Cage Contender’s payment of fighters is next week’s real main event

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Cage Contender will be under the microscope this day next week, maybe more than ever since their emergence on the Irish MMA scene, and this time it won’t be the reactions of fans they’ll be concerned with, but rather talent inside the cage.

Fighters, referees, commentators and other sub contracted companies took to social media in what was meant to be a celebratory weekend for Irish MMA, Conor McGregor’s UFC debut on Saturday April 6, to voice their concern over not receiving payment from the promotion.

The event had taken place six weeks before the news emerged with Chris Stringer making the initial statement, which led to a series of people coming forward and announcing they too hadn’t received the money that they had worked for.

The John Ferguson promotion certainly has given the country’s gyms, fighters, media and other miscellaneous businesses a launching pad over the years and the athletes involved in the contests became well known by the community that followed the sport.

The platform given to the fighters and their clubs by Cage Contender allowed them to become the faces of the sport, respected and revered, while a large portion of the young crowd would look on and hope that, one day, they too could stand toe to toe with an opponent as the gathering propelled them forward with their screams and chants.

Indeed, the fighter’s life seemed an attractive one. They had the adoration of the community, the ability to do things most people could only dream of, they were physical specimens for the most part and importantly for the male fan base – they could beat the shit out of most people they knew – they personified a certain security that remains mysterious to the masses.

Despite the pageantry and spectacle of fight nights, the dedication of the martial artist doesn’t immediately translate to a big pay day or even minimum wage when you consider the effort that goes into preparation for these contests.

In an “off the record” conversation with one of Ireland’s biggest names who was fighting under the Cage Contender banner over a year ago, it was revealed to me that for a championship bout, at the time, the basic appearance fee was set at €600 – not bad for showing up on the night, you might think.

However, to paraphrase Vitor Belfort, that is the price for “drinking the wine”, not “crushing the grapes”.

The majority of the fighters will immerse themselves in a six week program with rigorous dieting (it’s always more expensive to do it the healthy way) and two training sessions a day, six days a week.

On top of that, a lot of the athletes will have their own gyms to look after or at least, they will be involved in the training of the young prospects of the gym they are affiliated with – training, supervising their diet, helping them with all their queries – something that we can imagine that would be very difficult when trying to prepare for their own bouts.

Of course, some of the talent will collect social welfare while others will take time off work to compete. But, between equipment, diet, training, bills and other overheads they are still a long way from being comfortable even with the help of sponsors, in an industry where there is famously little or no job security.

If the fee was €600 for one of the bigger names in the sport, you can only imagine what the lesser known fighters on the cards get.  It’s well known that a lot of their income is brought in by taking commission from the sale of event tickets of which they are allotted a certain amount.

The fact that the people weren’t paid is not only disgusting, it’s embarrassing and it takes away from a lot of peoples’ attempts to legitimise the sport. If Cage Contender is the top Irish promotion, they need to conduct business in manner that reflects such a standing.

In particular, the fighters, the ambassadors of a brand and the people that inevitably bring in the crowd to these events, have been totally undermined and been treated in a way that is bordering on criminal, despite their personal sacrifice and promotion they put into these events.

One thing that stuck out to a lot of people was the way in which the unpaid took to social media to highlight the situation. Some might have seen it as a bit of theatre, an added bit of drama to their day but others, me included, were sickened by it.

Videos and statuses appeared on timelines and that really underlined the severity of the situation. No one ever wants to admit to being taken advantage of and to see a man like John Redmond, a complete servant to the sport and a fantastic ambassador for Irish MMA, explain his situation made a lot of people angry.

Of course, the more posts that appeared, the quicker that Cage Contender got things sorted and when a press release appeared blaming the situation on a “hiccup in cash flow”, many were shocked by how quickly the situation was solved considering the wait that the fighters had before the revelations had come to light.

Despite it taking nearly six weeks for the fighters to bring the problem to the forefront, as soon as the Cage Contender brand started being dragged through the mud by the fighters, the wheels were put in motion and people started to get paid.

For that alone, the people involved need to be congratulated for putting together what worked like a union as they stood together in resilience and demanded what was rightfully theirs. You can’t help but wonder how long it would’ve taken if things had have been kept under wraps.

Clubs signed a petition declaring that they would not have anything to do with the promotion, which resembles the behaviour of a union too, but these things can only be positive in light of what happened with the flagship Irish MMA promotion.

In the future people will know how to shake a reaction out of promoters and they know they will have the backing of the community. In many ways what Stringer did gave fighting back to the fighters.

Next week in Newry, Cage Contender 17 will take place and some legends of the Irish scene will compete in what is sure to be a fantastic night of fights.

However, regardless of the appearances of Rooney, Phillpott, Cooke and Lobov, a lot of people will wait to see what happens in the aftermath of the event, where a “hiccup” on the scale of the previous one could result in the end of the promotion that gave us some of the most memorable nights in Irish MMA.

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.