Why Does the UFC Pay So Little?

The pay in MMA and the UFC has increased dramatically in recent years, but the pay is still very little, especially compared to boxers. The most notable reason is simply due to lack of financial sponsors.

When comparing UFC fighters pay to the pay in other combat sports, it seems only reasonable to look at “ordinary” UFC fighters and boxers: men who compete on the bottom tier, alternating between the undercard and the lower tiers of the main card. Here, we will be examining why the UFC pays their fighters so little when compared to other combat sports, such as boxing. 

Do Boxers Get Paid More Than UFC Fighters?

Boxers get paid significantly more than UFC fighters because of the support of sponsorship money.

Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., as well as former combatants Oscar de La Hoya and Muhammad Ali, are currently making significantly more money than their UFC competitors. 

There’s also the sponsorship money that men like Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones earn—amounts that are difficult to quantify. So we’re left with focusing our attention on up-and-coming fighters: men and women wanting to build a reputation for themselves as quickly as possible, often taking fights on short notice.

How Does the UFC Compare to Boxing? 

Not every UFC competitor on a pay-per-view gets the large cash, meaning not all UFC athletes make big bucks.

Dan Henderson earned $250,000 at UFC 157, while Yuri Villefort took home $6,700, with the $700 coming from his opponent, Nah-Shon Burrell, who missed weight and had a portion of his purse awarded to Villefort and the athletic commission. Obviously, the wage scales for both individuals are vastly different, but that is to be expected and observed in all combat sports; Dan Henderson is a well-known and established commodity, whilst Villefort is not.

The following is the rest of the UFC 157 main card payout (h/t MMAWeekly): Urijah Faber: $100,000 (including a $50,000 win bonus), Ivan Menjivar: $17,000, Court McGee: $40,000 (including a $20,000 win bonus), Josh Neer: $16,000, Robbie Lawler: $105,000 (including a $10,000 win bonus), and Josh Koscheck: $78,000. Ronda Rousey: $90,000 (including a $45,000 win bonus), Liz Carmouche: $12,000, Lyoto Machida: $200,000 (no win bonus).

The undercard for UFC 157 was a little more consistent: four participants paid $8,000 for their losses, with Villefort on the bottom rung getting $6,700. The total purse for UFC 157 was $1,173,300, and the numbers show that winning the fight helps a fighter’s bank account: $217,000 in bonus money was paid out for victory, not including bonuses for Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, or Submission of the Night—and $92,000 of that bonus money went to the undercard. In 2012, the disclosed stats for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley bout (bought by Dan Rafael for ESPN) were significantly lower. Pacquiao was paid $26 million, while Bradley took home $5,000,000. Profits paid to each boxer for PPV percentages were not included in these calculations.

The following are the payouts for the remaining combatants on the televised portion of the card: Jorge Arce was awarded $300,000, Jesus Rojas was awarded $25,000, Mike Jones was awarded $105,000, Randall Bailey was awarded $100,000, Guillermo Rigondeaux was awarded $103,000, and Teon Kennedy was awarded $70,000. The money paid to the competitors not on the televised card—the night’s low-ranking combatants vying for exposure—begin to show some similarities: Mikael Zewski was awarded $8,500, Ryan Grimaldo was awarded $4,500, Wilton Hilario was awarded $6,000, Andy Ruiz was awarded $2,500, Tyler Larson was awarded $1,200, Jesse Hart was awarded $4,000, and Manuel Eastman was awarded $1,200. 

The first thing you notice is the huge disparity between the famous names in sports, but then you note that the boxers did not receive any additional money for winning. It’s unclear how many times these boxers fight in a calendar year or what kind of sponsors they have (if any), however Mikael Zewski fought five times in 2012, which is quite normal among fighters seeking to get into the big leagues. 

When the figures are crunched, it’s evident that the UFC pays well for combat sports, at least when it comes to the average fighter who wins. The UFC is paid the sport standard because they are the sport standard. How much extra should they be expected to pay? It’s difficult to say, given that a boxing card is the product of several firms sharing the cost of creation, and the UFC conducts most of its work in-house and pays for most of it on its own, relying on FOX to broadcast it.

However, it is evident that some increase is required. Not every UFC fighter will be able to compete for the extra money that sponsors provide to athletes like GSP, Jon Jones, Frank Mir, Anderson Silva, and others. This is particularly true when you consider that firms like Dethrone, One More Round, Rolling Stone, and countless others have all been on the UFC’s list of banned sponsors at one point or another, yet sponsorship in boxing appears to be an open door.

A fighter’s existence revolves around sponsorship as a means of supplementing their income and feeding their families. Without sponsorship money, the average UFC fighter attempting to battle his way into title contention may have to work several jobs to make ends meet. According to multiple reports, not only will a sponsor have to pay the UFC $100,000 simply to sponsor a fighter for an event, but the UFC itself appears to be the major conduit through which sponsorship monies flow to the athlete. This provides the UFC more clout when it comes to contract terms and reduces the role of management with their fighters.

Do Fighters Who Lose Still Get Paid?

Even if they lose, UFC fighters are compensated. 

They will be paid according to their contract for the bout, regardless of the outcome (unless they don’t make the weight, in which case they must forfeit 20% of the prize). They will only earn the additional money from the win bonus if they win.

How Does the UFC Handle Business?

It’s unclear how the UFC handles business, especially now that they’ve partnered with FOX, but the UFC has always desired control over their product. Which is one of the key reasons why the sport and the UFC have lasted and grown as much as it has. 

It’s difficult to blame them for this. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians, as the adage goes, has stopped boxing from putting on the fights that it needed to put on (and thereby pleased the people in the long term).

It’s no surprise that so many huge matches break apart in boxing because there are so many stakeholders that need to be appeased before a contract can be inked. They make the fights in the UFC because they have control, and hence the bouts happen significantly more frequently than not.

Why Does a Paycheck Matter? 

Because it is the main reason why the sport has thrived despite the economic downturn, the sport is expanding. 

Granted, some of the matches sanctioned by the business don’t make much sense in terms of divisional ramifications—Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones is only one example—but the sport is still expanding. In spite of this, UFC fighters are severely underpaid. If a fighter is trying to work his way up the rankings while only making $8,000 each fight, he should be able to train full time. And make money back to cover the costs of re-entering the ring, and moving up in the sport.