With the UFC continuing its surge into the stratosphere while taking MMA to heights comparable with the world’s biggest sports, are you wondering how much UFC fighters are paid and whether it’s in line with the UFC’s revenue-breaking numbers year on year?
In this article, we’ll look at how much and how UFC fighters get paid (different payment streams), the different levels of fighter pay, and how they can earn money outside of the UFC.
How Much Do UFC Fighters Get Paid?
Before we look at all the ways UFC fighters are paid, and how they can earn outside of the UFC, let’s look at how much UFC fighters get paid.
Average UFC fighter pay
While there are over 700 fighters in 2022, in 2021 605 UFC fighters had a full year of earnings and the average earnings were $160,000, up from $148,000 in 2020. These figures include the fighter’s base pay, win bonuses, UFC bonuses, and fight week incentive pay (Venum pay).
They don’t include PPV points as the majority of fighters never see these, and they also don’t include discretionary bonuses and other miscellaneous payments which we’ll soon discuss in this article.
UFC fighters on average fight 3 times per year, which means they’re paid an average of $53,333 per fight.
Highest-paid UFC fighters
While $160,000 is the average, this is brought up a lot by the biggest 11 earners, who are far ahead of the pack and earned between $932,000 and $8 million in 2021 (without PPV). Take away the top 11 and the average earnings of UFC fighters in 2021 drops to $125,180, which is the other 594 fighters.
This brings the average earnings per fight down to $41,726 (3 fights per year).
6 figure earners
42% of UFC fighters (256 fighters) earned $100,000 or more in 2021, up from 38% in 2020. This difference is not an increase in pay but is the result of the UFC being affected by covid which saw 5 UFC events canceled from March 21st to May 2nd, 2020.
UFC champions pay
There were 17 champions in 2021, which includes interim and undisputed champions. They earned an average of $676,000 without the inclusion of PPV points which would likely have at least doubled this number.
The highest earning UFC champion was Kamaru Usman, who earned $2,024,000 for 3 fights in 2021, an average of $674,000 per fight.
UFC Fighter Salary: How Much Do UFC Fighters Get Paid per Fight?
UFC fighters aren’t paid a salary and are paid per fight. UFC fighters fight on average 3 times per year and in 2021 were paid an average of $53,333 per fight.
This payment is determined by a number of factors, which are:
- Base pay
- Win bonus
- UFC bonuses
- PPV points
- Fight week incentive pay
- Discretionary bonuses
- Miscellaneous pay
When signing a UFC contract, fighters usually sign for a minimum of 3 fights, but the contract can range from 1-8.
For each fight on the contract, they’re paid the same base earnings depending on which of the three tiers a fighter belongs to; low, medium, or high.
They’re not called this (obviously), but there’s a clear separation of base payment between the three, which are:
- Low tier base payment for each fight: $10,000 to $30,000
- Medium tier base payment for each fight: $30,000 to $200,000
- High tier base payment for each fight: $200,000 to $3,000,000
Base payment is also known as show money, which is the pay a fighter earns for making weight and showing up to fight. They don’t necessarily have to fight to earn this money because if their opponent pulls out last minute, they’re still entitled to the show money because they made weight and are ready to fight.
If a fighter misses weight before their fight, they’re usually docked 30% of their total purse, which is their show money and win bonus total. They’ll also lose bonuses they would’ve won, such as for Fight of the Night.
If a fighter agrees to fight against the fighter who missed weight, they’ll receive 15 or 20% of the 30% docked purse, while the commission sanctioning the event will receive 10 or 15% (depending on the commission). This is why you’ll see a lot of fighters agree to fight an opponent who missed weight.
So, how else do fighters earn on top of their base payment?
The majority of UFC fighters have the chance to double their earnings by taking home a win bonus, which is generally the same amount as their base payment.
For example, a fighter’s base payment may be $25,000 to show, and $25,000 to win, meaning they’ll earn $50,000 if they win and $25,000 if they lose.
This is the majority of UFC contracts, while some higher-tier fighters earn a flat fee regardless of whether they win or lose, depending on the contract negotiations before each fight.
Although undisclosed, earning a flat fee or payment negotiation before each fight seems to be mostly reserved for the high-tier fighters earning a flat fee of $200,000 or over.
On the other hand, lower and middle-tier fighters earn the same for at least 3 fights and don’t have the ability to negotiate pay before each fight, unless the UFC initiate a renegotiation and offers them a flat fee. This is because lower-paid fighters are more replaceable by the UFC.
It’s also likely this way because high-tier fighters are established and therefore warrant a flat fee, win or lose. It makes more sense for the UFC to pay a flat fee of $300,000, rather than offering a $200,000 base and $200,000 win because high-tier fighters are normally the best and most dominant fighters who mostly win.
In the UFC’s eyes, having lower-tier fighters on base pay and win bonus pushes the fighter to win the fight and double their money, therefore creating more entertaining fights. It also means only one fighter takes their full earnings, so overall the UFC is paying out less than if they were to pay everyone a flat fee.
As an example, here’s how Nate Diaz’s earnings have changed throughout his career:
UFC FN: 11 – 13 (3 fights) – Paid $15,000 to show and $15,000 to win.
UFC FN:15 – TUF 9 Finale (3 fights) – Paid $20,000 to show and $15,000 to win.
UFC FN:19 – UFC 111 (3 fights) – Paid $24,000 to show and $24,000 to win.
UFC 118 – UFC 135 (4 fights) – 1 fight paid $30,000 to show and $30,000 to win, next three paid $33,000 to show and $33,000 to win.
UFC 141 – UFC on Fox 3 (2 fights) – 1 fight paid $37,000 to show and $37,000 to win and 2nd fight paid $41,000 to show and $41,000 to win.
UFC on Fox 5 – Paid a flat fee of $50,000 win or lose.
UFC on Fox 7 – Paid a flat fee of $15,000 win or lose.
TUF 18 Finale – UFC on Fox 17 (3 fights) – 1 fight paid $15,000 to show and $15,000 to win, 2 fights paid $20,000 to show and $20,000 to win.
UFC 196 – Paid a flat fee of $500,000 win or lose.
UFC 202 – Paid a flat fee of $2,000,000 win or lose.
UFC 241 – Paid a flat fee of $250,000 win or lose.
UFC 244 – Paid a flat fee of $250,000 win or lose.
UFC 263 – Paid a flat fee of $250,000 win or lose.
As can be seen, the general structure is to pay a fighter the same amount for 3 fights before a new contract is signed or there’s a negotiation for the upcoming fight.
It also shows how once Diaz became a high-tier fighter, he could negotiate before each fight, whereas lower-tier fighters are kept on the same payment for at least 3 fights before new negotiations.
Also, the revenue the UFC expects to make from the card determines how much the fighter is offered. The fights Diaz earned the most are PPV events against McGregor as the UFC anticipated high PPV buys and offered Nate accordingly.
This isn’t concrete as there aren’t UFC contract guidelines, but it appears to be general UFC practice and negotiation.
Overall, everything concerning contract lengths and the type of payment for each fight comes down to negotiation, as fighters are considered independent contractors. It’s just that the higher-tier fighters have more leverage when it comes to all of the above.
How else do UFC fighters earn?
The next way fighters are paid is via UFC bonuses. There are 3 different bonuses a fighter can earn every time they fight, and these are:
Performance of the Night: $50,000 each paid to two individual fighters who put on the best performance of the night (can be separate fights). Usually paid to fighters with the best knockout, submission, or most entertaining fight on the card.
Fight of the Night: $50,000 each paid to the two fighters who put on the best fight of the entire card (1 fight only).
Fan Bonus of the Night: As part of the UFC’s sponsor with Crypto.com and limited to PPV events only (numbered), $60,000 worth of Bitcoin is allocated to the three best fighters on the night, as voted for by the fans. Each fan gets three votes, with $30,000 going to the winner, $20,000 to the runner-up, and $10,000 to third place.
One fighter can earn all the bonuses on offer, and earn over $100,000 extra.
Formerly, bonuses were paid via Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night, but these were discontinued in 2014.
These bonuses are unavailable to fighters who miss weight and if they win the Fight of the Night bonus, it’s given to their opponent who made weight and agreed to fight them; meaning fighters can potentially earn $100,000 from a Fight of the Night bonus.
The next way fighters are paid is through PPV points, broadcast roughly once a month – in 2021 there were 13. PPV events showcase title fights and the biggest fights all on one card, for which the UFC charges $74,99 each time.
This charge and the heightened views PPVs get, generate the UFC the most revenue. Because of this, certain fighters have a PPV bonus percentage cut into their negotiation for the fight, however, these numbers have long been undisclosed.
PPV bonuses are reserved for the biggest draws on the card such as the champions and most popular fighters the UFC deem as generating PPV buys.
This is why you have fighters hyping fights by trash-talking, trying to get more fans interested in buying the PPV, and ultimately getting themselves a PPV cut, or a higher PPV percentage.
Conor McGregor was the master of this, and the reason why he’s the most well-paid UFC fighter by far, well above UFC greats such as Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and Georges St-Pierre – he knows how to sell fights like a businessman.
Although undisclosed, in a class action lawsuit against the UFC and Zuffa (parent company), details about the UFC’s PPV system emerged.
This system showed fighter PPV cuts as follows:
- $1 for every PPV sold between 200,000 and 400,000
- $2 for every PPV sold between 400,000 and 600,000
- $2.50 for every PPV sold above 600,000
It’s easy to see how UFC fighters entitled to PPV cuts run away from the pack in terms of earnings. It’s rumored Conor McGregor pocketed $50m for UFC 229, but there’s no evidence supporting this.
Using the above numbers, for the UFCs highest selling PPV event, UFC 229, there were 2.4m buys, which means Conor McGregor earned $5.1 million in PPV points (200k + 400k + 4.5m = 5.1m). This is on top of his $3 million flat fee base pay, bringing his total to $8.1m.
PPV points are very much welcomed by the promotion’s biggest stars, while the UFC has been criticized for not providing a concrete rule on what entitles a UFC fighter to receive PPV bonuses, and it seems they pick and choose who they please.
However, Singer’s report during the class action lawsuit found PPV points are given to champions and ‘sometimes’ to former champions, and aren’t generally given to challengers. However, challengers are sometimes cut in.
On the whole, it’s a mess and you can see why fighters are angered.
Fight Week Incentive Pay
The last way UFC fighters are paid is via fight week incentive pay. This is the money they earn via the UFC-Venum clothing partnership where they’re paid each week for wearing the Venum clothing during fights.
The sponsor has been criticized because of its tiered payment system based on the amount of UFC fights a fighter has had, most beneficial for the higher-ranked fighters, champions, and long-serving UFC fighters; while not so great for the majority.
Here’s a breakdown of the payments fighters earn for each UFC fight:
- 1-3 fights = $4,000
- 4-5 fights = $4,500
- 6-10 fights = $6,000
- 11-15 fights = $11,000
- 16-20 fights = $16,000
- 21+ fights = $21,000
- Title challengers = $32,000
- Champions = $42,000
With this deal, UFC fighters get a slight pay increase from the previous Reebok sponsorship and it’s said the proceeds are going to the athletes, but it removes the ability for athletes to be individually sponsored, which is one of the best ways athletes from promotions like Bellator can make good money.
Brendan Schaub was one of the most vocal UFC fighters against the Reebok deal, claiming he was making upwards of $100,000 per fight with outside sponsors and after the Reebok deal he was earning $10,000.
Longstanding UFC fighter, Ryan Bader, was also vocal against the Reebok deal and claimed he lost between $20,000 to $65,000 per fight because of it. This was one of the motives behind his move to Bellator.
Overall, both the Reebok and Venum deals took freedom away from fighters and also saw the majority of them earn less money.
Discretionary bonuses, or locker room bonuses, are extra payments on top of UFC bonuses such as Fight of the Night and are between $4,000 to $25,000 each fight, while the average was $5,000 in 2020.
They’re payments made to fighters who delivered on the card at Dana White’s discretion, which is why you often see fighters approaching Dana after fights to get in his good books.
They’re mostly given to fighters who didn’t quite make the cut for Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night bonuses but did more than enough to win either on another night. They’re also often given to fights exciting the fans and fighters taking fights on late notice.
On the other hand, they’re not usually given to fighters who won $50,000 bonuses as the UFC also considers ‘of the night’ bonuses as discretionary bonuses, and wants to keep payments shared.
You could say the discretionary bonuses are a way to keep fighters in the UFC’s good books and on their side; as opposed to voicing displeasure about the promotion.
Fighters who’ve been vocal about their displeasure with anything the UFC has done have seen their discretionary bonuses cut substantially or completely. The best example of this is voicing displeasure over the Reebok and Venum apparel deals.
There are also various smaller ways UFC fighters are paid, and these are:
- Fighters receive a 50/50 split from all UFC NFT sales involving them; which are random and undisclosed amounts.
- Fighters receive 10% per the merchandise rights agreement of their contract for all merchandise sales involving a particular fighter’s name.
- Fighters receive an undisclosed amount per the ancillary rights agreement of their contract, for the use of their name on other products. For example, fighters on the UFC game by EA receive a fee.
- Full accidental health insurance to cover training or fight-related injuries up to $50,000 per year
These payments are mostly undisclosed and the total amounts aren’t known, but they definitely add up and contribute.
These are all the ways UFC fighters are paid directly by the UFC for fighting.
Are there other ways they can earn?
Sources of Income Outside of the UFC
UFC fighters can make money outside of the UFC via endorsements. These are mostly social media endorsements as they’re quick and easy and companies are looking to leverage the fighter’s large online following.
Fighters promote a company’s product or service on their social media pages, usually a picture, video, or written message on Instagram or Twitter, and receive a fee each time.
Companies that want to form a long-term relationship with a UFC fighter will have them sign a contract, where they’re paid a certain amount for a certain amount of endorsements or length of time, rather than a one-off thing.
Much like how UFC ring girls make most of their money from their online endorsements, the amount they earn is based on the number of followers they have.
Promoting their product or service with UFC fighters are typically nutrition, crypto, clothing, sports equipment, gyms, coaches, drink, and food companies.
The companies most involved with sponsoring individual UFC fighters are Monster Energy, Modelo, Crypto.com, and Guaranteed Rate, all current UFC sponsors.
Although these earnings are undisclosed, former UFC fighter, Paige Vanzant, says she earns a lot more through social media posts than she did fighting for the UFC. This is likely one of the reasons she left in 2020 after being told she can’t be paid the same as UFC champions.
“I make way more money sitting at home, posting pictures on Instagram, than I do fighting.”@paigevanzant says her endorsement earnings greatly outpace her fight earnings (via @arielhelwani) pic.twitter.com/dpdANFcbxU— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) August 26, 2019
Leveraging Their UFC Following
UFC fighters have the opportunity to make a lot of money outside of the UFC by leveraging their online following amassed throughout their UFC career and starting their own business selling a product or service.
This can either be an online or physical business.
The best example is Conor McGregor, who started his own ventures after becoming the UFC’s biggest superstar and leveraging his fanbase.
His business ventures are:
Boxing – McGregor realized there was money to be made in boxing, with its stars far outearning the UFC’s biggest stars. His boxing debut in 2017 against Floyd Mayweather netted him an estimated $130 million. The fight generated 4.3 million PPV buys, smashing the UFC’s record of 1.6 million PPV buys for UFC 202 in 2016, Diaz vs McGregor 2.
Irish Whiskey – Launched in 2018, McGregor’s Proper No 12 generated $1 billion in sales in its first year. He later sold his 51% majority stake in the company 3 years later to Proximo Spirits for $600 million. Although the exact figures are unknown, he likely now owns just a small percentage as he’s still the face of the company.
The business also sells merchandise: hats, t-shirts, hoodies, and jackets which help boost sales.
Overall, the popularity an athlete gets fighting for the UFC helps them make money in the future in countless ways and not only in terms of starting their own business ventures. For example, they may get TV or movie roles, further endorsement opportunities, or positions they wouldn’t normally get.
Highest UFC Fighters Career Earnings
Here’s a table showing the 30 highest earning UFC fighters in terms of career earnings. These numbers don’t include PPV points, discretionary bonuses, miscellaneous pay, or sources of income outside of the UFC.
|7||Junior Dos Santos||$7,110,000|
As can be seen from the table, many fighters have become multi-millionaires throughout their UFC careers, and now have many ways to continue earning after they leave.
How Much Do the Lowest Paid UFC Fighters Earn?
The lowest-paid UFC fighters earn between $10,000 to $30,000 as show money which they can double if they win.
For example, if they fight and lose, they’ll earn $10,000, but if they win they’ll earn $20,000.
They’ll also receive fight week incentive pay, likely between $4,000 to $6,000 if they have under 10 UFC fights.
They also have the opportunity to earn ‘of the Night’ bonuses, discretionary bonuses, miscellaneous payments, and the fan bonus on PPV nights, which is far from guaranteed but definitely possible.
So, overall, a UFC fighter earns a minimum of $14,000 if they lose, and a minimum of $24,000 if they win.
However, as established in this article, there are plenty of other ways they can earn a lot more than this; but they can also earn less if they miss weight, or nothing at all if the fight is canceled.
How Much Do Amateur MMA Fighters Make?
Amateur MMA fighters often fight for free as they’re looking to gain experience until they’re good enough to become professional by signing for an MMA promotion.
However, there are amateur MMA competitions paying out a percentage of ticket sales depending on how many the fighter sells; likely to be between $100-200 per event. This is easier to do and more can be made if the amateur has a large online following and more tickets can be sold.
They also make money if they have huge potential and can get sponsored, but this is a low amount and most amateurs have to work part-time jobs while trying to fulfill their dream of becoming a UFC fighter.
The Bottom Line
So, how much do UFC fighters get paid?
It largely depends on the contract they’ve signed with the UFC and many other factors. Growing an online presence, fighting three or more times a year, winning UFC bonuses, and increasing the total amount of UFC fights massively increase a fighter’s earnings.
Moving the needle the most is becoming one of the best or most popular fighters who greatly increase PPV numbers, and therefore receive PPV points.
Using the UFC as a stepping stone to build a huge online following is the best way to then sell a product or service to this following and earn a large amount of money outside of the UFC.
So, despite it not being directly linked to a fighter being paid, the popularity a fighter gains by being part of the UFC is priceless and leads to a lot of money made in the future if done right.
The best examples of this are, Chael Sonnen who is huge on Youtube, Conor McGregor with his business ventures, Michael Bisping becoming a UFC commentator, and Paige Vanzant who is now earning a lot more money with BKFC due to her initial fame gained by fighting for the UFC.