Travis Browne & Matt Riddle share their opinions on UFC fighter pay


Travis Browne recently spoke to MMA Junkie suggesting that fighters should not complain about their pay because they “voluntarily” signed a contract without coercion. Contrary to this belief, other critics have suggested that one of the fundamental flaws in these types of arguments is that outside of the UFC there are no other organizations that produce the same revenue muscle as the UFC, therefore other organizations are unlikely to be in a position to outbid the UFC.

Although the UFC would water down suggestions of a monopoly, there are currently no other MMA organizations valued at over 2 billion dollars that produce the multimillion dollar gate sales and PPV numbers of the UFC.  The UFC are the only MMA organization to partner with a major sporting network such as Fox.

If I could offer an analogy, try selling your home for a high price when there is only one potential buyer interested? Then try to sell the same home when 100 buyers of equal financial capacity have turned up and are all bidding. You get the point.

The War Machine recently came out with some derogatory comments regarding fighter pay which was directed at Dana White. The War Machine argued that there is a moral dilemma when a UFC President has a collection of expensive Ferraris’ and can gamble millions of dollars away in a casino while his fighters barely make ends meet.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the comments of War Machine, you have to acknowledge that there is an engrained problem over fighter pay for the UFC which has a long history. Some of the most prominent UFC stars have criticised the remuneration being offered including Randy Couture, BJ Penn, Rampage Jackson, Tito Ortiz, Nick Diaz and many others.

The complaints have always arrived as isolated disputes from either managers or fighters and we are yet to see a united campaign from a fighters union for obvious reasons. When Tim Kennedy recently highlighted his issues with the UFC pay, he was quickly reprimanded by the UFC releasing an apology the following day. 

According to MMA Manifesto, Johnny Hendricks who is the number 1 contender in the UFC welterweight division has collected over $700,000 in reported earnings plus bonuses with a professional record of 10-1. Considering he made his UFC Debut in 2009, it will have taken 11 fights and just over 4 years to secure a title fight, not including the time spent prior in WEC.

There are big promises made by the UFC of major pay days which entice fighters into signing a contract. A big pay day however is largely dependent on getting a title shot which can take years and years of fighting and accumulated injuries.  Jon Fitch for example has recently spoken about fighter pay revealing that a career in the UFC does not make you mega rich after taxes and other expenses. For many fighters, injury and losses will probably find them first before any prospect of a huge pay day despite years of dedication to the sport.

Take UFC welterweight fighter Matt Brown for example. Brown has disclosed earnings of approximately $350,000 plus bonuses since joining the UFC in 2008 and is approaching his 16th fight against Thiago Alves in August.  Considered by many as a gatekeeper in the division, he has put on some of the most spectacular wars which raises the question on how much should someone like Brown be paid?

Another former UFC fighter worth mentioning is Matt Riddle who began his UFC career in 2008. Matt Riddle who was happy with his UFC salary, explained that before he was released from the UFC in 2013, he received $25k to show and $25K to win. Riddle, explained that if he fought three times per year and won all 3 fights he could potentially earn $250k including bonuses such as fight of the night, submission or KO.  Take away his taxes, manager and gym fees and this is what Riddle received after four years with the promotion.

When it comes to UFC fighter pay there are two separate schools of fighters concerning inadequate pay. The first school of fighters are the newcomers who have established records in other organizations or disciplines and battle to survive on show money as little as $8,000 in their debut. It also includes the athletes who compete on The Ultimate Fighter who receive as much beer and baked beans in return for their blood, sweat and tears on the show. Once again the UFC dangles a big carrot promising each of these contestants a big payday in the future utilising their services and entertainment free of charge during the show with the exception of some small bonuses.

The second school of fighters complaining about remuneration is the millionaire’s club with members such as Rampage Jackson that want a bigger cut of the PPV sales. Often their complaints are generated based on the earnings of boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquio who can receive 50% and beyond of PPV buys. They have felt that their star value is not being rewarded.

It appears that it is a long road ahead to receiving a big pay day in the UFC. Chances are you may be busted or retired before the sight of a big cheque actually arrives in the mail. It is definitely not the Wild West anymore where fighters are getting $500 for a win on some red neck under ground promotion. Pay is a lot better today then it was in the past without question, however the UFC are not prepared to disclose UFC profits to support their pay structure.

So fight fans, share your thoughts below on whether you feel fighters are being paid unfairly?

  • it's hitting a boiling point.

    Something is going to happen. But who knows what?

    In the end, I really wish a second promotion would start up like Pride. Maybe on based out of Europe and Asia including Russia. Under Pride Rules or Diaz rules to the youngin's.

    The best way to drive up salaries is a competitive market. If a second promotion could match the money of UFC and Fighters had options. A bidding war would raise the pay ceiling in a matter of months.

    • I agree with that NC. I think this is beginning to come to a-head. This is a story that just isn't dying and I think a lot of what is driving it is fan displeasure, not un-voiced or seldom voiced fighter displeasure.

      I think that deep down fans know something is not right and that the fighters are not being compensated fairly.

      As I said in a post, John Fitch's digital image still works for the UFC, yet he makes no money from it. That is wrong. Fighters should at least receive residuals.

      TUF cast members should most certainly receive residuals and they should be paid for being on the show. Yes, being on TUF is an opportunity, but it's an opportunity that produces economic benefit and the sad reality of it, is that everyone from the UFC to FOX, to the janitor that cleans the training facility get paid. All the fighters get is the "opportunity". If the fighters were all part of an actors union and were only paid scale, they would at least walk out the door with some money.

      I don't know how many times we've all sen on TUF, where the fighter looks into the camera and tell us that was living in his car before he got there and didn't know what he was going to do if they didn't win in it all.

      Concluding…Rory MacDonald was only recently able to buy his first new car. Tim Kennedy and other fighters, have second jobs. Ben Henderson as a champion is not making huge money, as I suspect is the case for most of the lower division belts. The UFC makes considerably more money then they put out on fighter labor. The UFC wouldn't pay for Jason Miller's knee surgery, because they felt it was a pre-existing condition and not one sustained in his fight with C. B Dollaway, which of course is a load of BS and the single biggest cheap move I've seen the UFC pull.

  • The pay will have to go up, with more and more fighters retiring and showing their earnings it will become only a matter of time before fighters start demanding more money.

    Information is key to negotiation, and that is the biggest problem for fighters right now, they know nothing of what other fighters are making because only certain states make MMA promotions release their numbers. So we get a small glimpse at what people make, but not the entire picture. The UFC has a grip on the numbers and its screwing the fighters' barganing powers.
    I believe that once fighters have all the information in front of them then the problem will start fixing itself. I think we're seeing that with Roy Nelson, he saw that Hunt was being paid 160 k a fight, and knows that he is worth just as much, but the UFC is hard-balling him just to save an extra buck.

    • @Shenron…Hunt is very popular but so too is big country….You feel for guys that get shafted on contract dollars

  • Once upon a time we really had no idea what fighters were earning until a few court cases starting revealing the PPV percentages during contract disputes (as in the case of Randy Couture) and fighters starting volunteering the numbers to fans.

    Before that, assumptioms were often made based on the lifestyle of fighters and often the rusty old cars many of them were driving. Fans could not understand how wages could be so low with 3 million dollar gates and 500,000 PPV sales. Even accountants were scratching their heads thinking this is worse than WALL STREET.

    Its important to support the fighters because we all know the wars they go through, the injuries they suffer, the hardship of losses.

    Hopefully in ten years time noone will be having this conversation, the ufc will be more transparent in their salaries.

    • I seen someone posted on I think the War Machine article about how people are forgetting how long it takes to build a Sport and used the NFL as an example in the beginning how little they were paid. I don't really see how people don't see that here. Without a doubt the UFC is beginning in a different era and their initial earnings are higher than when the NFL had just started, but they still need to build up the Sport before they can start paying NFL type money. The only times I really disagree with the way they're paid is when I see the UFC offering more money to bring people over from Bellator than their own champions. (Bendo and Eddie Alvarez) There is a few times I've been shocked by the payments received by certain parties, but for the most part I do feel the UFC is working their way up to better pay days. It really gives fighters a reason to strive for the belt instead of making it to the big leagues and resting on that. It keeps them hungry.

      • I forgot I'd originally replied to your post to go off your last statement. I believe in 10 years nobody will be having these convos and the pay will be significantly higher than now, it's gone up over the last 5 years and over the next 10 I expect it to continue to grow and really level out where it should be. Still being relatively early in it's growth considering the remade UFC era will only be around 20 years in then. Faster than most sports reached those levels.

        • I guess you raise a good point….Currently, UFC pay is heading up rather than down and new entitlements are being offered such as insurance…..

          However, we need to ask ourselves, what is a professional athlete worth and at what level or stage of their career do we consider them professional? Should we be guided by other sports remuneration or just ignore it completely?

      • @Silva…I think Hector Lombard is a good example….He had an amazing record which enabled a huge contract but some fighters in the UFc felt short changed…

        • Not event to mention besides injuries, the mental toughness it takes when a fighter suffers a bad beatdown and has to come back focused and confident. Munos mentioned suffering depression after his 4 fight win streak, then getting owned.
          I think even CroCop was never the same after his loss to Fedor as well as many others.

          • I think the fight game is far harder than the (IMO overpaid) NFL players.

          • ABSOLUTELY, being a professional fighter is harder mentally than a NFL player. I'd argue that being a tennis player is harder mentally than a NFL player. I'm sure I'll hear something for that. Anytime something is 1 vs 1 instead of a team sport I consider it harder mentally, ESPECIALLY fighting. When it's 1 vs 1 the spotlight is on only you and the opponent. Any team you have people around you to carry partial blame no matter what. As a fighter you have everything riding on you, I couldn't imagine being knocked out in front of millions of people and how you'd ever come back the same. Fighters are fighters for a reason. which is why they should be paid greatly, but if the money isn't there to pay all of them great pay how can you start paying some lower level guys great and other scraps? As of now where the sport is I think they're doing a pretty good job. I do agree they could all get a small bump and the UFC would still run fine, but I don't know enough to say they need to change something. Other than again offering fighters elsewhere GREAT money compared to the people who helped grow their brand. It's all competition. UFC offering Bellator stand outs high money isn't because they think they deserve it more, but making sure Bellator can't match. If you take all their top talent at high pay Bellator is stuck with low level and ex UFC fighters who couldn't hang. Eventually they'll end them too. I'd love to see all fighters paid more, but as it stands for fighters if you want to be a rockstar fight flashy win fights get a title shot win your title and go on a run. When was the last time GSP, Jon Jones, and Anderson Silva complained about money? Also as a fighter you need to get yourself some real sponsorship deals and then you can live large while you wait for the sport to build itself up more.

          • I don't think the sponsorship deals are there for alot of guys for a number of reasons….First of all, companies have to like you. Second of all there are 400 rostered guys in UFC all looking for sponsorship not to mention the other sports on the planet. I think big sponsorship money finds a few big names like GSp, Anderson, Dos Santos….But I suspect for most guys sponsorship would be as little as a 10% boost. they probably get money to wear some t-shirts, maybe some free supllements. I couldn't imagine companies raking out big dollars for guys who fight twice per year.

          • I thought they had 200 fighters…maybe you mean go-to-guys that can fight instead of actual contracts.

          • They are starting to skim the roster but this is pretty much the breakdown…

            3 Heavyweights (265 lb, 120 kg): 30 fighters
            4 Light Heavyweights (205 lb, 93 kg): 34 fighters
            5 Middleweights (185 lb, 84 kg): 56 fighters
            6 Welterweights (170 lb, 77 kg): 77 fighters
            7 Lightweights (155 lb, 70 kg): 71 fighters
            8 Featherweights (145 lb, 65 kg): 46 fighters
            9 Bantamweights (135 lb, 61 kg): 37 fighters
            10 Women's Bantamweights (135 lb, 61 kg): 13 fighters
            11 Flyweights (125 lb, 56 kg): 15 fighters

      • Silva, you make a good point about building the sport and where the sport was, is and is going relative to the NFL.

        However, I don't think the fans are asking that the fighters be paid NFL money. I think what the fans would be happy with would be in seeing, at least the ranked fighters, so that would be 80 men and 10 women (not including division champions), getting paid a base salary and if that salary was 100K and they got their wins and bonuses beyond that, I think the fans would thank that to be a fair deal.

        Making it into top ten should get a fight more than simply getting his name listed on the UFC's website as # whatever. The moment they get ranked they should get the salary. I'd hate to think of the incentive that would be to fighters and the money were talking about would be chump change to the UFC. It would also be a business expense and a right-off, as well as a smart business investment.

      • One could also argue that it is the athletes that built the sport, and this is a partnership. Are we losing sight of who actually built the sport…

        Billionaires invested in the sport, athletes brought the fans

  • I am not even close to amateur in fighting, But I would pay to have one second in a cage with any of UFC animals. Just saying.

    • Not me, they would HAVE TO pay me to step in the cage.

    • by the way, I didnt click on anything.