What do we really know about fighter pay?


There’s been some great discussion the past few months about fighter pay. I say great because any conversation on the topic is good where the information about what these guys go through and how much they take home gets more press. We’ve even posted some commentary from the Zuffa brass, and a few opinion pieces from our staff here at Lowkick. What hasn’t been voiced is a good amount of fighter opinion on the subject.

UFC employees will usually stay away from conversing their pay with the media, and if they do they’ll usually try to keep it in a good light. Which makes sense because the UFC does take care of a lot of guys (and now girls) with back room bonuses and other non-disclosed payments. However, there is also the very real possibility of more people being disgruntled with the pay and just not wanting to rock the boat.

Recently, there have been two UFC competitors that have come out against the thought of Zuffa “taking care” of its fighters.

Here is an excerpt from an interview Jacob Volkmann did with aboveandbeyondmma.com:

Are you at all bitter about how things worked out with the UFC?

Very bitter. They always claim that they treat the fighters so well. Yeah, they treat the top five per cent of the fighters well — the ones that are on the main card all the time. They don’t treat the rest of them very well. The healthcare plan is horrible, with a $1,500 deductible per injury — the catastrophic-injury insurance is not even really good insurance. There’s no retirement fund, there’s no signing bonus. You start off at six-and-six, you’re really not making too much money because you’re self-employed, so you’re paying the self-employment tax and you’re paying the regular tax and income tax. So you’re paying twice as much in tax. They claim they’re treating the fighters well, but they’re not, realistically.

Do you feel that’s a misconception among fans?

Of course … People always tell me, “You’re rich — you’re on TV!” Are you kidding me? I made $54,000 two years ago, paid $9,000 in taxes, so that leaves me with $45,000. This last year, I made $50,000 and paid $8,000 in taxes. That leaves me with $42,000 — that’s barely above poverty. I have three kids and a wife I’m supporting.

Now, if you want to label Jacob as just a bitter former employee with an axe to grind you would have a valid argument. He is clearly bitter about his exit from the UFC, and by the rest of his interview its apparent he doesn’t want to admit that guys who “stand and bang” are just more exciting than grinders who are not the top of the heap (and even some of those are hated on repeatedly). 

He does have some good points though. He’s 6-2 in one of the toughest weight classes in MMA with wins over Danny Castillo, Shane Roller, and Antonio McKee. Those are some tough outs for anybody, and he was pretty visibly gassed after the first couple minutes of round 1 against Green (which would couple with his admission of illness).

However, if you think he just can’t be taken with any sincerity because of his abrupt exit here is some thoughts from an interview with John Cholish on MMA junkie.com:

“I’m fortunate enough that I have a job that provides for me really well,” Cholish said. “I give a lot of these guys credit that fight at this level. I think they could be compensated much better based on the income that the UFC takes in. Fortunately, I can just walk away and I’m OK with it. By no means do I mean it disrespectfully toward any other fighters because I think they do a great job. But hopefully Zuffa and the UFC will start paying them a little better.

“I can still train and still have fun and help other guys get ready,” he said. “That will be fun for me. But especially this whole week, it was just a real experience. It was just a little disappointing, the whole process, and having to go through it for what you put on the line, unfortunately. Win, lose or draw, I wanted to put it out first (on Twitter) so people didn’t think if I lost, that was the only thing.

“I had a great ride fighting from little shows all the way up. I never thought I’d get to the UFC, so it’s been a really cool experience.

“At the end of the day, it’s hard,” he said. “I have great coaches that take time off and travel. They deserve money, as well. To be completely honest, on a fight like this, I’m losing money to come down here. Flights, hotel rooms, food – and that doesn’t even cover the cost of the time I have to pay for my coaches for training. It’s funny because people talk about the fighters, but at the same time there’s camps and coaches behind the fighters that you don’t even see. So if a fighter is having a tough time making ends meet, how do you think his coaches are doing?” 

John Cholish informed the masses over twitter the week before the fight that his match against Gleison Tibau would be his last win, lose, or draw. He is not a disgruntled former employee. He is a decent fighter, and knew that even when he was competing in the lower levels of the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world it wasn’t anywhere close to his day job. 

What do you think Lowkickers? Is this a needed side effect to keep fighters hungry, and competing at the highest levels? Or in your opinion are these two just a couple more examples of why fighters should get a bigger share of Zuffa’s profits? Let us know in the comments!

  • i dont get why Fans think and Fighters getting into the ufc expect to get paid as much as or even close to the top level guys….this isnt the NBA,MLB or The NFL this is still a very new company still trying to build itself up…Nobody knows exactly what the UFC makes when they put on events and nobody knows how much the UFC pays to put on events and everything else it does..as far as the insurance the fighters should be lucky they are getting any type of insurance from such a new company, did they expect to get the best insurance out there? and aslo i guess mid carders dont get most people dont tune in and PAY to see them, they pay to see the maincard guys compete most fans couldnt give a **** about them but they want a bigger check wtf when you work you way up and when this company actually gets on its feet and is running stronger, thats when this conversation should be happening..not because bitter fighters start bitching because they dont get this is still and up and coming business.

    • John Cholish probably understands more about business than anybody else in the MMA community outside of maybe Nick Thompson.

      • He might undstand business but he knows nothing on what the UFC is making and paying to built itself up…im not saying they can or cant but maybe they cant afford to pay these mid card fighters more right now..i remember all the articles about UFC PPV's not doing so well..ufc doesnt have some money tree they pay fighters with.plus i guarantee nobody was paying to watch John Cholish compete

        • Ya, I've always sort of suspected the UFC doesn't have as much money to keep this organization rolling as everyone thinks they do. When you hear people cite the UFC as being worth $2 billion I wonder how much of that is just the brand name and how much is actual capital they own. It is entirely possible that they don't have the money to pay fighters more or maybe they're saving for a rainy day? How much is the UFC spending on lobbying for places like New York or working on China or Mexico or India or whatever country they want to go to next. All that costs a lot of money to and we don't have the slightest idea just how much.

          For the most part, Dana White is the most up front person basically in the public eye and I would like to think he's not lying when he says they're doing what they can to take care of the fighters – but then again, he does drive a Ferrari so who knows?

          • I completely agree with you…When you think about the venues that use, the amount of capital that goes into promoting each event etc. I can imagine a good portion of the $2billion is probably from the goodwill the company has, with little much left over for a fighter wage.

            Not that I'm saying fighters shouldn't get paid more, but I think there is that misconception that fighting in the UFC is big bucks straight away.

    • only dana white is getting more rich than anyone in ufc, other fighters got rich because of thier sponsorship and their gym.

    • fighters should switch to fighting to p0rnstars just like chumlee. He use to fight tank abbot now where is he now, he's a pawnstar.

  • Its like and extra in a movie bitching because their paycheck isnt even close the the main characters…Seriously? like when people are actually paying to come and see YOU then im sure youll have an argument…until then pay your dues and stfu!

    • How often though does the undercard make up for a crappy main card? I would also liken a movie extra to someone fighting in the state level promotions and not the UFC. Once you are in the UFC you should be makin money just like in the big leagues of the movie business you have Kevin James and then you have Brad Pitt. Both are at different levels of value by a huge margin but because both have made it to the biggest stage they both get paid like the big leagues. Unfortunetly I have done a little research and it may very well be that the UFC is not as profitable lately as it was and they may be holding out for bad times. More than 50% of the fighters make less than the average Americans 45 grand. Now i am sure they can pay more to the fighters without a real problem right now but how many fighters will stick around for a pay cut if things start going south. It may be better when they become more established but for now it may make sense to make the top look good so as to keep fighters around and also save cash. No doubt in my mind they can pay more but they probably have goals they are not meeting since the decline in PPV sales that were worth 230 million in 2010 and were only 170 million in 2011 and PPV sales are supposed to represent 75% of their profits. If they paid all 500ish fighters 100 grand each thats 50 million alone. We know GSP, Silva, Hendo, Reem, Kos, Bisping etc are all big pay fighters. Tito was 1.5 mil in 2011, Bisping was 850 grand in 2011 and these are just salary. Vitor and Lyoto made more than 600 grand each. Jones, GSP, Silva got 800 grand, 400 grand and 400 grand respectively while also claiming percentages from buys with GSP getting quite a huge chunk at over 2 mil in ppv percentage bonuses. I can see how money can be not so much scarce but certainly spent wide.

      • Dana is worth about 55 million right now. GSP supposed to be worth 4 or 5 mil a fight now so 10 fights gets him 40-50 mil. Seems reasonable that Dana is worth not much more as co owner than his star. Its just the sponsorships and such that make a big difference for most fighters and if you can get a cut of PPV.

  • First off, his wife needs to get a job. 1950's called and said, his wife needs a reality check.

    $42,000 is a good salary. Its more then most you meet each day. Don't forget, they're free to main event at the other smaller promotions and make more if they think they can too.

  • good article Evan…

    The fighters get people into the stadiums
    The fighters get people buying PPV
    The fighters get the injuries
    The fighters do the training
    The fighters have to pay their coaches
    The fighters images are used to create video games.
    The fighters get nothing to appear on reality TUF series while someone like Snookie gets paid millions to be a reality star.
    The fighters do all the press conferences

    • If you are good enough and talented enough to make it onto TUF then you should be paid…Why is it ok for DANA to make millions off a TV show using people but its not ok for those fighters who come into the show broke and provide all the entertainment to get nothing. the TUF series makes millions of dollars….

      • The money that is being paid like $5,000 for a knockout is just a cheap way to get guys to smash eachother….Spend ten weeks in a house and you walk away with $5,000 if you score 1 knockout….Thats $500 a week over the ten weeks you stayed. meanwhile you may have torn your hamstring, broken your nose etc etc

  • For some reason certain people believe that when it comes to the UFC the fighters should be getting paid more. And that could very well be true, however, just like baseball, basketball and football you start off at the bottom and have to work your way up. Unless you have an already impressive resume coming in and some negotiating leverage a majority of guys aren't going to make that much at first. If you're not good you get cut, If you are you can make more money. It's a professional sport……….I think the UFC is doing pretty well for a very young company……….If Volkmann doesn't like it he can go sell f*cking car insurance. He pretty much just guaranteed himself a free ticket to getting a fight in an arena anywhere the UFC isn't.

  • This guy obviously doesn't have a decent manager. I know less well known MMA fighters than him that manage to make a decent living through endorsements etc. Admittedly not everyone can strike big Nike deals but he could easily get backing from smaller companies that would gladly have a UFC fighter endorsing their products. Also at the end of the day he signed his contract, it's not like the UFC said "hey we will pay you $1million per fight" then turned round and said "just kidding". I mean if you are unhappy with your salary, find another job or another profession for that matter.

  • dana n co all the time talk about how its the biggest and fastest growing sport on the planet and takes millions in gates per event plus multi million dollar sponsors, games and so on yet some fighters make less than 100k in a main event? don't make sense to me.

    at the same time though i feel dana n co know what they are doing because if you give a fighter millions he doesn't HAVE to risk getting his head knocked off going toe to toe so he might play it safe and just dry hump for 5 rounds for that massive prize pot at the end.
    keeping a fighter on lower money will make him hungry and do what it takes to get that piece of the pie to keep him going till the next fight.