Does MMA Pay Well?


MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, is a modern-day gladiator show, in essence. You see fighters such as Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, and Justin Gaethje, taking down opponents in the ring and living lavish lifestyles outside the ring. You are probably wondering how well MMA pays.

Does MMA Pay Well?

MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world today, and the average fighter in 2020 made $147,965. While this varies by fighter, and it also varies by the organization they fight for, MMA generally pays well compared to a regular job.

You may be a superfan who watches MMA from home, or you may be a budding fighter who is dedicating themselves to the sport and wants to know if there is proper financial compensation for your efforts. Keep reading to find out whether or not MMA pays well.

How Much Does an MMA Fighter Make Per Fight?

How much an MMA fighter makes per fight depends on whether they are amateur or pro, the prize money they negotiate, and the money that promotions offer them. When turning pro, new fighters typically make $10,000-30,000 per fight. However, fighters do not typically fight more than three to four times a year, so do not get your hopes up.

Middle-tier fighters make $80,000-$250,000 per fight, while top-tier fighters such as Tony Ferguson or Justin Gaethje can make $500,000-$3,000,000 per fight, depending on the amount stipulated in the contract, their prize money, and any money they get from promotions and sponsors.

However, keep in mind that fighters are not constantly in the ring; they typically fight three to four times a year, so a bottom-tier fighter without brand deals may make only $30,000 a year from MMA. This is why many MMA fighters on lower tiers have secondary jobs to supplement their income and fuel their MMA career:

  • 37% of MMA fighters made less than the national average income in 2018
  • The average income in the US was $45,000 in 2018
  • Only 187 UFC fighters made six-figure salaries in 2018
  • Despite the dangers of the sport, pro-MMA fighters make less than average NFL players as a base salary (NFL players make $400,000 as a base salary)

How Much Do Amateur MMA Fighters Make?

Until you are signed by the UFC or become a champion elsewhere, MMA is a money pit for fighters. Amateur fighters typically make between $400-600 for an amateur fight, once taxes and paying the trainers are factored in. However, promotions usually provide a scale depending on how many tickets are sold, so fighters can make a little more.

Depending on promotions and negotiations, amateur MMA fighters can take home more than $400-600 a fight, but that is a baseline figure. Still, do not quit your day job. Georges-Saint-Pierre, a former pro-MMA fighter, worked three jobs in order to get through college and make enough money to fight in MMA. It is not a cheap sport.

In order to understand that, look at any other professional sport. To reach a professional level requires, if you do not have the necessary funds, diabolical levels of skill and a knack for catching the public eye and subsequently sponsor deals. For every professional fighter you see, there are 10 that didn’t make the cut:

  • The UFC is a selective sport, not everyone makes the cut
  • Amateur fighters make very little money before deals and sponsors
  • Amateur MMA fighters often need more than one job to support themselves
  • High costs to enter the sport

Do UFC Fighters get Paid if They Lose?

The short answer is yes. UFC fighters get paid a base salary for their fights no matter the outcome. However, there is a “win” bonus involved, which usually matches the base salary amount for the fight, so fighters are motivated to perform as well as possible and get that bonus.  

Not only that, UFC fighters get a brand deal bonus from Reebok every time they step in the ring, thanks to a deal between the UFC and Reebok where fighters get sponsor money in exchange for wearing exclusively Reebok gear in their fights. The UFC is not a win-or-go-home type of career; fighters will get paid no matter what.

Essentially:

  • UFC fighters get a base salary regardless of the outcome
  • Fight bonuses plus performance bonuses are in the balance of a fight
  • UFC fighters must wear only Reebok gear in the ring

The Reality of MMA Fighting

We all marvel at Conor McGregor’s skill and the sheer power of fighters like Francis Ngannou, but with that fame comes a backstory that is often less than pleasant. Conor McGregor, it is widely known, lived on social welfare while training and fighting to get the attention of the UFC.

Francis Ngannou, a top heavyweight MMA fighter, came from Cameroon, where he worked in salt mines, and made his way to France and subsequently America, sleeping in parking lots at times. Stipe Miocic, another heavyweight, is a firefighter outside the ring, and Georges-Saint Pierre worked three jobs to go to college and fight in MMA.

For every top-tier fighter we see on the big screen, there are a hundred that have tried and failed to make it as a pro-MMA fighter due to lack of funds, injury, or simply lack of exposure to the spotlight. This is not exclusive to MMA. It is prevalent in any other professional sport, but the point is: Stardom only caters to a select lucky few.

Not only that, dissent is widely held among UFC fighters that salary amounts for anyone who is not top-level are a gross disservice considering the battering fighters can take in the octagon. Fighters often have brand deals and sponsorship that make up the difference, but the point is there: fighters need better baseline compensation, win or lose.  

Who Makes More, Boxers or MMA Fighters?

This depends on the level of the sport. Grassroots boxers and MMA fighters do not bring home the massive salaries you see prodigies such as Conor McGregor or Tony Ferguson collecting from their fights. In fact, their salaries pale in comparison.

Low-level boxers and MMA fighters, actually, do not make much money at all, as they have not had many brand deals or promotions yet, and still must pay for their training and equipment. It is not unheard of for amateur fighters to have a primary career, or even two, in order to support their MMA fights and training.

Typically, when a fighter signs with the UFC, the main MMA organization, they are given a contract for a certain number of fights and a fixed paycheck for each of those, along with bonuses depending on performance and prestige.

Now, when it comes to professional boxers, they generally make more than MMA fighters on salary alone, but boxers generally do not start making huge amounts of money until they have a title shot or beat a world champion. That is when the money starts rolling in. Overall, however, top boxers make more than top MMA fighters.

In summary:

  • Low-level boxers and MMA fighters do not make much money
  • The bulk of pro-fighters salaries comes from deals & promotions
  • Pro-boxers start making real money after a title shot
  • Amateur fighters often need a secondary career to support boxing/MMA

Conclusion

Does MMA pay well? At the highest levels and/or with the right brand deals, MMA pays very well, as it should considering it is the modern equivalent of gladiators in the Colosseum. However, for some fighters, it does not pay them nearly enough as a baseline, although the potential to make money is huge.

The answer is nuanced. Some fighters do it for the love of the sport, and some do it because that was what paid the bills. MMA pays well for some, and not for others, but at the end of the day, every fighter straps on their gloves for the base reason that they love the sport and competition, even if the pay is not stellar or worthwhile.

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