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A Payment Deferred: The Ongoing DREAM Salary Issue

”What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore, and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over, like a syrupy sweet?” – Langston Hughes, ‘A Dream Deferred’

Like many Mixed Martial Arts enthusiasts, fighters and fans, the love I have for the sport was in large part fostered by watching PRIDE Fighting Championships. The events were fascinating visually and always ripe with action featuring a number of talented athletes. When the promotion officially went “sayonara” in late 2007 I was as concerned about the void its absence would leave on the MMA landscape as I was relieved when DREAM emerged on the scene less than a year later with FEG’s creative team at the reins.

That being said, I currently find myself at a crossroads in my love for the Japanese organization. Though DREAM has provided as many memorable match-ups as it has iconic introductions, it has recently come to light Ralek Gracie has not been paid for his May 29th fight against Kazushi Sakuraba at DREAM 14. News of the ongoing saga to procure his salary came via a radio interview with popular MMA journalist Ariel Helwani. In fact, Gracie even mentioned it’s even been a struggle to get a response from the company let alone his winnings.

Were this the first time a similar story had broken in relation to DREAM it might be worth an ounce of patience, though little more when given the nature of the offense and the stakes fighters face. Sadly, however, the issue of non-or-excessively-late payment has become as associated with DREAM as announcer Michael Schiavello’s trademark colloquialisms, with past examples made public involving Gary Goodridge, Bibiano Fernandes, and Nick Diaz.

As a result of this latest salary-related problem, in the words of Schiavello, I will be saying, “Goodnight Irene!” to the promotion in terms of both covering and watching their events until the overall matter of apt payment is fully resolved. It’s time to open our eyes and wake up from the DREAM dream.

The thought pains me, but the truth is MMA and its participants deserve the support of fans/media (even fighters) when it comes to certain situations, and sometimes doing what’s right is difficult. For an individual to risk his/her well-being in potential life-altering situations…life-ending situations in extremely rare occasions as a matter of fact…and then having to fight with the same passion for basic financial reimbursement as they had in the ring is absolutely appalling on every level and should be treated as such.

Furthermore, to think a company with their profile and production value is failing on such a fundamental level is, in my opinion, downright disgusting. DREAM is not a small, local event with a half-filled high school gym in attendance; they are currently one of the largest names on the MMA scene. Dazzling the audience with electronic wizardry, trophies, and attractive ring girls while dishonoring the very men whose backs the organization is built on shames the sport and insults a group of people I have an immense amount of respect for – Mixed Martial Artists.

Ironically, the company’s name could not be more appropriate due to the inherent false-reality they’ve created with their proverbial smoke-show. As Leonardo DiCaprio’s character refers to in the blockbuster hit “Inception”, it’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange (in our dreams). Gracie’s situation was my alarm clock or “kick’ for fans of the film. I am opening the shades, looking at DREAM for what it presently is, and crawling out of from under the comfort and darkness of my covers.

If and when DREAM cuts every fighter on their cards a check with relative immediacy for a significant period of time – at minimum six months from Gracie’s payment – I will happily return to professing my affection for their product after letting loose an lengthy sigh of relief. Until that time comes I will continue to boycott them, support the actual athletes signed to the company, and stick to text-based results beyond that. I will also begin to question Strikeforce if they continue to cross-promote with DREAM, because frankly Scott Coker’s group is better than to keep associating themselves with that sort of disgrace unless contractually obligated to.

I don’t expect anyone else to follow suit, nor will I fault them for showing ongoing support of DREAM. They have great fighters and there is definitely something to be said for what they provide to the overall audience. I absolutely know I am cheating myself out of hours of pure delight because of the decision to more or less turn my back on DREAM, but the slight I’ll endure pales in comparison to the disservice they are doing to the entire MMA community by continually depriving fighters of the chance to make an honest living; to pay for their training, their bills, their families’ sustenance. I understand I am but one keyboard warrior on a quest with perhaps little more than a fool’s hope, but the involved principle being thrown to the wayside is something I refuse to tolerate.

“As long as it is realized and accepted that warriors must comprehend right and wrong, and strive to do right and avoid wrong, then the way of warriors is alive.” – Principle of Bushido as explained by Taira Shigesuke in ‘Bushido Shoshinshu’

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