It’s easy to believe, thanks to UFC household names like Conor McGregor, that is easy to make millions of dollars in the fighting game.
Although this is a great goal to aim for one day, the reality of how much does a UFC fighter make usually doesn’t even come close to this.
For those training MMA and competing only to make money, there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed, not just in how little you might earn, but when you don’t find the natural passion that others have to succeed.
How much does a UFC fighter make then?
The range of salary for a professional UFC fighter varies quite a bit, and it depends on a few things like status, base salary, and income per fight.
The wage gap between the highest earners like Conor McGregor and those at the lower end of the scale is quite significant, and most make a basic amount of money.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how an MMA fighter makes a living, we’ve got it all laid out for you.
We’ll explain how a humble starter fighter earns their pay, and how other things like base salaries, sponsorships, and rank all affect that final dollar amount, to give you the insider scoop of what the average MMA fighters make.
The Humble Beginnings of Starter MMA Fighters
When a fighter breaks out and progresses from your average competitor to joining the UFC, they still have a lot to prove. Although they’re now part of this reputable organization, they won’t be making millions to start with.
According to The Sports Daily, more than a third of UFC fighters didn’t even match up to the average household income in the US, which means they made less than $45,000. The lowest earner in the UFC for 2018 made just over $10,000 which isn’t anything you could live off as a professional career.
Unlike other sports where an athlete has a big agent helping them broker deals, a new member of the UFC or anyone in the MMA industry has to work on their own trying to get paid.
There’s also no collective union or association that guarantees them minimum wage, worker’s rights, or other negotiations that they can use to increase their salary.
The only way for a fighter to earn a good amount of money is with time and experience, and exposure to matches with bigger names.
From there, they’re likely to become connected with more experienced agents who can help them negotiate a better deal, but this takes a lot of time and patience to achieve.
The Breakdown of a Fighter’s Income
According to the expert statistics, the average UFC fighter’s income in 2018 was $138,250, which is nothing to sneeze at.
However, when you consider that the lower-ranking fighters were struggling to make the average US salary, you can see that it’s the larger hitters that are pushing this average up.
To determine what a fighter’s income is made up of, we need to look at all of the ways they can earn money.
This money is paid solely by the UFC and doesn’t include outside deals, sponsorships, and other promotions, so they do have the potential to earn quite a bit more if they’re able to.
Per Fight Income
Members of the UFC earn a salary per fight, just like you’d find at any other permanent job. This can range from the lower end of the scale at around $10,000 a fight up to millions of dollars, like Conor McGregor’s base salary of $3,030,000 for his 2018.
How much a fighter gets paid for each fight depends on what they’re able to bring to the organization, how often they fight, their rank, and how many fans promoters believe they can get invested in the match based on this person.
Fighter status and rank
The status of a fighter is what’s going to pull in the endorsements and viewers, as the better-known names are what people want to see. Generally speaking, the higher ranked a fighter is the more they’ll be able to earn, but this isn’t always the case.
Each fight, you’re able to negotiate what you want to be paid, which is made easier with an agent who can do the work for you. When you’re just starting out though, these negotiations are usually short-lived and unsuccessful on your end.
A bonus is sometimes paid to fighters after the competition is over, depending on their performance.
A win bonus is usually paid to fighters that are lower ranked and making less than six-figure salaries already, as an incentive to continue fighting, but there have been larger bonuses paid in the history of the sport.
Other bonuses include “fight of the night” and “performance of the night” which can pay up to $50,000 for those who steal the spotlight during a match.
Some UFC fighters have deals for PPV points, or pay per view points, which can earn them huge sums of money.
When they become famous enough, they’re able to negotiate for a percentage of the earnings made by viewers paying for their fight. Some fights earn millions of viewers which can equate to a lot for a fighter if they’ve been able to secure these points.
Sponsorships and Other Deals
Sponsorship deals and endorsements have always been the number one way for popular athletes to make money, and the same goes for any field of sport.
Brands like sportswear apparel and energy drinks like to use athletes to endorse their products, and there’s none more enviable than an ultimate fighting champion.
In the UFC, sponsorships are the main source of income for fighters, however, they used to earn them a lot more. In recent years, the UFC struck a deal with Reebok to become the exclusive apparel provider for the sport and although this earned the fighters a small bonus, it largely took away from their earnings.
Once this deal was in place, fighters were no longer able to advertise other apparel brands, which impacted their income significantly.
In the terms of the Reebok deal, a fighter with three or fewer fights in the UFC would instead receive $3,500 per fight from the sports brand. Those with four or more fights in the ring would earn a stipend of $5,000 per fight, making it slightly more enticing.
Thankfully, there are other ways for a fighter to sell themselves to companies and make extra money, but they have to be a recognizable face.
Only once someone has established a name for themselves are known by the wider community, not just devoted followers of UFC, they’ll be able to earn money with various sponsorships for all kinds of brands and products like Burger King, Under Armor, and Carl Jr’s.
Most athletes don’t get into a sport for the sole purpose of making money, and if you’ve found your way into the world of MMA purely because of the promise of a paycheck, you have a lot to consider.
Check out some FAQs about making it big as an MMA athlete to see if you’re in the combat sport for the right reasons.
How Do You Qualify for the UFC?
Making a name for yourself and becoming a part of the UFC can be hard for a beginner fighter and it takes a regular and steady record of wins, as well as a lot of grueling training.
The only way to earn entry into the UFC is with a consistent history of winning fights against higher-ranked athletes than yourself, rather than continually fighting opponents on the same or lesser level than you.
Is 40 Too Old to Start MMA?
7There’s no limit to what age you can start practicing mixed martial arts at home or training at your local gym. However, establishing the skills and experience needed to become a professional fighter and join the UFC may be harder to do at this stage in life.
Fighters must train and practice for years to get good enough to win fights against higher-ranked opponents and it can be a long journey.
Can You Start MMA With No Experience?
MMA is like any other sport, and if you want to get involved as a complete novice, you have to start somewhere.
The best place to begin is by looking for local training centers or gyms that offer mixed martial arts training, and doing a trial to see if it’s something you want to do. Being in good physical condition will be helpful in the early months, but you can build your MMA fitness as you progress.