THE FINISHING KICK – NOVEMBER 16
By Paul Wales

SHOULD UFC FIGHTERS GET PAID MORE

During quarantine this past summer, I was watching UFC Fight Night. One of the prelim fights went the full 3 rounds and the commentators interviewed the winner, who just won his first UFC fight via unanimous decision. You think the fighter would be happy and excited to get a win in his first UFC fight, right? Instead of enjoying the spotlight while being interviewed on national television after winning a fight, the fighter seemed disappointed. When the commentators asked why he wasn’t happy about his win, he replied, “I went out here hoping to put on a show and hopefully get the finish to earn a Performance of the Night or Fight of the Night bonus so I could quit my day job. But instead now I have to go back to work Monday morning in order to pay the bills and put food on the table”. I was in absolute disbelief. I knew that most of the fighters don’t make that much, but I didn’t realize it was THAT little. 

So, how much does the average UFC fighter make? How the pay works is the fighters earn a set amount to show up and a set amount of incentive pay on fight week. Fighters also have the potential to earn a Fight of the Night bonus and Performance of the Night bonuses of $50,000. There is typically only one Fight of the Night and Dana White determines how many and which fighters earn a Performance of the Night bonus.

If we take a look at thesportsdaily.com, the website has estimates of the fighters’ purses from UFC 267, ranging from the prelim fights to the main event. The fighters who lost during the prelims made about between $14,000 to $53,000 with the majority making $14,000. The winners of the prelims made somewhere between $24,000 and $60,000. The fighters who lost on the main card who didn’t fight for the title made between $77,000 and $166,000 with the more popular fighters making the high end of that. The winners of the non-title fights made between $111,000 and $211,000. In the co-main event, Cory Sandhagen lost and made $182,000 , the winner, Petr Yan, made $282,000. Both fighters earned a $50,000 Fight of the Night Bonus. In the main event, the new Light Heavyweight champion of the world, Glover Teixeira, earned $432,000 and the former champion, Jan Blachowicz, earned $642,000.

Those numbers are mind-blowing to me. $14,000 to step in the ring on national television to almost fight to the death for 15 minutes with little to no restrictions as to how you can fight someone??? That’s absurd! Also, the typical fighter only fights 2 or 3 times a year, and if they go on a losing streak they are likely to get released and now have to find new work once their fight contract is up. No wonder some of these fighters have to work other jobs to support themselves and their families. According to the NY Post, in 2019, UFC fighters earned only 16% of the revenue share which is the lowest amongst American professional sports. I understand that some of the fighters don’t draw fans to the TV as much as others, and the fighters that do get paid significantly more than the rest, but only 16% of the revenue share seems to be unfair. 

This has been one of the biggest criticisms of the UFC. Dana White avidly defends his pay with the argument that this is show business and that you need to win and be entertaining in order to make more money and if you lose it gets rough. Another aspect of this argument is that fighters also have plenty of opportunity to earn outside sponsorships, like other athletes, that can also heavily impact a fighter’s yearly income. 

The argument surrounding fighter’s pay doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, but I think it’s safe to say that making a living trying to find a breakthrough in the UFC as an up and coming fighter, is a financial uphill battle. It doesn’t seem like Dana White intends to restructure fighter’s pay anytime soon, and since fighters do not have their own collective bargaining agreement, they don’t have a way to unite and fight to increase pay. With how successful the UFC has been in recent years, I definitely think the UFC can afford to pay their fighters more money, and I think they should do so. But will they? I don’t think so.