As part of its upcoming “All About the Money” issue, ESPN the Magazine this week released a list of the top earning athletes in 30 sports during the last season or calendar year. In what has to be considered one of the least surprising pieces of news in recent memory, the top dog in mixed martial arts was Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight champion fans love to hate.
Lesnar fought twice during 2010 – defeating Shane Carwin and losing to Cain Velasquez – and for his trouble ESPN reports the erstwhile WWE wrestler raked in $5.3 million in base salary and pay-per-view money. That doesn’t even include Lesnar’s endorsements (which are numerous) or those shady “extra” bonuses we’re eternally led to believe the UFC slips in the pockets of its favorite stars.
Not too shabby for a guy whose very career appeared in jeopardy at the beginning of the year, owing to a sudden bout with diverticulitis. Lesnar missed the first seven months of 2010 while recuperating and once he returned carried a workload that certainly didn’t exceed those shouldered by the rest of the company’s top stars. After dropping his title to Velasquez in fact, Lesnar took some highly publicized time off to clear his head. Rumors swirled that he might leave the sport entirely, he was courted by WWE for a big-money match at Wrestlemania, but eventually settled for a coaching gig on the current season of the UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter” reality show, which he is certainly not doing for free.
Hardcore MMA aficionados no doubt bristle at the idea that Lesnar is their sport’s biggest star. Because of his stint in professional wrestling, his quick ascension in the UFC heavyweight division and his surly attitude, he’s still viewed as something of an outsider. But the fact is, he is MMA’s best-known personality and perhaps it’s that outsider status that makes him all the more marketable.
For whatever reason – his bulk, most likely – ESPN and casual fans have gravitated to Lesnar like no other MMA fighter in the sport’s short history. Despite the fact that he does not seem particularly engaging, smart or interesting, people love to watch the guy, and that’s how he earned most of that $5 million. It doesn’t take a mathematician to notice that most of that sum came from Lesnar’s cut of the PPV sales and the PPVs only sold as much as they did because Lesnar was on the card. Hard to argue he doesn’t deserve a healthy chunk of that dough.
Especially when you consider how much he likely earned for the UFC, a sum we can only guess at because the company remains privately traded. In addition, the money Lesnar took home doesn’t enter the same universe as the cash raked in by boxer Manny Pacquiao, baseball player Alex Rodriguez or even the top horse jockey last year. In case you’re wondering, Ramon A. Dominguez made $17.4 million for riding the ponies during 2010.
It’s difficult for longtime fans to accept, but the truth is, Lesnar earned every penny.
If the money is there for him – and it is, due to his sheer marketability – he should get it. Better him than conceding an even larger percentage to the promoters or the executives.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.