By Kate Ryan
NEW YORK, Aug 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. martial artist Paige VanZant took her fight out of the ring and up to Ultimate Fighting Championship officials, calling for better pay for women in her sport, making her the latest high-profile professional athlete to take aim at a global pay gap.
The flyweight division fighter, listed as number 14 in her category by the league, said her contract with UFC will end after her next fight and a renewed agreement should reflect her value in the ring.
"I want a significant pay raise, to be completely honest," VanZant told sports journalist Ariel Helwani in an interview this week.
"If I'm going to keep breaking my arm, if I'm going to keep bleeding and sacrificing for this sport...I think it's all fighters, and all female fighters need to be recognized."
UFC did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.
The conversation around equal pay in professional sports has gained steam since members of the U.S. women's soccer team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March, arguing that their pay and working conditions amounted to gender discrimination.
The prize money for the women's World Cup doubled to $30 million this year, but that was dwarfed by the $400 million (360 million euros) available for the 2018 men's tournament.
They pay gap for mixed martial artists is similarly stark.
In this month's UFC 241 event, the highest-paid male fighter earned over $700,000 (630,000 euros), while the top-paid female fighter earned under $30,000 (27,000 euros).
When VanZant signed her last UFC contract, she said she was told not to expect to be paid like a female champion, but wondered why her pay was only being compared to another woman instead of to fighters in general.
On her current contract, set to end after her next fight, VanZant said she earns more money home on her couch.
The athlete, who boasts 2 million Instagram followers, regularly posts about Sun Valley Science hemp products and Vitagoods scales, with most of her earnings coming from social media sponsorships and television appearances.
VanZant was among female athletes taking part in "Change in Play," an Adidas campaign highlighting the challenges women in sports face, including a lack of coverage and unequal pay.
"LOVE yourself enough to know you deserve more, be BRAVE enough to demand more, and be DISCIPLINED enough to actually WORK for more," VanZant posted on Instagram on Tuesday. (1 euro = $1.1144) (Reporting by Kate Ryan, Editing by Chris Michaud
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.