Getting paid to do sports is nothing new – it’s been happening for years now in soccer, rugby, and basketball. So, it’s no surprise that the world of combat sports joined the list of paid sports. As the popularity of the UFC and MMA has risen, so have salaries and money-making opportunities. Considering that these fighters are getting knocked senseless for 15 minutes per fight, they most definitely are getting paid for it.
With that said, how much do MMA fighters earn and how do they earn it?
Do MMA/UFC Fighters Earn a Salary?
Yes, MMA – or rather the UFC – is a business, and the fighters are considered to be employees of the business (albeit in the form of independent contractors). If the employees aren’t being paid, there’s no show. The fighters can’t pay their bills, put food on their tables, and care for their families without that salary.
How do MMA Fighters make Money?
Let’s start out slowly. How do MMA fighters make money? Well, there are a number of ways that this is done.
They’re called ‘fighters’ for a reason. The main way that a UFC fighter makes money is through their fighting skills. As I said before, you’re spending 15 minutes beating each other senseless. It comes with the territory, so you’re going to get beaten up at some point – getting paid for it just makes the beating more worthwhile.
Sponsorship deals can be a very lucrative way to make money. The way a sponsorship works is a company or group of companies get together with an individual or organization and pays them to promote their products. I guess it’s almost like affiliate marketing, in a way – the fighter or organization promotes a product and gets paid for it.
Now, as lucrative as they are, sponsorships can be a double-edged sword. As you’d expect, a sponsorship involves a contract. Some of these contracts dictate exclusivity with their partner – i.e., “We’ll sponsor you, but you’re not allowed to take on other sponsors while we do it.”
Endorsements are similar to sponsorships in that you’re getting someone to promote your product. One major difference is that endorsements are reserved for the crème de la crème of fighters. The reason for this is that you want to associate a particular product with a particular face. Fans are more likely to purchase a product if it’s connected to a well-known UFC fighter than if it were connected to some guy who just signed on and hasn’t even had his first fight yet.
How are UFC Fighters Paid?
There are a few ways in which a UFC fighter may be paid. The usual way is through a salary, but they’re also able to receive bonuses and sponsorship money.
Okay, this is a bit more complicated than it looks, but I’ll try and explain as best I can. Your salary, as a fighter, depends entirely on your negotiated contract, including bonuses. It starts off with a baseline fee. This is the amount of money that you will make – as agreed upon in your contract – regardless of whether you win or lose a fight. If you’re a popular fighter, and you’re in high demand, you can negotiate a higher baseline fee.
This is where things get a bit more complicated. Fighters’ salaries are not consistent. Instead, salaries are on a ‘per fight’ basis – unless the contract says otherwise.
Fines and Bonuses
As far as bonuses go, you can receive bonuses for winning fights and performing well. The amount is usually stipulated in your contract, and it is usually the same as your baseline salary. Fight night and performance bonuses may also be given if a fighter manages to impress the audience. This is in addition to the cut of sponsor money that fighters are granted.
In addition, if a fighter violates a contract, they can be fined. The fine comes out of that fighter’s salary and is awarded to his or her opponent.
Some fighters receive cuts of the pay-per-view money that an event pulls in or a cut of sponsorship money.
Having a day job or going into business for yourself is a good way to make some extra money, but it may also violate your UFC contract. With that said, writing a book or two, or starting a line of merchandise (clothing, cologne, etc.), are all viable ways to make money.
Just make sure it doesn’t violate your contract.
How much do UFC Fighters Earn Per Fight?
The size of your income as a fighter depends on a variety of factors, including your fight record (how many fights you’ve had and your win/loss/draw ratio), your popularity, and your contract among other things.
The average income of a professional UFC fighter is around $140,000 a year (note: this number is thrown off by the higher earning fighters). If we do a bit of quick math, that comes to roughly $11,000 a month, but you’re not going to be fighting every single month. When you’ve got a fight on the horizon, you’re training for it all the time, but after that fight you need time to recover. Your body has been put through immense strain and it needs time to heal, so you’ll only be fighting every few months. This amounts to roughly 2 to 4 fights per year; although, there are obviously exceptional fighters who fight more or less often.
If the lowest amount of money a newly signed UFC fighter can earn is $2000 with a $2000 victory bonus, that’s already a good $4000. If you add in sponsorship cuts and, assuming the fighter qualifies for it, pay-per-view points, that figure changes. On the other hand, as previously mentioned, a fighter’s salary will depend on their contract negotiations. One example I found involved fighter Nate Diaz and two different fights that he had.
The first fight was against Michael Jonson. Diaz negotiated a baseline salary of $20,000 with a victory bonus of $20,000, bringing his base salary for that fight to $40,000. On the other hand, when he fought Anthony Pettis, the agreed-upon baseline salary was $250,000 and that contract did not have a victory bonus clause or listing, and so he only made $250,000 on that fight. Part of that salary goes to his training expenses and a portion goes to his coach.
How much do Amateur Fighters Earn?
From what I’ve seen, amateur fighters usually don’t get paid for their fights. The reason for this is that there’s a big difference between amateur and professional fighters. An amateur fighter is considered a professional fighter as soon as they get any kind of direct compensation for fighting.
The International Sport Combat Federation (ISCF) rules and regulations regarding the status and differences between amateur and professional fighters explicitly state what constitutes an amateur fighter. An amateur is defined as: “An athlete who has never competed in the sport for money. An athlete who is not paid for his or her performance. An athlete at the beginning, learning levels of his or her career.”
On the other hand, professional status is defined as: “An athlete who is paid for his or her performance; paid for their excellence of experience, knowledge, and ability of their given sport. An athlete who plays for pay.”
Why are amateur fighters not paid? Well, the aforementioned definitions provide the answer. Think about the definition of an amateur fighter:
“An athlete at the beginning, learning levels of his or her career.”
The line in the professional definition to note is:
“Paid for their excellence of experience, knowledge, and ability of their given sport.”
Amateur Fighters don’t have the Experience
An amateur fighter is considered to be a beginner in combat sports. Professional fighters are, well, professionals. These fighters have been fighting for a few years at least and are paid specifically because they have that knowledge and experience built up from years of fighting. This brings us to the central issue regarding payment of amateur fighters: experience.
If an amateur is considered a beginner, they don’t have the experience that a pro fighter would have. As previously mentioned, amateur fighters are considered professionals as soon as they’re paid to fight. Paid fights (i.e., fights where amateurs get paid) may encourage a professional fighter to join in the fun, which would make the fight unfair.
Imagine being an amateur boxer and ending up in a match with Mike Tyson. Would you win? Maybe, but it’s not likely. Tyson is built like a tank and has been fighting for years. He’s got more experience than you, and he knows how to use it. Since amateur fighters don’t get paid, it’s not likely that they’ll end up fighting a professional boxer or cage fighter.
Additional Expense Issues
Another reason that amateur fighters aren’t paid is that planning the fight is already very expensive and promoters can only afford so much.
In the seven years that I’ve been training in taekwondo, I’ve competed in three different tournaments – one of which was the 2015 regionals. Events this big are usually very expensive, you’ve got several clubs getting together which means you need to rent a hall large enough for all competitors, judges, and spectators. This is usually a few thousand. Add in seating, mats, extra equipment, judges, and referee fees, and it gets very expensive very quickly.
Between the rental cost of the venue, building and fighter insurance, referee and judges fees, and all the usual bells and whistles, a promoter usually has a tight budget. This means they won’t be able to afford to pay the fighters involved in an amateur match.
Is it Possible for Amateurs to Make Money?
Yes, it is possible to make money as an amateur fighter. The rule is that they cannot be given direct compensation for fighting. With that said, sponsorships can provide payment of sorts. They can also receive a cut of the ticket sales money as a means of getting paid.
Who are the Highest Paid UFC Fighters?
Certain fighters make more than the average $140k per year – thereby throwing the average figure off. These guys make more than the typical 5 or 6 figure numbers that the top fighters usually get. The reason being that they are a bigger commodity and draw in larger crowds. With that in mind, who are the highest-paid fighters in the UFC? Well, I looked up the stats for 2020 and here’s what I found. In terms of their overall earnings, the highest paid UFC fighters, as of last year, are:
- Khabib Nurmagomedov ($6.09 million)
- Conor McGregor ($3.06 million)
- Junior dos Santos ($1.5 million)
- Israel Adesanya ($1.2 million)
- Justin Gaethje ($920,000)
- Jose Aldo ($900,000)
- Deiveson Figueiredo ($875,000)
- Anthony Pettis ($855,000)
- Alistair Overeem ($830,000)
- Stipe Miocic ($790,000)
- Dominick Reyes ($760,000)
- Robert Whittaker ($745,000)
- Marcin Tybura ($701,000)
- Andrei Arlovski ($695,000)
- Tony Ferguson ($695,000)
- Donald Cerrone ($660,000)
- Kamaru Usman ($640,000)
- Anderson Silva ($620,000)
- Derrick Lewis ($620,000)
- Anthony Smith ($615,000)
MMA and combat sports aren’t an easy career path. The amount of pay isn’t much, considering that part of it goes to your coach and the rest has to go towards training related expenses (i.e., equipment, medical expenses). This is why most fighters have other jobs or ventures that they do outside of the UFC.
As always, I hope you guys and gals found this article informative and that you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you for the next one!