Doing well in MMA takes a great deal of dedication, and even more training, which requires a good number of hours in the gym (preferably with a skilled coach), yet many of those who pursue the life of an MMA superstar make little more than minimum wage, especially when just starting out.
While the more well-known fighters such as Anderson Silva, the UFC middleweight champion, and Georges St. Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion, make a decent living off of their MMA careers, compared to the big name players in other sports industries they’re grossly underpaid.
Of course it’s important to remember MMA is still a young sport compared to others and thus it isn’t going to have the financial means of more established athletics programs. As MMA has developed and prospered, so too have its fighters earning income increases as they progress, but not as much as you should expect they would when you look at the pay ratios of other professional athletics.
This problem is most poignant for the brand new professional competitors who still have to put in the long training hours, but aren’t able to get the big fights or the fancy sponsors.
Tough life of the new MMA competitor
Those who are just setting foot into the MMA arena will find that their earliest matches will typically pay only $1,000 or less. Understandably, sponsors are hesitant to endorse unknowns, meaning few-- if any -- rookies have the additional paycheck that a sponsor provides.
With that level of pay, even if the fighter is able to get 6 matches each year and wins all of them (and we’re hoping pay is double for winners), they manage to scrape up a meager $12,000 a year without considering that they had to pay their coach, doctor, and tax agent.
The same person could instead take a part-time job slinging patties for $7.25 an hour, out earn their potential MMA income by $2,500 and enjoy a concussion free two-week vacation.
Because of this many “new to the business” MMA competitors also maintain a normal job being as it’s so difficult if not impossible to live off just their MMA earnings.
The situation does improve however as a fighter moves up the ladder. A mid-level competitor stands to earn between $10,000 and $30,000 for each fight and sponsorship opportunities tend to open up quite a bit at this point as well. Continuing to win most matches is still important as it should allow them to earn on the level of professionally degreed individuals, though the level of training required in addition to the injuries they get that never really heal completely tends to offset this just a bit.
For those unable at this level to find a sponsor or keep their other job, finances can still be rather tight.
What’s a fair pay-rate for MMA fighters?
It’s no surprise to anyone that the UFC is regarded as the largest and most prestigious of the MMA franchises and as such they tend to pay a better wage to their fighters than do others. From the outside it would seem as though the UFC makes a point of taking care of its fighters, however this is offset by the fact that the fighters receive but a tiny percentage of the revenue from a fight. For instance, UFC 155 brought in $3.2 million from ticket sales alone yet paid only $1.3 million to the fighters. Consider the conservatively $22.5 million from pay-per-view buys on top of sponsor fees and profits from advertising and you’re talking about a large profit margin that the fighters never see a dime of.
As the UFC’s closest competition is years behind them, there’s not much hope of pay-rate increases from outside forces. If the fighters want more, they’ll have to determine the value of their services and make their demands known.
However, the likelihood of success in such an endeavor would hinge on the formation of a union by the best fighters in the business. Most other major sports franchises have ended up taking a similar route with obvious benefits to the players (some receiving, at times up to 57% of the profits from each event).
While it’s just not possible to say exactly how much of the UFC’s income is used to pay the fighters as their finances remain undisclosed you can be sure that it’s not even close to 51%. This only hurts the sport as a whole as the best athletes out there will seek to get involved with sports that are really going to take care of them both during and after their careers.
Original story written by David King
Rewritten by Chauncey Kent