As you may know, over the past decade, UFC has gained massive popularity and went from being a regional entertainment in Las Vegas to one of the world’s most prestigious events. Of course, when we see someone like Joe Rogan as a commentator and McGregor in the octagon, we assume that whoever makes it to the fight scene, becomes a millionaire overnight. After all, it’s Las Vegas…
We are used to seeing top athletes making crazy money all over the world, and we somehow get the impression, that getting into what looks like an ordinary ‘club fight’, can pay off tremendously. But does it really?
From what we know, entry-level UFC fighters get paid $10k per evening, regardless of the outcome. That’s not a bad fee for just showing up! On top of that, the winner takes anther $10k home as a “winning bonus”. To an ordinary viewer, it may seem like easy money.
However, the reality is not what Las Vegas entertainers want you to see.
In reality, UFC fighters are the “poorest” athletes compared to their peers in other disciplines. Here is a wonderful infographic from Betway that illustrates how much money UFC fighters make (and subsequently – spend).
What we can learn from this infographic?
- UFC fighters are paid significantly less, compared to famous sportsmen in other fields.
- UFC fighters spend the vast majority of their income on training camps, managers, transport and other “side spendings” like nutrition and medical care.
- Even stars like Conor McGregor actually earn a few times less than famous and skilled players Lionel Messi or Mitch Marner.
In fact, McGregor makes only 1/10 (one-tenth!) of what Canelo Alvarez makes, even though they are, so to speak, “in the same business”.
But, that is Conor McGregor. You know his name and face, even if you are not into martial arts, boxing nor sports betting. How about other “beginner” fighters, who are yet to make their name into the world’s tabloids?
That’s a whole different story.
These fighters don’t get to choose their sponsors, nor conditions. Not only they don’t get paid as much as top players, but they also spend a good chunk of their income just so they could make it further.
In the end, it’s not that you get publically punched to the applause of a cheering audience and walk home rich. More like: you train hard, invest all your time and money in training and self-promotion, then get beaten to the point you may suffer consequences for the rest of your life and then… you hardly make the ends meet.
Yes, many UFC fighters live from pay cheque to pay cheque, as unbelievable as it may sound.
Though we are used to seeing professional athletes making insane piles of cash from endorsements and participation in competitions, sadly, this is not the case with UFC.
The ugly truth is, for beginners, UFC is nothing but yet another “rooster fight” arena. Perhaps just a little fancier and visually appealing.
Of course, it has to be visually appealing, after all, UFC’s earnings were close to $1 billion in 2019 and with its’ increasing popularity, we should see their earnings crossing the $1bn mark in 2020.
While there is huge money to be made through sports betting, the fighters themselves rarely make any big profit off the show. Of course, Khabib Nurmagomedov, or other top fighters like McGregor himself, Jon Jones, Henry Cejudo or Alexander Volkanovski do make millions per appearance. But their less well-known peers aren’t nearly as lucky.
On top of UFC not being the most generous business out there, the earnings potential of UFC fighters has been cut short in the past years by the Reebok contract, which requires all UFC fighters in the octagon to wear a fighting uniform bearing their brand name.
If previously fighters were free to close deals with whichever sponsors they chose and show off their clothes and logos on fight attire, now they have lost even that monetization stream.
With Reebok entering the UFC arena and preventing the less well-known fighters from making money off available sponsors, the fighters’ income automatically boiled down to just UFC payout plus Reebok sponsored deal. In case you are wondering, Reebok sponsorship pays $3,500 per night for those who are signed under a basic contract. Champions make up to $40,000, but that it’s only a few selected ones.
The bottom line is, while UFC may seem like the world’s top arena for MMA enthusiasts, where one can get famous overnight and make a fortune while doing it, behind the scenes is very much different.
The fighters we admire and bet on, go home living from payout to payout, spending hundreds of dollars on medical bills, leaving at least 10% of their earnings to their managers and on top of that – yes, get humiliated in front of millions of watchers, when they get defeated by a stronger opponent.
Being a UFC fighter is a tough business, by all means.
As unbelievable as it may sound, you can make more money off sports betting, than the fighter makes in the arena. Just while sitting on your couch, watching the match from the comfort of your home and snacking on popcorn. It’s clearly good news for sports betters, but it’s definitely sad news for those who dedicate their lives to training, fighting and consequently risking their lives.
Am I going to stop watching UFC just because I know they exploit underpaid fighters’ labor, using people the same way Romans used gladiators? No.
Those who didn’t skip history classes surely remember, that gladiators’ fights in ancient Rome were also powered by betting, which was one of the main motives behind running the games. Did anyone care, that gladiators were slaves? No. They didn’t even have a “winner price”, their benefit of winning was that they stayed alive.
We have come a long way since ancient Roman empire times, but the reality is still the same; we cheer and applause the fighters entering the arena, wishing to see the triumph, while sometimes secretly hoping they get knocked down. It’s just human nature.
Do you agree?