GSP details ‘chess game’ UFC negotiations that earned him ‘many millions’

Georges St-Pierre apparently enjoyed huge paydays as an active UFC fighter, a luxury that many elite competitors today don’t have. | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Georges St-Pierre explains how he got to earn “millions of dollars” as an active UFC fighter.

Nate Diaz had quite an interesting piece of advice for Leon Edwards after their five-rounder on Saturday at UFC 263. “Don’t let these motherf—s tell you (you) ain’t shit. Name your price or they will name it for you.”

Nate told me after the fight “don’t let these motherfuckers tell you ain’t shit name your price or they will name it for you” and I felt that

— Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards (@Leon_edwardsmma) June 14, 2021

Tactics like these can work for certain fighters. Back in his day as an active competitor, Georges St-Pierre also used a similar strategy to negotiate his contract.

Now enjoying retirement, the 40-year-old St-Pierre recently wrote a guest piece for Wealthsimple Magazine entitled The UFC Won’t Pay You Fairly Unless You Make Them. Here, he described the negotiations with his former employer as a “chess game” you strategically have to play.

In mixed martial arts (MMA), we don’t have an association to protect fighters like players in basketball, hockey, or baseball do. There is no union in the fight game. So, for us in MMA, negotiations can become like a chess game.

It was in 2008, two fights after I’d become UFC world champion, and my contract with the UFC was going to be up. Other organizations wanted to have me as their poster boy and UFC knew that. So, like a poker bluff, we said, “We don’t want to re-sign before the fight — we want to just finish the contract.”

We took a big risk. Because it’s like a stock market. Your stock might go up if you’re successful, but it can also go down if you lose. But that’s what we decided to do. I always believed in myself, so we took the big risk.

St-Pierre revealed taking home a mere $9,000 from his UFC 50 title fight against Matt Hughes. With a $9K/$9K show-win contract, he only earned half after losing the fight via first-round submission.

But as he climbed the ranks and slowly built his name up, “GSP” had more leverage on his side. And like how any star athlete would, he used it to his advantage.

So after I won the championship in 2008, I took a big gamble on myself and told UFC I was not going to re-sign with them. And then, the day before my fight with Jon Fitch, the UFC came back with a big, crazy contract because they didn’t want me to become a free agent.

You read I made $400,000 a match? No. I made a lot more than that. A lot more than that. Millions. When I was at the peak of my career, I was making many millions of dollars. Because you not only get the money to show and the money to win, but you also have a percentage of the gate and pay-per-view buys — the gate and the pay-per-views are where the real money is.

That’s how fighters make their money. But you need to have the power to negotiate those terms. I was very successful so I could demand that extra money.

After nine straight title defenses as the undisputed UFC welterweight champion, St-Pierre took a hiatus in 2013 out of disgust towards the “performance-enhancing problem” at the time.

After USADA intervened a couple of years later, St-Pierre decided to make a comeback. But this time, he wanted a different challenge for a much bigger payday.

I didn’t want to come back to fight for the same title. I wanted to make history and do something different. So, I challenged Michael Bisping, the champion in a heavier weight class.

I came back mostly for my own sense of accomplishment, but of course, the money was there. There’s a lot of people buried in the desert for much less than what I made for that fight, my friend.

For the fight with Michael Bisping, with the pay-per-views, the sponsorship and all that, I made about $10 million. Then in 2019, I got out. I’m very lucky and very privileged that I finished on top.

The reality is most fighters finish broke and broken. They hang there too long. They get brain damage. They go broke. I’m very healthy and I’m wealthy. It’s very rare to find someone that hangs up his gloves and finishes on top like this.

Unfortunately, what may work for both St-Pierre and Diaz may not work for everybody else. Not even for former long-time champions.

As for St-Pierre, he still butts heads with the UFC. The company recently rejected his supposed boxing match with Oscar De La Hoya, which he said would’ve been for charity.

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