Cung Le is one of the UFC’s most vocal and dedicated critics.
Le, who previously competed in the UFC middleweight division and held the Strikeforce middleweight title, is currently involved in an anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC, and is never afraid to share his thoughts on the promotion’s business practices.
Speaking on the latest episode of BJPENN.com Radio, Le explained why he’s taken up this fight.
The long and short of it is that the UFC makes hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year, and only a small portion of that makes it into the pockets of the fighters.
“Without the fighters, there is no promotion, there are no fight events, and if the promoters are taking over 80 to 90 percent of the revenue and the profits, that is just not right for the fighters that put their lives on the line,” Le said. “Why are they getting paid less than a benchwarmer in the NFL or baseball? Even some minor league players get paid more. That’s why I’m fighting for all the fighters.”
While Le has long stood out as one of the outspoken critics of the UFC, many other high-profile athletes have joined the crusade over the last few weeks, most notably UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal.
Le believes these fighters are finally speaking up because they’ve realized they were being manipulated.
“The crazy thing about this whole picture is if you look at it, they were happy, they were content because they were manipulated,” he said. “I’m sorry to say it, but they were. They were content [saying] ‘I’m making millions.’ But they didn’t realize that the company is making hundreds of millions.
“Like Jon Jones was talking about, he’s going out there taking concussive blows for so many fights,” Le added. “Yeah, sure, he’s getting paid $2 million, and a lot of people say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money, you should be grateful.’ Yeah. You would be grateful if you’re making $2 million and maybe the company making $2.5 or even five million, and they’re sharing that revenue. But if you’re making 2 million, and the company’s making $40, $50, $60 million, is that fair?”
Cung Le concedes that, like Jones and Masvidal, he believed he was being treated well by the UFC in his early days with the promotion. Eventually, however, he began to realize that he was being used.
He points to his time as the “chief coach and mentor” on The Ultimate Fighter: China reality television show as one of the experiences that helped him see the light.
Le went above and beyond during his time on the show, taking on a litany of additional duties, and was paid a mere fraction of what other reality stars typically make.
“They were taking good care of me in the beginning and the middle,” he said. “Why did I have to go to China and spend all this time out there, and I’m not even getting 10% of what a reality personality makes on a reality show. I’m not even a coach, but I have to coach both teams and be the Dana White figure in China, and I’m only going to get paid 2.5 or like five percent of what these reality personalities get.”
“I’m in the business, I know what they get,” Le continued. “They get paid a lot of money. Just say, on the low end, like $75,000 per episode. I made $5K per episode.
“The TV crew had literally never filmed a reality show before,” he added. “So I was literally picking up the cameras and saying ‘film! Please film!’ It got to the point where I was telling them ‘how the f**k do you run this camera?’ I was shooting it myself, you know? And then of course, like literally every 30 minutes they were taking a cigarette break.”
Cung Le has a long list of horror stories from his time working with the UFC, and is now determined to ensure future fighters don’t have to endure the same struggles. The anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC is a huge part of that mission.
While progress is slowly being made, Le sees the support of fighters like Jones and Conor McGregor, who recently announced his retirement, as invaluable.
“That’s our main goal as a team, to have all the fighters standing together,” he said. “It’s not because this lawsuit says Cung Le vs. UFC. It’s actually Cung Le and all the UFC fighters from this date to this date, and all the future fighters who will be competing in the UFC.
“Guys like Jones and guys like Conor that could afford it, please, join us,” Le concluded. “Make a difference. You can get on Twitter all day long, but that obviously hasn’t done s**t. Be part of this group, be part of the movement that will help all your other brothers, your martial arts brothers that are getting paid not even 1 percent of what you’re getting paid. Help them out, stand for something, make that difference.”
Cung Le is also working for a better future for fighters by aligning with a new combat sports promotion called EKIC, which will promoted freestyle Kumite, boxing, and bare-knuckle boxing. EKIC’s founders have been vocal about the importance they’re placing on fighter pay, and Le is hopeful the promotion can become the kind of home that all fighters deserve.
“A good friend of mine and a business partner, Jeff Arcio, he turned me on to EKIC, and told me that he’s going to push me as a brand ambassador,” he said. “Look at all the things that they want to do: they’re more for the fighters, they’re all about the fighters, because they know without the fighters they are nothing. So I’ve been working with Jeff on several different projects that are really close to coming together, and EKIC’s one of them.”
Over the years, the UFC has absorbed many promotions that were once viewed as competition, such as Pride, WEC, and Le’s former home in Strikeforce. Le believes that this these acquisitions have been little more than a ploy to remove fighters’ options.
New promotions like EKIC can help rectify that problem.
“The reason why the fighters don’t have an option is because look at all the fight promotions that were gobbled up by the 400-pound gorilla, [the] UFC,” he said. “Look at Pride, look at WEC, look at Strikeforce.
“They were all taken off the market, and [the UFC] had no intention of continuing those promotions. They gobbled them up off the market to dissolve them so the fighters have nowhere else to go to negotiate.”