How Underpaid are UFC Fighters? Boxers Getting a Better Deal?


It’s no secret that the UFC is raking in money hand over fist (see the CNBC documentary special “UFC: a fistful of Dollars” if you get a chance- it’s great), but where that money goes is actually apparent to no one. The mixed martial arts (MMA) company is selling out arenas all over the world. It just held its biggest ever promotion in North America on April 30th when it sold 55,724 seats at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, for a live gate of $12.1 million.

Yet the fighters are still being paid peanuts when compared to other sports, especially boxing.

This has led Nick Diaz, who’s signed with Strikeforce, to say he wants to enter boxing to make some real money.

He’s hoping to take on former IBF and IBO super middleweight champion Jeff Lacy (25-4, 17 Kos), who’s now 33 years old and has lost three of his last four fights.

But UFC boss Dana White doesn’t think it’s a good idea. He admits that Diaz has a clause in his contract which states he’s allowed to box and that deal should be honored. But he doesn’t think it’s in Diaz’s best interests to do so and he’s going to try and talk the MMA fighter out of it. It could be that White doesn’t want one of his fighters being embarrassed in a boxing ring, because there’s not really any other reason for him to not want to take on Lacy.

However, Diaz, who recently defended his welterweight crown for the third time, isn’t necessarily taking the fight to prove he can box. He said he’s overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by Strikeforce, which is owned by the UFC.

You can’t blame Diaz for wanting to jump ship, at least temporarily, because MMA fighters are and have been grossly underpaid for years. When you look at the numbers, mixed martial artists are simply getting ripped off by somebody. Brock Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight king, took home $5.3 million in 2010, which was tops in the organization despite sky-high ticket prices and millions of pay-per-views sold.

Compare that to boxer Manny Pacquiao, who raked in $32 million and only had to fight twice to earn it. Boxing has long been associated with shady characters and the underworld, but compared to mixed martial arts, the elite boxers are making a hell of a living.

This is hard to understand since White would have you believe the UFC is a lot more popular than boxing and the pay-per-view numbers and live gates would support him. So just where is all of the money going? It’s definitely not going to the fighters who put their lives on the line every time they step into the octagon.

UFC fighters are getting a bigger piece of the pie these days, but it’s not enough. Kobe Bryant made $24.8 million last year in the NBA and Alex Rodriguez took home $32 million in MLB. MMA fighters are getting kicked in the face literally and figuratively when you consider what they’re getting paid.

For example, UFC 126, which was held in Las Vegas on Feb 5, drew a live gate of $3.6 million. It would have been higher, but more than 10 percent of tickets were given away. The average price for a ticket was $373.00, ranging from $75 to $750. The base salary of all the fighters combined was just over $1.3 million, with the top salary being $275,000 and the lowest being just $6,000. Out of those salaries, insurance, taxes, and licenses etc. had to be deducted.

This means the fighters were paid by just 36 percent of the live gate, leaving 64% profit. However, we haven’t added in the money made from broadcasting the preliminary bouts on Spike TV and the pay per view totals. It was estimated that 750,000 pay-per-views were sold at about $50 a shot for $37.5 million. Therefore, the total gate was about $40 million, with the fighters receiving $1.3 million, which translates to just over 3%.

Ironically it was a boxer, James Toney, who was paid the most at UFC 118. Toney embarrassed himself in the octagon and was paid $500,000 for lasting just 199 seconds against Randy Couture, who was paid $250,000. It was Toney’s first and last fight in the UFC. The headliner that night, lightweight champ Frankie Edgar, earned $96,000.

The UFC does have some overhead like everyone else and gives out bonuses at its card for things such as KO of the night and fight of the night. But when you see how little these guys are getting paid by Dana White’s organization, you can’t be blamed for thinking maybe Don King’s not such a bad guy after all.


  1. John P. Rutledge says

    This is one of the most mis-representative and poorly-reasoned articles I’ve read in some time. To assert that Zuffa made 64% profit on UFC 126 (or ANY of its cards) is absurd. Likewise, to state that payroll for any of its cards was 3% of gross receipts is without merit.

    Paul — You’re a better reporter than this article indicates. Please up your game, for the sake of honesty and journalism.

  2. paulmbanks says

    John, thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment.

    And I appreciate your compliment on my journalism skills too. I actually took this article from a news-feed sharing service I have an agreement with, so I did not write it. But I did publish it on my site, and therefore I am responsible for accounting it’s accuracy.

    I’m not saying your numbers are wrong, but I have to ask what is your source?

  3. I always knew Dana white is greedy bastard, especially when he was trying to sue USTREAM for users streaming his fights. MY GOD! he makes so much already but just wants to cut up more like the fat pig that he looks. I can see why Brock Lesnar said he was going to drink another beer than the one which was advertised on the floor because he was getting no cut from it.

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