UFC fighters are some of the best athletes in the world. They put their bodies on the line every time they step into the octagon, so they should be compensated fairly. In this blog post, we will take a look at how much UFC fighters get paid and what other sources of income they may have. We will also discuss some of the biggest expenses that these athletes face. Finally, we will give our opinion on whether or not UFC fighters are fairly compensated for their efforts.
How the UFC Fighter Pay System Works
So, how much do UFC fighters get paid? According to Forbes, the average UFC fighter made $138,250 in 2018. The average UFC fighter made $147,965 in 2020, up from an average earnings of $146,673 in 2019. However, these numbers are skewed because they include both the low and high earners. The top earner in the UFC made $15 million in 2018, while the bottom earner only made $12,000. So, there is a wide range of incomes for UFC fighters.
UFC fighters typically get paid per fight, and their pay is based on a few factors, such as how well-known they are, their win-loss record, and whether or not the fight is a main event.
For example, top earners such as Conor McGregor and Kamaru Usman can make millions of dollars per fight. However, the vast majority of fighters make much less than that. In fact, many UFC fighters have to supplement their income with other jobs just to make ends meet.
As of 2021, 53% of UFC athletes have earned less than $100k total in career earnings. 69% of UFC athletes have earned less than $200k total. 84% have earned less than $500k. 91% have earned less than $1 million.
UFC Contract Amounts
The fighters generally sign a contract stipulating how many fights they’ll have for a set amount of money each time they enter the cage. The UFC offers three tiers of pay, with the lowest earning between $10,000 and $30,000 per fight and the highest ranging from $500,000 to $3 million. The middle tier ranges from $80,000 to $250,000 per fight. When new fighters join the UFC, they receive the Lowest Tier contract. A better contract is signed with a middle-tier fighter after a few victories and an increase in popularity.
Both fighters take home money, albeit inadvertently. They’ll get paid based on the size of their fan following and the tier they fall into. Whoever wins gets an extra prize, which is sometimes double their base pay. The fighters can also earn bonuses such as a Fight of the Night bonus or a Performance of the Night bonus. These are usually $50,000 each but can sometimes be as high as $200,000.
The UFC gives out a bonus to the two fighters who compete in the Fight of the Night, as well as two Performance of the Night bonuses for a total of four participants.
UFC Reebok Sponsorship Deal
The UFC’s Reebok deal has been controversial since it was first announced. While the promotion touted the deal to increase fighter pay, many fighters have seen their earnings decrease since the deal went into effect.
Since the fighters could no longer have other sponsors on their clothes or gear, they lost a significant source of income.
In addition, the Reebok deal only pays fighters based on how many UFC fights they’ve had, not how popular they are. This has led to some very low-paid fighters while the superstars continue to earn the lion’s share of the revenue.
Just to showcase how much the Reebok deal hurt the fighters’ pay, Ryan Bader gave an interview for Submission Radio where he said that he lost anywhere from $20,000-$65,000 per fight after the UFC signed an exclusive apparel deal with Rebook.
In April 2021, the UFC severed ties with Reebok after six years together. As the official apparel provider, Venum has taken over for Reebok. Not everything is known about the Venum deal; however, what we do know is that it will only last three years, and the fighters will get a slight bump in their pay for wearing Venum gear and apparel.
With the Venum agreement, champions will receive a raise from $40 000 to $42 000. Challengers will also get a boost of $2,000 (from $30 000 to $32 000), whereas fighters with more than 20 UFC bouts will instead receive $21 000 rather than $20 000.
The fighters with 16-20 UFC appearances will get $16 000 instead of $15 000, while those with 11-15 appearances get $11 000 instead of $10 000. The fighters between 6 and 10 UFC gigs get $6000 instead of $5000, while entry-level fighters get a $500 bump. As you can see, the bump in earnings is still miserable for putting your health on the line every time you step into the octagon.
Biggest Expenses for UFC Fighters
One of the biggest expenses for UFC fighters is training. They have to pay for coaches, gym memberships, and travel costs if they want to compete at the highest level. Another big expense is taxes. Because they are considered professional athletes, UFC fighters have to pay higher taxes than the average person. This can take a big chunk out of their earnings.
Unlike many other professional athletes, UFC fighters have gym fees, a coaching staff, a manager, sometimes medical expenses, travel expenses, and an expensive dietary regimen given the demands of the sport.
For example, a top UFC fighter who earns about $500,000 per fight only fights once or twice per year. After their fight, they have to pay their gym fees, and since they probably train in a high-quality gym, the fees can be high. An average gym fee for a high-level fighter can be between $20,000 and $50,000.
Federal income taxes will eat about 30% of the fighters’ pay since he/she is in the highest tax bracket. That is another $100,000 to $150,000 “down the drain.”
An industry standard management fee is about 20% of the fighter’s purse. That would be $100,000 in our example. Other medical expenses, supplements, additional personal training, and so on will set the fighter back another $2,000 to $5,000.
That leaves the fighter with about $200,000 to $250,000 left, which is not a lot, especially for a person that dedicated years out of their life to master multiple disciplines and put their life on the line. Now imagine what a fighter with a $100,000 purse earns after paying off all their expenses.
Additionally, UFC fighters are also just people, and people usually are not the smartest when it comes to finances; well, most people aren’t. Many UFC fighters show off their houses, cars, jewelry, and much more to their fans, which eats away at even more of their financial success.
Other Avenues Of Income for UFC Fighters
In addition to their fight purses, UFC fighters can also make money from sponsorships and endorsements. This is usually the case for the more well-known fighters. Such athletes have massive followings on social media and are considered celebrities outside of the UFC world. As a result, they can command high fees from companies that want to sponsor them.
UFC fighters can also make money from appearances and public speaking engagements. Again, this is usually only the case for the more well-known fighters. For example, Georges St-Pierre has made millions of dollars from appearing in movies and TV shows, while Conor McGregor has made hundreds of thousands of dollars from public speaking engagements.
Conor McGregor has also made quite a lot of money from his whiskey brand Proper 12. In fact, he has made more money from his whiskey brand than he has from fighting in the UFC. Conor sold his majority stake in his Proper 12 whiskey brand for $600 million. He established the whiskey brand in 2018 for $150 million. This just goes to show that there are many ways for UFC fighters to make money outside of fighting.
Top UFC Fighter Earners
As we mentioned earlier, the top earners in the UFC make a lot of money. For example, Conor McGregor, who has brought in maybe the most fans to the UFC in recent years and therefore made the most money for the UFC. His total compensation up to 2022, from the UFC was about $20,000,000, excluding the pay-per-view earnings. If we were to count the earnings from the pay-per-view, then the numbers would go up substantially. For example, despite infamously losing to Dustin Poirier in their second fight at the beginning of 2021, Conor took home a jaw-dropping $22,000,000.
The other top earners in the UFC were Khabib Nurmagomedov with $14,770,000 earned, Alistair Overeem with $10,000,000 earned, and the list goes on. These fighters are able to command such high salaries because they are some of the most well-known and successful athletes in the world.
How Does UFC Pay-Per-View Compensation Work?
In addition to their base salary, UFC fighters also make money from pay-per-view sales. The amount of money they make depends on how many pay-per-views are sold. Pay-per-view points are not included in the athletes’ base salary, winning bonus, or performance bonuses.
For example, if a fighter is on the main card of a pay-per-view that sells one million PPVs, they will make a certain amount of money. If the pay-per-view sells two million PPVs, they will make double that amount.
In the report produced by Hal Singer, a sample model is provided, which shows that fighters earn $1 for every PPV ticket sold between 200,000 and 400,000. UFC fighter pay is thus determined by how many PPV tickets they sell. The amount per PPV ticket rises to $2 if there are between 400,000 and 600,000 pay-per-views sold. UFC fighters will get $2.50 for each ticket if pay-per-views are bought above the 600,000 threshold.
However, there are exceptions to the rule, and it seems it is based on the whim of Dana White. For example, Holly Holm did not get a pay-per-view bonus since she was not defending a title, even though she won it in the fight. On the other hand, Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz were eligible for pay-per-view bonuses since they were UFC superstars.
The exact numbers are not public, but it is safe to say that the top earners in the UFC make a lot of money from pay-per-view sales. For example, Conor McGregor made an estimated $85 million from his fight against Floyd Mayweather in 2017, where the fight sold 4.3 million PPV tickets. This was the second highest-selling pay-per-view fight in history, so it is no surprise that McGregor made so much money from it.
So, are UFC fighters fairly compensated for their efforts? We don’t think so. While the top earners in the UFC make a lot of money, the bottom earners are barely scraping by. We believe that all UFC fighters should be paid a livable wage, regardless of their win-loss record or how well-known they are. Many fighters don’t even get to the top of the food chain, and even if they do, it is unlikely they will stay there longer than three to five years. Putting aside any notable savings in a couple of years is practically impossible, especially if the fighter isn’t a fan favorite.
UFC president Dana White recently once again addressed the earnings of MMA fighters. He claimed that one day MMA fighters would earn more than boxers. Let’s hope it comes within our lifetime.
What do you think? Are UFC fighters fairly compensated? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!