The week of UFC 268, ESPN’s Max Kellerman interviewed UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman to preview his then-upcoming championship defense against Colby Covington — whom he beat for the second time on Saturday — but then Kellerman asked Usman what was next after UFC 268. Kellerman made logical suggestions, trying to get former undefeated UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to come out of retirement or move up in weight to fight his friend, UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya.
Usman had a different idea. Completely unprompted, he suggested that as the widely regarded best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the world, he should fight the other widely regarded best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, boxing’s Undisputed Super Middleweight Champion Canelo Álvarez, who also won a pay-per-view match on Saturday.
TMZ asked Álvarez if he was interested in the fight. He told the site it wouldn’t make sense for him, and that he’s trying to make history in boxing. In UFC President Dana White’s press conference after UFC 268, he sounded about as enthusiastic as Álvarez about Usman’s proposition.
“He don’t wanna fight Canelo,” White told the media. “Come on man, let’s stop this shit.”
Now there is a scenario in which White would be thrilled for the Usman-Álvarez bout. White told the media that if Álvarez wanted to come to the UFC to fight, “let’s do it.”
Because, yeah, that’s what Canelo wants to do — lock himself in a cage and get his calf kicked until it leaks, all to earn less than a quarter of what he makes now.
These types of crossover fights are the exhibitions that Apollo Creed vs. Ivan Drago was supposed to be. There has been one major event, Floyd Mayweather vs. Connor McGregor in 2017. That evening was nothing but a fun party that tripled Uber rates, and likely netted both fighters nine-figure payouts. Nine figures. Álvarez and Usman don’t have near the personalities and general unlikeability both Mayweather and McGregor possess in spades, but they would get a serious payout if they fought.
Álvarez just fought a man who has zero pop culture cache, and reportedly was guaranteed $40 million just for signing the paper to fight. His opponent, Caleb Plant, was guaranteed $10 million. The UFC does not release information on fighter pay, but MMA insider Ariel Helwani said on The Ringer MMA Show that Usman will probably not make $5 million for his victory.
White probably thinks Usman should be happy with that. Justin Gaethje, who knocked out Tony Ferguson and whose most recent loss was a lightweight championship fight to Nurmagomedov, wins the fight of the night, possibly the whole year defeating Michael Chandler. His prize is the winners’ share and White said at the beginning of the post fight press conference that Chandler and Gaethje were among the fighters who would receive a $50,000 bonus. Following the fight, Gaethje was upset about a referee almost choking out his bank account.
Gaethje talked in an interview about a moment during the fight when the referee did not decisively break action after he got poked in the eye, and then he got hit with a clean right hand from Chandler. If that caused him to lose, it would’ve cost him $1 million.
White is very defensive about criticisms of fighter pay, but the list of complaints about pay is long, and that includes some of the biggest names in the sport. Example, UFC Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou said last month that he still has to borrow money for training. The New York Post reported that UFC fighters — who compete in an individual sport, mind you, not for one of 32 teams with a 53-man roster — received 16 percent of the revenue in 2019. Most American sports leagues have a near 50-50 revenue split with the players.
If I’m a UFC fighter with a name, I’m talking all the trash I can to get cash in on a fight with a boxer. Who cares if I lose? The people showed you that with McGregor and Mayweather, and now with Jake Paul that the fight itself is cool, but we mostly love the party.
Usman is 34 years old and unstoppable at the moment. A name like his in a market not controlled by the UFC has the potential to earn a nine figure payday. He should be stalking Álvarez like Chris Rock and Bernie Mac did Nick Searcy in Head of State.
In his interview with Kellerman, Usman said that he wants to fight Álvarez for the challenge, not for the money. However, when Kellerman suggested Adesanya, Usman replied: “If the UFC’s throwing $100 million at us, then we’ll make it happen.”
Usman, go get that money from Álvarez. Work for TMZ for free, just to go find him at airports and take video of you challenging him. Make TikToks about boxers being soft. Get on the Notes App weekly and post poems to IG about how you’d embarrass Álvarez in his sport. You better get this money while you can, because Dana sure is.