Ever wondered how much money MMA fighters make? Whether you are already an amateur/professional MMA fighter looking to get a rough estimate of your potential income or just someone that is curious about the topic. In reality MMA fighter generally does not make a lot of money if they do not branch out and squeeze other potential avenues that could bring them extra income. What I mean by that is an MMA fighter should not rely 100% on prize money. Want to learn more about how most MMA fighters make a living?
When we are talking about MMA fighters pay, we first have to make a clear distinction between amateur and professional. We should also note that geography plays an important factor when it comes to prize money. For example, a professional fighter fighting in 3rd world countries will probably make less than an amateur fighter in the USA. Not to mention the pay between major/minor MMA promotions will need to be accounted as well. A champion in Bellator/ONE will most likely make less money compared to a UFC Champion (But not always).
As you can see there are so many factors that will influence how much money an MMA fighter can make. Not to mention MMA does not have a union, unlike sports like soccer and basketball which means every decision of monetary compensation is in total control of the fight promoter. Combine that with a lack of good sports manager or even not having any will make a fighters pay unpredictable. In my opinion there are 3 factors that will determine how much money an MMA fighter can make
- Fighter Status
- Fight Promotions
In this article, I will dig deeper into those 3 factors so you can get better understanding of what you should expect to get when choosing to pursue MMA as a career. You will learn how some of the biggest stars in MMA that does make a lot of money through prize money, but you will also find out fighters that made their money via other sources.
How much money a fighter in the UFC, Bellator, One, or Rizin make depends on how well they excelled in maximizing the 5 factors I mentioned above. By ignoring all of the factors most fighters could end up struggling to make a living.
How MMA Fighters Make Money
There is a staggering difference in income between fighter with different statuses. Let’s start from the bottom. Amateur fighters are VERY LUCKY to be paid anything after a fight, amateurs are expected to compete for free and rarely get any support from the promotions besides maybe medical insurance. This is true in South Florida as reported by Sun-Sentinel.
In order to get more money, a fighter has to increase his status not only in terms of fighting records but also marketing-wise. We all knew how Conor Mcgregor rose into stardom, he backed up his amazing fighting records with an innate ability to promote fights and most importantly himself. To get the maximum amount of money you have to be a great fighter with a unique personality that people can get behind. There are always people that rely solely on bettering their fighting records such as Fedor Emelianenko or Randy Couture. The other side of spectrum lies Dillon Danis, a fighter that just has 2-0 MMA record but his pay is miles better than those with better records. But even when combined, their income won’t be the same as what Conor Mcgregor got by excelling at both.
And you can only think about this after you went pro. There is no avenue of making respectable money if you are an amateur. When was the last time you heard of a famous amateur MMA fighter? I never heard anything too. There is no guarantee that amateur MMA success will crossover when you turn pro. In contrast to boxing that has amateur fighters with amazing win/loss ratio such as Vasyl Lomachenko that has proven his success has transferred into professional boxing. There is no reason to be an amateur for a long time in MMA.
As a general reference, the average UFC fighters made around $138,250 last year. A slight increase from $132,109 in 2017. While that number looked awesome on paper, keep in mind that this is annual income which translates to around $11000 per month. You can definitely live with that if you’re living in 3rd world countries, not so much if you’re based in the USA because the average income of 2019 is $52,208. Keep in mind the fighters has to pay additional expenses for their training camps, trainers, meal plans, and plane tickets. Combine this with the usual expenses such as rent, taxes, vehicles, etc and you can probably see how the average income will only get you by if you’re living on budget. The average earnings are also unfairly influenced by a few top stars like Conor Mcgregor and Jon Jones so in reality the average fighter could be earning way less.
But here is the kicker. Even if you have good fighting records along with a unique personality, there is no guarantee that you’ll get more money. Why? Because MMA promotions each have different pay structures.
What promotions you are fighting for will heavily impact how much money you will get. Gegard Mousasi is a prime example of how 2 different MMA promotions treated the same fighter differently. In the UFC he has been notorious in speaking up about how fighters with worse records are getting more money than him. Read more about his opinion of UFC pay in this article from Bloody Elbow. Since then he has transferred to Bellator and has reportedly cashed in around $150000 for his winning performance against Rory Macdonald in Bellator 206. As you can see the disparity is there. UFC is considered to be the first (and best) MMA promotion in the world. How come they are paying a good fighter less than the competitor? That is a mystery that cannot be explained here, I will someday make a dedicated post about it.
UFC also always give bonuses for fighters that performed well, the bonuses are Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, and Submission of the Night. Nowadays those bonuses are combined and named Performance of the Night. This is on top of the usual win bonus, unlike other promotions that only give their fighters a base pay + win bonus. UFC is “better” in terms of bonuses, but does it really matter?
Bellator has also shown their favoritism as UFC did. Dillon Danis and Aaron Pico both have average earnings per fight that is so much higher than fighters with similar records. Gaston Bolanos who fought on Bellator 206 gained $24000 while his opponent gets just a measly $2000. Aaron Pico, in contrast, received around $80000. Bolanos has a better MMA record than Pico. Bellator also does not have the luxury of sharing PPV points like the UFC because Bellator rarely has a PPV event.
Well, what about other promotion like ONE? According to a former One fighter Ben Askren (now UFC fighter) in 2014 he was paid $50000 to show and $50000 win bonus. However fighter salaries in Asia are not publicly disclosed so we have to take everything with a grain of salt. ONE also does not have PPV points similar to Bellator.
So what can we take away from this? There is no guarantee that a fighter that joined the UFC will receive more money than someone that joined Bellator or ONE and vice versa. Despite focusing your time to choose the best promotion, Strive to Have a decent fighting record and marketability that will help you to stay relevant when joining any promotions.
Sponsorships in the MMA world is one of the most determining factors of how much money an MMA fighter can make. After all even the fight promotions need various sponsors to make money, Bud Light is famous for being the UFC’s main sponsor for years, same as Millers lite for Bellator. However the biggest controversy happened back in 2014-2015 with the implementation of UFC-Reebok sponsorship deal. How come?
Brendan Schaub is one of the most vocal when it comes to sponsorships, the former UFC fighter famously told the media that he lost money from 6 sponsors because of the UFC-Reebok deal. This deal also influences the coaches. No matter what they cannot have any outside sponsors. It sounds good if the pay from Reebok is worth it, but turns out that the Reebok deal has only garnered backlash from most of the fighters and even the fans.
How are the sponsorships in other promotions? Bellator is very open for any type of sponsors and this has lured a lot of UFC fighters to jump ships, such as Rory Macdonald and Gegard Mousasi. From many rumors and reports that I can gather from MMA forums on the internet turns out both of them are doing better financially compared to their tenure in the UFC. One Championship also has varieties of sponsors for each event so I’m assuming they are very open as well. Does that mean you should not go to the UFC if you want to make money?
Selected fighters also receive endorsements which are basically a more premium sponsorship. Brian Ortega is very well known to be an endorser of Modelo, apparently 10 years ago he had a choice. Stipe also has some type of deal with Modelo. But endorsements only happens for fighters who are a current/former world champions or a rising star with a lot of hype behind them. Want to know the next level of sponsorships? Enter Conor Mcgregor.
Because of his popularity, Conor Mcgregor was able to CO-PROMOTE the UFC 229 event alongside Reebok. Conor famously advertises his new whiskey Proper 12 and he has produced a lot of money from that deal. But this is not a common occurrence, only the top tier fighter can enjoy this luxury.
To conclude, if you are an upcoming fighter and want to get the best amount of money right from the start then go anywhere but the UFC. But if you are confident in your abilities and you are playing the long game then join the UFC and put the world on notice THEN profit from your name.
In every profession, it is always a dream to be compensated better and this is no different in the MMA world. Fighters deserve to get the best monetary compensation that they could get in the limited time that they are actively fighting because they literally put their lives on the line when they are performing for our entertainment. People like that deserve more money than those who sit on their asses and create excel sheets all the time (including me).
To get the maximum amount of money possible while fighting professionally you have to simultaneously be an exciting fighter with a huge following and always on the lookout of the best paying sponsors available. Presuming you are not going to be the next Conor Mcgregor you should also devise an exit plan when you are truly done fighting professionally. Do not put all your eggs in one basket.
Most importantly fighters should take a deep look at their reason of fighting professionally and asked themselves: Am I in this for the money or something else? If you are competing in MMA not for the money but rather for reasons such as passion or destiny then you should not think too much about how much money you will get. MMA is a crazy sport and you are one of those crazy people and for that I and the rest of the world salute you. Pain is temporary but glory lasts forever.
Despite of the money talk, pursuing MMA as a career is one of the most exciting career path that someone could take. If you decided to go and have a crack at it, just remember to have fun and protect yourself at all times!