Derek Brunson praises PFL for ‘biggest payday ever’ in debut fight: ‘A lot more than the UFC’
The veteran middleweight didn’t reveal exactly how much money he was paid by his new promotion, but Brunson raved about the treatment he received after signing with the PFL. Brunson joined the organization after asking for his release from the UFC, which was granted, and he went on to defeat Ray Cooper III at the PFL Finals card to close out 2023.
“For sure, my biggest payday ever,” Brunson told MMA Fighting. “It’s pretty good. It’s a lot more than the UFC, I would say that.”
By all accounts, Brunson was likely paid a flat fee for his fight rather than the common “show-win” system employed for most fights, which is where an athlete is paid a show purse and then an additional bonus for a win, oftentimes equal to the show purse.
Many fighters have argued against the show-win pay model, especially in a sport riddled with controversial judging where a bad decision can cost an athlete half their paycheck. Others have argued that a guaranteed payday might somehow make some athletes less competitive because they’re no longer fighting for a win bonus, but Brunson says that’s just simply illogical.
“If you get the right athletes, any athlete fighting at a high level wants to win,” Brunson said. “They’re not going to go out there and just say, ‘Oh, I got paid a lot of money, I’m going to lose.’
“But just being comfortable with how they’re taking care of you makes a big difference. They took care of me and I wanted to go out there and get the win, and still incentivize the win, but definitely an upgrade from my previous payday.”
Brunson holds no ill will toward the UFC and he appreciates that the promotion allowed him to get out of his contract so he could ultimately sign with the PFL.
That being said, he still marvels at the fact that he fought there for over a decade and spent nearly the entire time as a top-10 ranked middleweight, yet it wasn’t until he left the UFC that he earned his biggest payday to date.
“It’s crazy,” Brunson said. “It’s kind of disheartening when you hear guys like Kevin Holland say, ‘The fight with [Khamzat] Chimaev, I got paid crazy money.’ Like I would imagine he got $600,000 or something like that, short notice. Who else, I think Sean Strickland fought somebody on short notice, it was [Nassourdine] Imavov or somebody, but he fought him on short notice and got paid a lot of money. I’ve never been able to say that.
“I fought everybody. Even like [Israel Adesanya] — I didn’t have to fight Izzy. I did it because it’s a big fight and I wanted to put on for the fans and put on a big fight. These are fights that I didn’t have to takem but I took those risks and I really wanted to put on a good fight and give the fans something good.”
Brunson was also shocked that he never received a post-fight bonus during his entire UFC tenure, despite delivering a number of blistering finishes over the years.
“Funny enough, I’ve been in the UFC, I think I have the most finishes in middleweight history. I’m tied with Don Frye for the most in UFC history with six. I’ve never got a finish or performance bonus,” Brunson said. “That’s crazy. I’ve got a lot of finishes in the UFC and I never got a performance bonus. It’s just kind of rough with those details.
“I enjoy fighting, but we definitely want to be able to be comfortable, take care of our families with it, be able to buy what we want to buy. We put our lives, our livelihoods on the line, our brains. We can’t get that stuff back. If you’re out here putting on big fights and fighting these high-level fights, you want to be taken care of.”
In the end, Brunson believes leaving the UFC when he did was the best possible move for his career, but that goes beyond his financial compensation in the PFL.
For him, it all comes down to going somewhere he was wanted, and that wasn’t necessarily a feeling he had any longer in the UFC.
“There was nothing left for me in the UFC,” Brunson said. “I feel like I squeezed all of the juice out of the lemon or whatever. Just being able to have a fresh start, a new start, not going where I’m tolerated but somewhere I’m wanted and appreciated.
“Everybody wants to feel appreciated. Everybody that works wants to feel valued about their work. That’s every job in America or every job in the world. Once someone shows you appreciation, it’s reciprocated.”