UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman acknowledges he’s probably in for a better payday fighting Jorge Masvidal over Gilbert Burns. As talented as the latter is, there’s no match for the former in fan appeal.
“At the end of the day, it takes two to tango,” Usman told reporters during a virtual media day in support of his UFC 251 title defense opposite Masvidal on Saturday. “It’s very hard for just one guy to be able to go out there and really sell to the masses. If I had to think about it, there’s maybe a couple of guys in the history [of combat sports] that are able to do something like that.
“Obviously, Mike Tyson and kind of where Conor [McGregor] is approaching at this moment. But it’s only for so long that you can sell bullsh*t to the fans. The fans know if you have someone that’s worthy of a challenge or not. And the fact that Jorge had such an amazing year in 2019, it puts him into that category to where he’s the next biggest challenge for me. It’s the fight that people wanted, and it’s the fight that people are getting.”
Usman previously has attacked Masvidal as a subpar fighter who’s had a good year. But it’s indisputable that his challenger is someone fans want to watch these days, and that translates to a fuller bank account.
It’s also a booking that nearly didn’t happen over the distribution of proceeds from Saturday’s pay-per-view. Masvidal balked at an offer reportedly less than what he made for a non-title blockbuster bout against Nate Diaz, and he resolved to stay out of the game until he and fighters got paid more. Along the way, he cited numbers unflattering to the promotion on revenue sharing with the athletes, figures that came to light during an anti-trust case currently in federal court. It appeared Masvidal was taking his plight – and by extension the UFC roster – to the people in hopes of spurring change.
Usman could hardly argue with an across-the-board raise. But he also clarified that he was never unhappy with his pay. And like many fighters who’ve publicly disagreed with Masvidal and his management stablemate, UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, he takes issue with the combative approach.
Usman questions the stand-in challenger’s true intentions in going public with his dispute. Asked whether he might take up Masvidal’s case, he didn’t necessarily seem on board.
“First of all, I never said Kamaru Usman was not getting paid, so let’s not think that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m true to myself and I’m real with what I say. My negotiations with the company are done behind closed doors, and they get done, which is why I’m here to fight.
“He was the one complaining, advocating for, all fighters need to get paid, fighters need this, fighters need that. But the moment he got a little bit of extra money, guess what, he said bye, I’m out. I’m signing, and I’m going to fight. So where’s all that unity now? Where is all of that? You talked all of this big game about you’re not going to fight, fighters don’t get paid, but now, here you are. So it goes to show that he’s out for himself. But it is what it is. I’m glad he’s getting some money for this, because I wouldn’t want to not get paid for getting my ass beat by somebody named the ‘Nigerian Nightmare.’”
Masvidal said his raise wasn’t the number he initially sought when he reached an impasse with the UFC. But it was enough to move forward when Burns was forced to withdraw from Saturday’s fight due to a COVID-19 positive, and he told ESPN.com he would no longer move forward getting underpaid. Most important to his future career, he said, is the ability to share in the profits that he generates through his name via pay-per-view sales.
“On the pay-per-view, what I bring in, what people purchase, I want more money on that,” Masvidal said.
Now, all the welterweights have to do is sell. Usman said the most addicting feeling in the process of MMA is sitting at home with his daughter, his checking balance looking good, eating Thai food. If Saturday delivers as expected, he and Masvidal will eat well.