How Does the UFC Pay its Fighters?
Payment of fighters in the UFC has been controversial for many years, and with the organization reaching a net worth of $4 billion, a lot more has been expected in terms of payment.
Fighters further down the rankings earn considerably less than those competing in the more significant events, fueling the fire growing in controversy.
Here, we dive into how a fighter is paid in the UFC.
A Fighters’ Contract
The only guaranteed payment a fighter in the UFC gets is from their contract. Fighters will sign deals to agree to certain guaranteed fights under the UFC banner, such as Jon Jones’ eight-fight agreement that was sealed in 2023.
There is no maximum or minimum limit the UFC must sign a fighter for, and athletes have signed deals for only one fight on some occasions.
In terms of their earnings per fight, this is split into three tiers: low, medium and high. The lowest earns between $10,000 and $30,000 per fight, with the highest tier seeing fighters earn between $500,000 and $3,000,000 per fight. For example, it was reported that Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov earned around $3,000,000 for their record-breaking bout in 2018 at UFC 229.
New fighters to the UFC often get handed the lowest-tier contracts when they sign, but if they can rack up a few wins and increase their popularity, a fighter will begin to earn more. Ultimately, the more a fighter wins and the more popular they are, the more they earn, and in truth, this is the case in almost every other sport.
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Sponsorship for the UFC is not directly related to a fighter’s pay. For example, although the likes of DraftKings and Bud Light sponsor UFC events, these companies pay the UFC directly and not individual fighters.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this still adds to the overall worth of the UFC and, therefore, adds more money into the pool for fighters to earn.
For a fighter to earn sponsorship money, it will have to come from sources outside of the UFC. For example, fighters often get sponsored by sportsbooks, clothing companies or supplements. McGregor is the most notable sponsored UFC athlete, as he has been sponsored by Burger King, Beats By Dre and Wynn Resorts, to name a few.
The more a fighter is known to the general public, the more sponsors they will get, so once again, those lesser-known fighters are unlikely to get sponsors until they make it deeper into the public eye.
The only aspect of payment that remains the same for every fighter on the UFC roster is a performance bonus. A fighter will earn $50,000 if they earn a Performance of the Night bonus, which is handed to them by the organization if those in power believe a fighter put on one of the best performances of the night.
The same applies for a Fight of the Night bonus, where both fighters - regardless of the result - earn $50,000 for being in the best fight of that card, according to Dana White.
There were previous bonuses of $50,000 for Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night, but since UFC Fight Night 36, the UFC has discontinued these bonuses and only the Performance of the Night and Fight of the Night prizes are up for grabs on each UFC fight card.
Are UFC Fighters Underpaid?
This ultimately depends on a few variables. First, the incredible wealth of McGregor and the growth of the UFC in the past decade has blurred the lines quite a lot in terms of the money going around in the organization.
Simply put, there is not enough attention on unranked fighters and not enough subscriptions and eyes watching them to justify such incredible payment. At the same time, for example, should a fighter agree to a four-fight deal and earn between $10,000 and $30,000 per fight, there is a chance he or she could take home a maximum of $120,000 for what is effectively four nights worth of work.
As well as this, should said fighter earn at least one Performance of the Night or Fight of the Night bonus in this time, they could get closer to the $200,000 mark.
For example, light heavyweight contender, Paul Craig, has had 15 fights in the UFC but spent much of that time outside of the Top 10 and, therefore, hasn't earned a great deal from his agreed contract. On the other hand, he has secured seven Performance of the Night bonuses in this time and subsequently earned $350,000 from this alone.
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