Are UFC Fighters Employees? (No, Here’s Why)

Are you wondering whether UFC fighters are employees?

In this article, we answer whether UFC fighters are employees, how UFC fighters can be considered employees, and related questions such as whether UFC can have other jobs or whether they can fight outside of the UFC.

Are UFC Fighters Employees?

No, UFC fighters aren’t employees, they’re classified as independent contractors (self-employed).

An independent contractor is a self-employed individual who provides services to a business or organization under terms specified in a contract or within a verbal agreement (which UFC fighters are). 

Unlike employees, independent contractors don’t work regularly for an employer but work as required, when they agree to do so. 

They’re not subject to the same control or oversight as regular employees and typically have more freedom in how they complete their work.

In the context of the UFC, this classification implies a significant degree of autonomy for the fighters. 

They have the freedom to choose their coaches, determine their fight strategies, and decide when, where, and how often they train. 

Financially, UFC fighters aren’t paid a fixed salary and are instead paid based on their fight appearances. This typically includes a show payment for making weight and showing up to fight and a win bonus (if they win).

Additionally, they may receive other discretionary bonuses from the UFC, such as $50,000 bonuses, but these aren’t guaranteed and vary from event to event.

This setup contrasts with traditional employment, where employees usually work according to schedules set by their employer, receive a steady salary or hourly wage, and are often entitled to benefits like health insurance and paid leave.

Independent contractors, like UFC fighters, typically don’t receive these benefits and have a more transactional relationship with the organization for which they provide services.

How UFC Fighters Can Be Considered Employees (8 Ways)

Despite being labeled as independent contractors, several aspects of UFC fighters’ roles exhibit characteristics more akin to an employee-employer relationship.

Here are 8 key points that highlight this perspective:

1. Control Over Fighters: The UFC exerts significant control over its fighters, a trait typically associated with employer-employee relationships. This includes the power to terminate contracts under various conditions.

2. Provision of Essentials: The UFC covers expenses like hotel, travel, and meals during fight week for the fighter and an associate. 

They also provide protective and fight gear, facilities, and the octagon, which are indicative of an employer’s responsibilities.

3. Continuing Relationship: Most UFC fighters have ongoing engagements with the organization, often lasting over a year, suggesting a stable employer-employee relationship.

4. Exclusivity: Fighters are restricted from competing in other MMA promotions without UFC’s consent, a limitation often not placed on independent contractors.

5. Integration into the Company: The UFC’s core business revolves around its fighters, indicating a deep integration of these athletes into the company, akin to employees.

6. Personal Service Requirement: Fighters are contractually obligated to fight personally; they cannot subcontract their fights, which is a typical requirement of an employee.

7. Compliance and Restrictions: Fighters must adhere to strict guidelines, including random drug testing and restrictions on certain activities, which resemble employee instructions.

For example, UFC fighters must avoid dangerous activities when a bout agreement has been signed. They’re also required to tell USADA of their whereabouts at all times and update them on changes to their daily routines.

8. Brand Requirements: Fighters are required to wear specific brand clothing (e.g., Venum) at UFC events.

How the UFC Maintains the Independent Contractor Classification

Despite several aspects of UFC fighters’ roles resembling an employer-employee relationship, the UFC continues to classify them as independent contractors. 

The UFC achieves this in 3 main ways:

1. Ambiguous American Labor Law

This situation is largely influenced by the ambiguous and sometimes contradictory nature of American labor law.

In the United States, labor law doesn’t provide clear guidelines on which factors are most crucial in determining employment status. 

There is no specific threshold for how many factors must be met to classify a worker as an employee or independent contractor. 

In the UFC’s case, the significant amount of control the organization exerts over its fighters typically suggests an employer-employee relationship. 

However, the UFC leverages the flexibility offered by American labor law to maintain its classification of fighters as independent contractors.

2. UFC’s Monopsony Power

The UFC’s dominant position in the MMA industry, accurately characterized as a monopsony, is bolstered by its extensive viewership, substantial financial resources, and well-established infrastructure. 

These factors collectively grant the UFC considerable influence over the market and the careers of MMA fighters. 

As the primary platform for professional MMA fighters to achieve fame and financial success, the UFC holds significant bargaining power in its relationships with athletes.

By maintaining fighters as independent contractors, the UFC not only sidesteps the higher costs associated with employee benefits, salaries, wages, and paid leave but also avoids various legal and regulatory obligations that come with employee status.

These include compliance with employment laws, providing workers’ compensation, adhering to workplace safety regulations, and contributing to Social Security and Medicare. 

This strategic classification allows the UFC to operate with greater flexibility and lower operational costs, thereby maximizing its profit margins and maintaining its stronghold in the industry.

3. Preventing Unionization

Additionally, the UFC has a vested interest in preventing unionization, which would be more likely if fighters were classified as employees. 

Unionization could empower fighters with greater influence over their pay and working conditions, potentially diminishing the UFC’s control and profitability. 

The international scope of the UFC, employing fighters from various countries, adds complexity to unionization efforts.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the United States would likely require foreign fighters to establish unions in their respective countries before forming a global federation, a process fraught with challenges.

Efforts to unionize, such as those by the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA), have largely been unsuccessful.

A significant factor in these failures is the fear of repercussions from the UFC, highlighting the organization’s powerful influence over its fighters and their career trajectories.

If fighters go public with their efforts to unionize, the UFC can stop paying them discretionary bonuses or easily terminate their contracts under the guise of other reasons.

Do UFC Fighters Have Other Jobs?

While UFC fighters are technically free to pursue other employment due to their status as independent contractors, the demanding nature of professional MMA fighting means that most UFC fighters don’t have other jobs.

Rigorous training schedules, frequent travel for events, injuries, the need for recovery, and promotional commitments often leave little time or energy for additional employment or jobs.

This situation can be particularly challenging for up-and-coming fighters who may not yet command high fight purses, making financial stability a key concern.

When Geoff Neal joined the UFC in 2018, he continued supplementing his income by working as a waiter in Dallas. This additional job helped finance his training and career in MMA.

The best example of a UFC fighter having a second job is Stipe Miocic, who’s also a firefighter in Cleveland, Ohio.

Despite earning significant amounts from fighting, he continues his firefighting career out of passion for the job. It also takes his mind away from MMA, which he finds allows him to recharge and focus more when training.


Do UFC Fighters Get Benefits?

UFC fighters, classified as independent contractors, do receive certain specific benefits, but they lack many of the standard benefits typically afforded to regular employees.

Here’s a closer look at what they do and don’t receive:

Benefits UFC Fighters Receive

  • Access to the UFC Performance Institute: This facility offers state-of-the-art training and rehabilitation services, which fighters can use free of charge.
  • Annual Accidental Health Insurance: This annual coverage of $50,000 is specific to training and fight-related injuries, offering some protection against the physical risks inherent in the sport.
  • Covered Expenses During Fight Week: The UFC covers flights, meals, and accommodation for the fighter and one teammate, easing the financial burden during this critical period.

Benefits Typically Not Provided to UFC Fighters

  • Pension Plans: Unlike regular employees, UFC fighters do not receive pension plans, which are crucial for long-term financial security, especially in a career with a potentially short span.
  • Health Insurance Beyond Training and Fight-Related Injuries: Comprehensive health insurance covering a broader range of health issues, including those not directly related to training or fighting, is typically not provided.
  • Paid Leave: Fighters do not receive paid leave benefits such as vacation, sick leave, or parental leave, which are common in traditional employment settings.
  • Unemployment Benefits: In the event of career interruptions or the inability to compete, fighters do not receive unemployment benefits.
  • Retirement Benefits: There are no retirement benefits or plans like 401(k) contributions, which are often part of standard employment packages.
  • Job Security: The lack of a fixed contract or tenure means fighters can be released from the UFC with relatively short notice, lacking the job security that comes with regular employment.
  • Training and Career Development Support: Beyond the facilities at the Performance Institute, fighters are generally responsible for their own training and career development costs, including coaching, equipment, and travel for training purposes.

In summary, while UFC fighters do receive some benefits tailored to their profession, they lack many of the standard benefits that come with traditional employment, which can impact their long-term financial stability and health security.

​​Do Retired UFC Fighters Get Paid?

Once they retire, UFC fighters don’t receive ongoing payments or pensions. Their earnings are strictly tied to their active competition years. 

This lack of post-retirement financial support underscores the importance of financial planning and management for fighters during their active careers, as they need to prepare for a future without a steady income from fighting.

Can UFC Fighters Fight Outside The UFC?

Fighting outside the UFC is possible but rare, and it typically requires explicit negotiation and approval from UFC management. 

This restriction underscores the UFC’s control over its fighters’ careers, limiting their ability to seek additional income or exposure through other fighting organizations.

The UFC only allows it when they have something to gain. This was the case with Conor McGregor when he fought Floyd Mayweather in a 2017 boxing match. 

McGregor was still under a UFC contract, which meant the UFC had to co-sign with McGregor as a partner for the fight and also file for co-promotion with Mayweather’s team. This meant they made a lot of money.

Without permission, fighters can only compete in UFC fights and it’s also illegal for them to talk to outside promotions without first consulting the UFC.

Do UFC Fighters Get Paid When Not Fighting?

UFC fighters are only compensated for their appearances in fights. There is no payment for the time spent outside the octagon, whether for training or in between fights.

This pay structure places significant financial pressure on fighters to remain active and successful in the ring to maintain their income.

This is why UFC fighters in the low to mid-tier payment brackets are often fighting 3, 4, or more times per year, while higher-paid UFC fighters fight once or twice.

Are UFC Fighters On Salary?

UFC fighters don’t receive a regular salary. Their compensation is performance-based, typically structured around show payments for participating in a fight and potential win bonuses. 

This pay model can lead to significant income variability, depending on a fighter’s success and frequency of fights.

Are UFC Fighters Allowed Sponsors?

While UFC fighters are permitted to have sponsorships, there are strict limitations.

They’re not allowed to display sponsor logos on their fight gear or walk-in clothing, or in any form during fight week.

However, they can engage in promotions with UFC-approved sponsors. A notable example is Monster Energy, where sponsored fighters often promote the brand by holding a can after a UFC fight.

UFC fighters haven’t been allowed walk-in or fight gear sponsors since 2015 when the UFC partnered with Reebok. They had to wear Reebok fight apparel, which has since been replaced by Venum.

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