Conor McGregor may be claiming that he has a 9 figure contract “en-route”, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the UFC is one big gravy train.
The matter of fighter pay has been a hot topic in the MMA media ever since the UFC signed their now infamous deal with Reebok. And rightfully so. The agreement badly hit the majority of athletes on the roster, as it meant that they were no longer able to generate income from individual sponsorship deals. Given the often paltry nature of basic payouts, these individual contracts had long been the major source of income for many of the company’s combatants.
In May of this year, BloodyElbow conducted an anonymous survey of professional MMA fighters. According to the findings, every UFC contracted fighter quizzed was losing money due to the deal. A fighter labeled “UFC Top Contender”, claimed that he could potentially make up to $100,000 dollars per fight in sponsorship prior to the agreement, but was now looking at an income of $15,000-$20,000.
Lower-card fighters, however, make as little as $2,500 per fight from the company sponsors.
When one considers that many of these lesser-known or newly signed fighters are only pocketing a salary of $10,000 a bout, the outlook becomes bleak indeed.
It isn’t just the preliminary competitors that get short changed either. We have previously cited the example of Todd Duffee’s remuneration for headlining UFC Fight Night 71 as an example of how desperate the situation can be. According to MMAMania, the heavyweight received a mere $12,000 salary for getting his brain scrambled by Frank Mir.
Last month, MMAFighting interviewed top UFC bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling. The 26-year-old, who was in the middle of a frustratingly lengthy layoff, told the website that he was finding it harder to justify continuing in the sport due to irregular and insubstantial paydays.
“The pay is definitely not what it is unless you’re the champ or a guy that’s been around the sport for a very, very, very long time and you can make a lot of money”.
“Just doing the math on how much I fight, how often I fight per year, there’s no way I’m gonna be able to make a significant amount of money where I can put it aside to do something when I’m done”
When you read the numbers that some of these men and women are receiving for their significant sacrifices, it is easy to sympathize with Sterling. The reality, however, is that examining these surface figures doesn’t even begin to illustrate the financial struggles many fighters go through.
When Johny Hendricks had to be withdrawn from a bout with Tyron Woodley at UFC 192, after a botched cut to welterweight left him in hospital, Woodley was given his “show” money despite the cancellation. He also received his Reebok bonus.
Speaking at the centre of a media scrum, Woodley called this “a nice gesture” on behalf of the UFC. He added, though, that this money didn’t “cut it”, due to the costs that come with preparing for a big-fight.
“I spend 30-40, sometimes even $50,000 dollars on a training camp”, said Woodley. With this comment, Woodley provided a rare and intriguing piece of insight, as well as further context for the arguments over fighter salaries.
Luckily, another UFC competitor has recently come out and provided a little more information on the regular overheads that fighters have to consider.
Myles Jury, who is about to make the drop from lightweight to featherweight, has outlined the typical expenses of a fight camp on his website.
It makes for disturbing reading.
Taking taxes, gym fees, management fees, coaching fees, medical bills, and miscellaneous costs into account, Jury estimates that a fighter earning an entry level payout of $10,000 show money, with a further $10,000 win bonus up for grabs, would only take home $5,500 from a victorious effort.
Worse still, he suggested a fighter who did not secure a win bonus would only pocket $1,500.
Unfortunately, it is hard to see these conditions improving. Increased levels of competition could bring about a healthier environment, but as things stand the UFC are very much in control of the MMA market globally.
Bellator MMA could potentially benefit from fighter dissatisfaction in the Zuffa owned fight-league and become a stronger competitor. There are also attempts ongoing to start an MMA union. If such a organization was to come to fruition, that may change things for the better.
For the sake of MMA fighters of the present and future, as well as for the sport as a whole, let’s hope that one of those situations arises.