With all of the commotion over UFC fighter pay in recent years, have you wondered how much UFC refs make and whether they’re underpaid?
Short answer: UFC refs make $800-$2,500 per fight, but earn as high as $17,500 per fight for the PPV title fights.
In this article, we’ll look at UFC referee pay and how it varies, the different things affecting referee pay, who determines the pay, and more.
Who Determines UFC Referee Salary?
A UFC referee’s salary is determined by the State Athletic Commission sanctioning an event. The UFC pays a lump sum to the commission for the hiring of referees, which then pays the referees with this money; meaning the UFC is indirectly paying referee fees.
As the referees work for the different athletic commissions, they can also work for other promotions outside of the UFC.
The commissions don’t have a comprehensive payment structure, and therefore how much UFC refs make depends on the type of event, the promotion, and the individual referee; with Nevada (NSAC) paying the most, closely followed by California (CSAC).
The UFC is happy for commissions to pay referees as they want to focus only on matchmaking, content creation, and entertainment. Everything else is extra work they’d prefer to avoid and leave to other organizations.
How Much Do UFC Refs Make?
UFC referees are hired and paid on a per-fight basis, meaning there are no yearly salaries and earnings are based on how many fights a referee is willing to officiate, and how many fights and types of fights they’re put in for, as dictated by the commissions.
As the UFC is the top promotion in MMA, the referees working there are at the highest level and therefore earn the most compared to other professional promotions.
Because the refereeing needs to be of the highest quality, the UFC has the same small rotation of referees that officiate two or three fights each per event; in 2020 they used the services of 35 referees.
Referees working for the UFC are professionals, as amateur referees can’t work for them. How much they make varies and comes down to their experience, reputation, and the type of event the UFC is hosting.
Here’s a table showing how referee pay varies, and includes amateur referee earnings outside of the UFC for comparison:
|Referee Experience||Per Fight Salary||PPV Bonus||Yearly Earnings|
|Amateur Referees||$250 – $500||N/A||$15,000 – $30,000|
|Professional Referees||$800 – $2,500||$5000 – $15,000||$250,000 – $500,000|
|Professional Female Referees||$250 – $1000||$3500||$50,000 – $70,000|
Here’s a table showing how much the top UFC refs make:
|Referee||UFC Fights Officiated (2021)||Fees Per Fight||PPV Bonus||Yearly Earnings|
|Mark Smith||90||$2500||$10,000||$325,000 – $400,000|
|Chris Tognoni||86||$2500||$10,000||$300,000 – $350,000|
|Jason Herzog||62||$2500||$10,000||$300,000 – $350,000|
|Keith Peterson||53||$2500||$10,000||$250,000 – $300,000|
Note: The yearly earnings include work for other MMA promotions.
It’s clear PPV bonuses are how a small percentage of top-level UFC referees make a lot of extra money, compared to professional MMA referees who miss out on this while working for smaller promotions.
How much does Herb Dean make per fight? (Herb Dean salary)
Using Herb Dean as an example of the most amount a UFC referee can make, it’s reported he earned $500,000 in 2021. So for 111 fights at $2500 per fight, he would’ve earned $277,500. That means his PPV bonuses and extras totaled $322,500.
He officiated at 9 PPV events, which at $15,000 per event, totals $135,000 + $277,500 = $415,500. He also worked for Cage Warriors a few times in the year, bringing Herb Dean’s salary for the year to roughly $500,000.
Why Do Amateur and Female Referees Make Less?
Amateur referees make less because they’re not working for the UFC, which is the biggest promotion paying the most money to have the best professional referees. Amateur referees also don’t have the same level of experience or reputation as professionals, meaning they can’t command the same amount of money.
Female referees are a separate category because they make significantly less than their male counterparts. This is because there are fewer highly qualified and experienced female referees, like the male UFC referees we see on a weekly basis.
As female fighters have only been in the UFC since 2012, it’s still early for there to be many high-level female referees in the UFC, as most of the current male referees have 10-20 years of experience in refereeing male fights from the 90s or early 2000s. In this sense, male referees have the first movers’ advantage.
The most famous female MMA referee is Kim Winslow, who has refereed since 2009 and was the first female referee to officiate in the UFC, where she worked from 2010 to 2014. It’s reported she earned $1000 per fight for The Ultimate Fighter events she officiated.
Is Becoming an MMA Referee A Good Career?
The referees you see officiating every weekend in the UFC are the top earners amongst MMA referees and dwarf the average earnings in the field. Most of the highest-earning UFC referees have been officiating for 10+ years, which is the main reason they’re used.
In terms of refereeing as a career, John McCarthy has said, “You’re not going to get rich doing this. You’ll probably spend more money than you make during the first 10 years.”
This is because the work is inconsistent, expenses such as travel are paid for by the referee, and it takes around two or three years to be considered a professional MMA referee, meaning you’ll be earning an entry-level fee.
Therefore, it’s only a worthwhile career if someone loves the sport and is willing to put 5-10 years of work in before being considered for higher-level MMA promotions. This person must also be willing to work most weekends and travel frequently.
John McCarthy, the most legendary UFC referee was supposedly paid just $1900 to officiate one of the biggest fights between Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo at UFC 194 – this is however without considering his PPV bonus. Also, UFC refs are now making more since 2015 due to the continuing success of the UFC.
What Affects How Much UFC Refs Make?
There are many reasons why one referee may make more than another.
Here’s a list of all the possible reasons:
Experience – The more experience a referee has, the more money they’re going to earn. Professional referees have at least 3 to 5 years of experience officiating in MMA and also serve as the commissioner checking fighters before they enter the octagon.
Ability – The best referees have the ability to correctly position themselves, use the rules as they’re intended, have extreme focus, speed, and decisiveness, as well as effective communication.
Knowledge – The best referees know the sport and rules inside out. They also have the ability to judge a fight, meaning they can watch and score properly.
Availability – The number of fights a referee officiates will determine how much they earn in a year.
Reputation – If a referee can build a good reputation over a long period of time, promotions are willing to pay higher fees to have the best referees working at their events.
How Much Do UFC Judges Make?
As the UFC is the biggest promotion in MMA, UFC judges earn between $550-$900 per fight, however, for UFC championship bouts they earn a minimum of $1600 per fight.
As per the California Athletic State Commission’s official pay scale, standard pay for MMA judges see them earn slightly less than MMA referees, and it’s based on how much net gate the promotion receives.
Below $50,000 net gate, the judges earn $300, while between $50,000-100,000, they earn $350. A net gate of $100,000 and above sees them earn $550.
Similar to UFC referees, the judges are paid per fight and are paid by the commissions of the event, but they aren’t paid any benefits or PPV bonuses. The commissions also assign judges to the UFC and other MMA events and base this on a judge’s experience and recent performances.
How Much Do UFC Refs Make? – Summary
UFC referees are making a handsome amount of money because they’re working for the biggest promotion, as well as some of the other largest MMA promotions.
As the UFC uses a limited amount of referees, getting in that circle is going to take many years of experience and quality refereeing; meaning the average referee isn’t going to make much money compared to UFC refs.