How much money do MMA fighters make? For such a short and simple question, you might be surprised to learn that the answer is a bit more complicated. With the explosion of popularity in MMA thanks to fighters like Conor McGregor over the past few years, fighter pay has substantially risen.
In 2020, the average UFC fighter made approximately $154,622. The important thing to note is this average is heavily skewed by outliers. For example, Conor McGregor has made $10 million in just two fights so far this year! He was paid $5 million just to show up to each of his 2021 fights against Dustin Poirier (on January 23rd and July 10th).
How Does the UFC Pay Fighters?
Most UFC fighters are paid both a guaranteed amount and a win bonus. For example, at UFC 263 on (June 12th, 2011), Leon Edwards was paid $110,000 to show plus an additional $110,000 to win, for a total of $220,000 when he won a 5-round decision against Nate Diaz. That’s a solid win bonus!
It’s important to note that opposing fighters do NOT have the same pay structure. Despite losing the fight against Leon Edwards, Nate Diaz took home $250,000 for his performance, more than Edwards earned from his win.
Let’s take a look at the full purse (fighter pay) breakdown for UFC 263 – I chose this card because it’s a great representation of an average “good” fight night – solid fighters, but no superstars like Conor McGregor or Jon Jones….
UFC 263: Main Card (Pay per View) Fighter Pay
|Winning Fighter Pay||Losing Fighter Pay|
|Israel Adesanya ($500,000 + $0 bonus = $500,000)||Marvin Vettori ($350,000)|
|Brandon Moreno ($100,000 + $100,000 = $200,000)||Deiveson Figueiredo ($210,000)|
|Leon Edwards ($110,000 + $110,000 = $220,000)||Nate Diaz ($250,000)|
|Belal Muhammad ($80,000 + $80,000 = $160,000)||Demian Maia ($175,000)|
|Paul Craig ($55,000 + $55,000 = $110,000)||Jamahal Hill ($28,000)|
UFC 263: Prelims (ESPN) Fighter Pay
|Winning Fighter Pay||Losing Fighter Pay|
|Brad Riddell ($40,000 + $40,000 = $80,000)||Drew Dober ($87,000)|
|Eryk Anders ($75,000 + $75,000 = $150,000)||Darren Stewart ($45,000)|
|Lauren Murphy ($70,000 + $70,000 = $140,000)||Joanne Calderwood ($51,000)|
|Movsar Evloev ($36,000 + $36,000 = $72,000)||Hakeem Dawodu ($55,000)|
UFC 263: Early Prelims (ESPN+) Fighter Pay
|Winning Fighter Pay||Losing Fighter Pay|
|Pannie Kianzad ($28,000 + $28,000 = $56,000)||Alexis Davis ($43,000)|
|Terrance McKinney ($12,000 + $12,000 = $24,000)||Matt Frevola ($23,000)|
|Steven Peterson ($23,000 + $23,000 = $46,000)||Chase Hooper ($37,000)|
|Fares Ziam ($14,000 + $14,000 = $28,000)||Luigi Vendramini ($15,000)|
|Carlos Felipe ($25,000 + $25,000 = $50,000)||Jake Collier ($28,000)|
As you can see, the amount an MMA fighter makes REALLY depends on where they are in the card.
- The average fighter on UFC 263’s main card made $220,300
- The average fighter on UFC 263’s prelim card made $85,000
- The average fighter on UFC 263’s early prelim card made $35,000
The outliers paint an even uglier picture. While Isarel Adesanya took home $500,000 for his main event victory, Luigi “The Italian Stallion” Vendramini earned just $15,000 in an early prelims loss. Putting together a training camp is expensive. After paying coaches, training partners, and managers, it’s unlikely that Vendramini made any money at all for his troubles.
UFC Bonuses for Performance and Fight of the Night
In addition to the payments for showing and winning, the UFC also hands out discretionary bonuses for highlight reel performances. At UFC 263, a total of $200,000 was dished out as bonus money:
- $50,000 for Paul Craig (Performance of the Night), for a devastating armbar against Jamahal Hill
- $50,000 for Deiveson Figueiredo (Performance of the Night), for his submission victory in earning the Flyweight title belt
- $50,000 each for Brad Riddell and Drew Dober (Fight of the Night)
The bottom line is how much money a UFC fighter makes all depends on how many fights they’ve had previously, how popular they are as a fighter, and how often they fight every year.
Fighters like Conor McGregor don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck anymore, but UFC newcomers are likely to struggle to make ends meet at the beginning of their professional MMA career.
How do MMA Fighters Make Money Outside of Fighting?
Sponsorships and endorsements are also a huge source of earning potential for MMA fighters. The thing to keep in mind here is the vast majority of the sponsorship money business allocate toward fighters, is for the cream of the crop. It might make sense for Modelo to write a huge paycheck to Stipe Miocic in exchange for starring in a commercial, but they are unlikely to sponsor a lower tier fighter competing on undercards.
The Reebok Deal
Prior to 2015, UFC fighters were allowed to wear the logos of any sponsors they wanted on their fight gear. This was a major source of income for fighters – and it all changed with the Reebok deal…
In May of 2015, the UFC and Reebok signed a $70 million 6 year deal that gave Reebok exclusive rights to fighter’s branding inside the ring. Under this agreement (which recently ended, more on that later), all fighters had to wear Reebok fight gear and were unable to promote the logos of any other sponsors.
In general, fighters were pretty upset about this. Reebok did pay the athletes based on the number of fights they had under the UFC’s banner:
- $2,500: 1 to 5 fights
- $5,000: 6 to 10 fights
- $10,000: 11 to 15 fights
- $15,000: 16 to 20 fights
- $20,000: 21 or more fights
- $30,000: Challengers
- $40,000: Champions
These numbers pale in comparison to what fighters were making from sponsors who were eager to put their logo on a fighter’s shorts:
Rough deal, right! Well, it expired in early 2021 and was replaced with a new agreement between the UFC and popular MMA brand Venum.
The UFC’s Venum Deal
When the Reebok deal expired, the UFC signed a new exclusive gear agreement with the MMA brand Venum. Does this seem odd to you? It does to me. No knock on Venum, they make some great gear, but from a household brand perspective they are many tiers down from Reebok.
The Venum deal will result in a slight increase in fighter pay across the board. The pay scale is just like the Reebok deal, based on the numbers of fights a fighter has under the UFC banner.
Reebok is remaining the UFC’s official footwear partner, and the Venum deal will last for 3 years.
The UFC and ESPN
The UFC signed a 5 year, $1.5 billion deal with ESPN to broadcast tons of UFC events every year on ESPN and ESPN’s streaming platform ESPN+. This ESPN deal (signed in January 2019) was absolutely groundbreaking for the UFC and all of MMA. The popularity of MMA will continue to rise, I believe the ESPN deal with the UFC is just the beginning.
Who are the Highest Paid MMA Fighters?
The highest paid MMA fighters aren’t always the top earning in the octagon. Remember, a lot of fighters make a majority of their salary from PPV sales and sponsorships outside of the UFC. Many fighters also saw huge monetary losses in 2018 from their acts outside of the octagon (McGregor throwing a dolly through a bus, Khabib starting riot after UFC 229).
The Highest Paid MMA Fighters of 2020
Let’s take a look at how much the highest paid UFC fighters took home in 2020…
- Khabib Nurmagomedov: $6,090,000
- Conor McGregor: $3,060,000
- Junior dos Santos: $1,560,000
- Israel Adesanya: $1,230,000
- Justin Gaethje: $ 920,000
- Jose Aldo: $ 900,000
- Deiveson Figueiredo: $ 875,000
- Anthony Pettis: $ 855,000
- Alistair Overeem: $ 830,000
- Stipe Miocic: $ 790,000
What do UFC Fighters Think of the Pay?
Fighter pay is always a controversial subject among UFC fighters. Prior to UFC 227, former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt unleashed on UFC fighter pay, saying:
They get their ass beat and make what, $10,000? It’s crazy, man. You’ve got NHL players and MLB players making millions and millions and millions and we’re the fastest growing sport in the world. Something’s gotta change.Cody Garbrandt, former UFC Bantamweight Champion
You can listen to the full interview here:
Ronda Rousey also highlighted the stark differences between fighting in the UFC and wrestling for the WWE in an appearance on Steve-O’s podcast. She is a fan of the WWE’s pay structure, where wrestlers are immediately put on salary.
Rumors are that Rousey is now being paid just over $1,000,000 per year to wrestle in the WWE. Her career earnings (not including bonuses or PPV points) over 4 years with the UFC came at about the same annual rate – $4,000,000. However, it sure feels to me that she’s a lot happier working for the WWE than she ever was as a UFC fighter.
Other Ways MMA Fighters Make Money
One other popular way fighters in the UFC and other organizations make money is through partnerships with martial arts gear companies, as well as supplement brands.
Former UFC Champion Michael Bisping for example has what is likely a lucrative sponsorship deal with the boxing and Jiu Jitsu equipment Sanabul, through which he promotes their boxing gloves and Muay Thai gear.
UFC sensation Mackenzie Dern, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, is sponsored by the martial arts company Elite Sports. They make BJJ gis, MMA shorts, and all sorts of fighting equipment that Dern uses in her training camps.
Supplement companies have also been known to offer MMA fighters big sponsorship deals, for example TJ Dillashaw had a long-time deal with MusclePharm. Nowadays you see the high end supplement brand Thorne advertising all over the octagon.
Additionally, many fighters also supplement their income by teaching either at an MMA Gym or through online videos. Anderson Silva recently made some boxing and Muay Thai instructional videos for the website Dynamic Striking for example. UFC and grappling legend Dean Lister has made some videos for Jiu Jitsu training websites like BJJ Fanatics. This is a nice way for fighters to earn a little extra money while continuing to do what they love.
I think everyone can agree that MMA fighters should be treated better in general, however, we also must understand the massive potential for making money in the UFC. People must understand that not every fighter competes to become the richest fighter of all time, many fighters compete because they simply love MMA.
So next time you’re sitting at the bar and you think to yourself “how much money do MMA fighters make?” remember that the answer isn’t as simple as it sounds. If you’re someone who plans to compete in MMA, please be aware of the health consequences that could result from competition. “Prize fighting is temporary, Martial Arts is forever”.