The short answer is: much less than they should. In 2021, UFC fighters were paid a median annual wage of $160,022. This figure varies widely, from fighters in the prelims who make only $10,000 for each fight, many of whom must supplement their income with part-time jobs and sponsorships to make ends meet, to the most famous high-end fighters who earn $100,000 per fight, or even five times that for a big title fight or headliner. In this article, we’ll cover how MMA fighters of different divisions and promotions get paid and the potential downsides to this apparently glamorous career.
- History of Pay in the UFC
- UFC Average Income
- Pay for Other MMA Promotions
- Highest Paid Fighters
- Lowest Paid Fighters
- Current UFC Pay Controversy
- How Is UFC Pay Determined?
- Risk and Reward
- Reported Salaries For Each UFC Fighter in 2021
History of Pay in the UFC
In the UFC’s early years, the sport was much less regulated and fighters were paid very low rates, especially for a career that routinely puts the athlete’s health and safety on the line. The audiences were smaller, and so fighters couldn’t enter as many competitions as they do now, leading naturally to lower revenue and lower pay. As the sport has grown over the decades, competitors’ earnings have grown as well, but possibly not enough when compared with the risks and in comparison to the earning potential of athletes in other sports.
UFC Average Income
The UFC is an extremely profitable organization, and that is reflected in the salaries of some of their top fighters. Unfortunately, the benefits are not passed down to all of the combatants, as the median base pay is only about $30,000
Considering that most MMA fighters only perform in two or three matches each year, the income for each fight is very important.
Pay for Other MMA Promotions
Amateur MMA hopefuls often fight for free in exhibitions or charity events simply for love of the sport or to jumpstart their careers and get experience, but they will often earn $100-$200 per fight just as a participant incentive. Eventually, amateur fighters who demonstrate their skill can be chosen for small professional events.
Low-level professional MMA fighters often are paid only a couple hundred dollars for their first fight. After a few appearances, they have the potential to quickly earn upwards of $500 for each fight, but even though these fighters are considered professional, it is difficult to make a living on the income generated by these events and most fighters rely on day jobs to make ends meet between competitions while they build their MMA careers.
Of course, not all MMA fighters are signed with the UFC. Other promotions are reported to have different pay scales and it can be difficult to compare the UFC with other MMA promotions because of just how much larger and better known the UFC is than its competitors.
The closest comparison is with Viacom’s Bellator, which brings in only a tenth of the revenue of the UFC, but spends right around half their income paying their athletes. Bellator has a pattern of contracting prelim fighters on a fight-by-fight basis, which could spell insecurity for beginning MMA competitors, but several fighters who have jumped ship from the UFC tout Bellator as a much better financial option for athletes.
Historically, the Professional Fighters League (formerly known as the World Series of Fighting) trails as far behind Bellator as the second-largest promotion does behind the UFC. We do know that the PFL has paid some fighters one million dollars for one win.
ONE Championship, which began only in 2011 in Asia, has grown immensely and even taken former UFC champs under its wing. ONE doesn’t disclose much financial information, but their biggest stars reportedly earn $50,000 per fight and double that for a win. Others have let slip that some ONE fighters earn between $200,000 and $750,000 in a year.
Highest Paid Fighters
Conor McGregor is the highest-paid fighter in the UFC and one of the highest-paid athletes in history. His reported UFC salary for 2021 was $10,022,000.00 (not including pay-per-view and various bonuses). He can earn $5,000,000 for just one fight, again, not including the sponsorships and PPV payouts. All told, McGregor has taken home over $25,000,000 for just one fight. His fame has resulted in a net worth of over $120,000,000. Dustin Poirier, another of the UFC’s top earners, took home $1,000,000 in base pay alone in his fight against McGregor.
Lowest Paid Fighters
Of course, not every UFC fighter is Conor McGregor. On the other end of the scale, some of the lowest-paid UFC fighters like Austin Lingo and Jacob Kilburn get paid under $25,000 for even a winning fight.
Current UFC Pay Controversy
For a business that has generated billions of dollars in revenue over the course of its thirty-year existence, most fighters get paid a shockingly small percentage of the business’ income. This has caused a lot of controversy, especially when compared with one of the most similar spectator sports, boxing, UFC fighters earn dismally little. Just one boxer, Canelo Alvarez, earned as much in one year as the entire UFC roster of about 600 fighters combined.
The UFC may not have official pay divisions, but each fighter negotiates their own contract and the gap in pay between fighters of different popularity is vast. In general, UFC fighters can be divided into three tiers. In the highest tier, we find famous fighters like Nate Diaz, Amanda Nunes, Jon Jones, and Conor McGregor. These stellar fighters make between $500,000 and $3 million dollars yearly.
Middle-grade fighters like Aljamain Sterling, Dominic Cruz, and Petr Yan bring in between $80,000 and $250,000 for each fight. And then we come to the lowest-paid group of UFC fighters. Those on the Undercard, like Jairzhino Rozenstruik, Michelle Waterson, and Yorgan De Castro are paid under $100,000 each time they fight.
Another difference that has garnered scrutiny is that male fighters tend to be paid much higher than their female counterparts. For example, when Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather, Jr., he was paid about $85 million dollars. In contrast, the highest-paid female UFC fighter ever, Ronda Rousey, only got $3 million dollars for a winning fight and in 2021, Amanda Nunes compensation was $490,000. Though there are some outliers Across the board and even among the best female UFC fighters, most get paid less than the men of similar stature in their sport.
How Is UFC Pay Determined?
So far, we have a lot of dollar figures for how MMA fighters of different promotion companies and ranks are paid, but no clear picture of how their pay is figured. Reimbursement for professional fighters is not nearly as simple as a weekly paycheck, so let’s get into how these numbers are reached.
The UFC does not pay fighters a salary. To earn income, they must appear in fights. The minimum pay for a UFC fight is $10,000. UFC fighters get paid whether they win or lose, but depending on their rank and performance, they may not get paid much more than that minimum.
The maximum base pay of a UFC fighter is $5 million per fight. This skews the average of $84,000 far above what most fighters actually get paid.
Combatants struggle not only for glory and fame, but to ease their financial troubles as well. For most MMA fights, win bonuses are usually double a fighter’s base pay. Just like the base pay per fight, these payouts vary vastly, with the highest-paid fighters bringing home hundreds of thousands of dollars for a win, like Jan Blachowicz, who was paid an extra $750,000 for his win against Israel Adesanya.
PPV bonuses come from how many viewers pay to see a fight on pay-per-view television. The minimum bonus granted for this is $400,000 and the maximum is $20,500,000. The more popular the fighter, the greater the PPV bonus they can command. In McGregor vs Poirier, McGregor was paid over $20,000,000 solely for the PPV orders his popularity generated.
A performance bonus is a $50,000 extra for making a fight exciting to watch and earning the UFC award of “Fight of the Night,” This bonus is a great incentive for even low-level fighters to make a fight fun for the audience because of how drastically it improves their pay.
Other Sources of Income
Sponsorships are paid out by companies for a fighter who represents their products, often by wearing their logo when they enter the fight. The minimum sponsorship pay is $3500 and ranges all the way up to $40,000 for each fight in which the fighter represents their sponsor.
The high payout of PPV bonuses and sponsorships makes a big difference. A fighter with a strong brand can get paid significantly more than their competitors, even for a losing fight, meaning that building a following can be just as important as being a skilled fighter. This is why generating audience hype and building name recognition is a huge part of becoming a successful MMA fighter, even at amateur levels.
Even the lowest level MMA fighters who can boost ticket sales for their fights by fighting with flair and creating a spectacle that excites the audience get back a portion of the revenue the gym earns from ticket sales and will earn significantly more than their competitors. This pays out not only for each individual fight but by making a fighter more recognizable, they can get people excited about seeing them in future fights and ensure their income down the road, as well as establish popularity to negotiate better contracts as they move up the ranks.
Getting paid a minimum of $10,000 for just one night of work may sound like a quick way to get rich, but MMA fighters have to pay out a lot of that money just to be prepared for their fights and to maintain their careers. In addition to taxes, they have to pay for their own transportation, gym fees, trainers, dietitians, coaches, agents, and managers, training partners, food and supplements, as well as equipment, rehab, massages, and even required medical tests.
Fighters often even have to pay for food and transportation for their staff. For those among the higher paid MMA fighters, this still leaves them with a tidy sum to take home, but for a lower level fighter, these expenses quickly eat up the majority of their pay and can even result in a low-level fighter paying for the privilege to fight.
Risk and Reward
MMA fighters put their bodies under incredible strain and at high risk over and over throughout the duration of their career. Injuries are a major risk and they cannot exclude the possibility of even death in the octagon. Of course, when a fighter is injured and cannot fight, they can not only incur pricey medical bills but also lose out on the income they depend on and the upward momentum of their career path.
The fact that MMA fighters only get paid when they participate in a fight means that many fighters will show up to fights injured or sick because the alternative is not getting paid. At lower ranks, this is especially impactful for a fighter trying to make a living from their sport, but even more famous fighters take financial hits when an injury puts them out of commission.
Reported Salaries For Each UFC Fighter in 2021
Something to note, these salaries are just the numbers that were made public (not including PPV and other endorsements), so some fighters may have made more.
|106||Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza||$226,000.00|
|118||Bruno ‘Blindado’ Silva||$196,000.00|
|136||Chan Sung Jung||$171,000.00|
|138||Bruno Gustavo da Silva||$166,500.00|
|139||Khalil Rountree Jr.||$166,000.00|
|156||Marcos Rogerio de Lima||$154,000.00|
|170||Seung Woo Choi||$150,500.00|
|177||Abdul Razak Alhassan||$134,000.00|
|196||Alessio Di Chirico||$123,000.00|
|204||Jun Yong Park||$121,000.00|
|204||Ovince Saint Preux||$121,000.00|
|219||Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos||$111,000.00|
|235||Dricus du Plessis||$103,000.00|
|277||Da Un Jung||$93,000.00|
|292||Montana De La Rosa||$86,000.00|
|311||Ji Yeon Kim||$76,000.00|
|311||Mark O. Madsen||$76,000.00|
|340||Jinh Yu Frey||$68,000.00|
|373||Antonio Carlos Junior||$52,000.00|
|385||Livia Renata Souza||$50,000.00|
|395||Mayra Bueno Silva||$49,500.00|
|446||Kyung Ho Kang||$36,000.00|
|458||Kai Kamaka III||$32,500.00|
|465||Douglas Silva de Andrade||$29,000.00|
|478||Gloria de Paula||$27,500.00|
|501||Johnny Munoz Jr.||$24,000.00|
|536||Anderson dos Santos||$16,500.00|
|536||Yorgan De Castro||$16,500.00|
|552||Daniel da Silva||$14,000.00|
|552||Martin Sano Jr.||$14,000.00|
|552||Silvana Gomez Juarez||$14,000.00|