject just because if you look at the numbers and you look at the facts, there could be a strong case for gender inequity in the way this deal is presented,” McMann told The MMA Hour. “I think the UFC and Reebok would never want to be perceived as somebody who was treating an entire gender poorly.”
In a statement released by UFC, the organization said, “Women fighters with limited bouts under the tenure model are treated the same as other experienced men or women new to UFC from other organizations not included in the tenure model.” UFC president Dana White has also added that women fighters are paid the same starting compensation as men, and that UFC is much more equal than other sports because they strive to provide a level playing field.
“Comparing average compensation at similar tenures shows that female athletes get paid an equal or greater amount than the male athletes,” White said in a statement to CNN. “Specifically, VanZant has made considerably more than the average male athlete that has been competing for the same amount of time in the UFC.”
Still, it’s clear that VanZant adamantly disagrees. To better illustrate her inequality point, she spoke to Ariel Helwani to discuss why she was worth more than her MMA contract. During the interview, she revealed that she was paid more for sponsored Instagram posts than for fighting in the UFC.
Yet, just as VanZant has worked through multiple injuries and tough competition, she is committed to speaking up about her personal experiences and opinions regarding the compensation gap in the UFC between men and women.
“We should be looked at as equals. It is true that females get paid less than the men,” says VanZant. “At this point, it’s more than, ‘I want to be paid the same as a man.’ All of us fighters need to get what we deserve, and I honestly think that. I just wanted to see my true value.”