Lost in the war of words between Quinton Jackson and Dana White is a single, curious fact: an elite professional athlete in the middle of his earning prime is leaving his sport to take a low-paying movie role. If Dana White is correct, and I assume he is, the role is paying Jackson pennies with the promise of a large payoff down the line if the movie is successful.
Quinton Jackson is one of the few stars in the UFC with a contract that pays him a percentage of pay per view sales. This puts him in the top one percent of earners in the entire sport of mixed martial arts. Even so, he’s willing to give it all up to go take a stab at the movies. A lot of people think he’s just crazy, and maybe he is, but perhaps the real story here is that mixed martial arts doesn’t pay its top athletes enough money to keep them.
It’s hard to think of an example of another athlete in Jackson’s position pulling this kind of stunt. Athletes from all professional sports have done movie and TV roles, but has there ever been a star basketball player that blew off the finals to do a movie role? Has there ever been a big name boxer that cancelled a fight for a commercial?
It’s not only Quinton Jackson. Cung Le, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, actually gave up his belt because he has a number of opportunities in Hollywood that will pay him more than fighting will. He won’t be risking brain damage to make that money either.
In MMA, Hollywood studios found a goldmine. Superstars in MMA are just as visible and popular as top boxers and hockey players, but they make pennies on the dollar by comparison, so studios can lure them away with deals other stars would scoff at.
Dana White has spent the last two weeks mocking fighters that want to be movie stars. His public stance is that fighters should fight, and movie stars should act. It’s a simplistic stance from a man that always endures while fighters fade away. Just this April, after Chuck Liddell lost to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Dana White publicly retired Liddell by insisting he had nothing left to give and nothing left to prove. Dana apparently now approves of Chuck’s outside projects because he’s not a fighter anymore.
Dana cannot have it both ways. He can’t slam fighters for trying to build something for themselves outside of fighting while simultaneously holding the threat of forced retirement over their heads. Every single top fighter watched what happened to Chuck Liddell. If a star like Chuck could be shamed into leaving against his will, what chance would they have?
Quinton Jackson is a top fighter now, but nobody will deny he’s been inconsistent over the past few years. If he lost to Rashad Evans, and then lost another fight to a top 10 fighter, fans would start asking if he still had it in him to be a top fighter. Dana would start talking to the press about how Rampage needs to get a win to stay relevant. Chuck Liddell went from being on top of the world to being a washed-up joke in the span of two years. That can happen to anyone, and it only makes sense for fighters to start preparing themselves for life after fighting.
If Dana White really wants to put an end to the trend of fighters leaving for Hollywood, the solution is simple: pay them more. Pay them so much that the idea of leaving is utterly ridiculous. Pay them so much that they don’t need to worry about life after retirement, because they have enough money to live out five lives after retirement.
Mike Rome is a UFC insider and writes regularly for bloodyelbow.com