At UFC 189 on Saturday, July 11, 2015, the UFC ushered in a new era as that event marked the first time in history fighters were required to wear UFC mandated uniforms. While this is an important step in the evolution of the UFC and the sport of MMA as a whole, it’s not without its flaws — most notably the new standard sponsorship pay scale.

But it’s not just the Reebok sponsorship pay scale that is the issue facing the fighters today, it’s fighter pay as a whole. Look across the professional sporting world and examine what other professional athletes for major organizations are being paid. Now look at the disclosed fighter payouts for any UFC event; the disparity between the two is simply shocking.

I’m not advocating that UFC fighters demand Floyd Mayweather Jr. money, but rather a sum that is equivalent to the sacrifices and physical trauma they must endure. $10K to show and $10K to win per fight may sound like good money to the average Joe, but it’s not when you really look at it.

$10K to show and $10K to win appears to be a pretty standard contract for fighters breaking into the organization. If a fighter fights three times in a calendar year and wins all three bouts that fighter will gross only $60K — an amount most mid-level corporate managers make to toil away in an office five days a week. But out of the $60K come training costs, taxes (full self-employment taxes because UFC fighters are technically independent contractors) and, of course, agent/manager fees. At the end of the day, young fighters just starting would be lucky to clear $15-20K.

Fighters deserve more and they deserve a place at the table during negotiations that ultimately affect their livelihood. UFC President Dana White likes to talk about taking the sport to the next level, often bringing up how the NFL does business. Well, Mr. White, first things first. If you want to play with the big boys, you have to pay your athletes like the big boys.

Thanks to the NFL Player Association and their right to collectively bargain, NFL players currently receive between 47-48% of NFL revenue. And most importantly NFL players have a seat at the table when the league is negotiating TV deals and league-wide sponsorship deals. Since the UFC is privately owned by Zuffa, Inc., their financials are not public record but you can be certain UFC fighters are not receiving anything close to 47-48% of the UFC’s revenue even though they absolutely should be.

Fans today care about what athletes make and they better understand the risks athletes endure and the rewards they deserve for putting their bodies and long-term health on the line for entertainment. While fans will always discuss whether or not athletes at the top end are being overpaid, rarely will you hear anyone question the worth of a player making the league minimum.

Fighter pay in the UFC is a huge issue and the Reebok uniform deal has shined a light on that. UFC fighters are professional athletes and they deserve a bigger piece of the pie, especially if the UFC is going to hinder their ability to secure outside sponsorships to supplement their fighting income.

If the UFC doesn’t make drastic changes to the way they pay their fighters, they could be looking at a long and ugly battle with their fighters that will likely end with the formation of a fighter’s union. But the UFC could quell any potential unionization actions by bringing fighters to the table and paying them what they deserve.

First step towards change would be to form a UFC Fighters Council. Allow the fighters to nominate and elect 5-7 active fighter representatives to work directly with UFC brass on issues that directly affect the fighters. This council will have a seat at the table during negotiations to ensure the fighters’ best interests are being looked out for.

Second, the UFC needs to open up their pocketbook and dedicate a set percentage of revenue to fighter pay. At the end of the day, without the fighters the UFC has no product to sell.

Let’s just say the UFC generates $1 billion of revenue per year. Considering the fighters are the talent and the attraction they are worth at least 45% of that revenue.

That means the UFC would have to allocate $450 million per year to fighter pay. This year the UFC is hosting 43 events. With that number in mind, the UFC’s average event payroll would be roughly $10.4 million.

At $10.4 million per show with an average 12-fight event average fighter pay per show would be $430K. An average UFC fighter who fights three times per year could make $1.2 million per year. That’s not a bad living and it seems like a solid reward for the type of training and physical trauma fighters have to endure to make it to the UFC.

Of course, you can’t just pay all UFC fighters the same flat amount, there has to be a “league” minimum. Setting that “minimum” to $100K per fight seems like the place to go. It gives fighters new to the UFC a solid wage to live on so they can focus solely on fighting.

Those numbers would still put the UFC behind the NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL in terms of average athlete pay. But it would help them in becoming a respectable sporting enterprise.

Just think about what that kind of pay increase would do for the UFC and the sport of MMA as a whole. If you want to attract the world’s best athletes there has to be a financial reward. An average salary of $1.2 million per year – and only having to compete three times per year to earn that – could help in recruiting talented young athletes to the sport of MMA. It would also improve the view casual sports fans have of the UFC as an organization.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.

  • Nathan Quarry

    Just giving fighters the rights your average worker in ANY job has would be nice. The UFC is a blatant monopoly with employees they call contractors. And the more money they make, the less that goes down to the workers. Lifelong contracts, uniforms, no profit sharing, EVERY sport has gone through this. Things will change. It just takes time. And people willing to fight for change.

  • Christopher Flores

    THANK YOU! I’ve seen fighters walk away from fights with about $6000. If you have to have a side job just to pay the bills while being an employee for a global sports organization… that’s fucking bullshit! They’d be better off applying to be a janitor for the UFC. The pay is absurd and none of the bullshit that trickles from Dana White’s mouth should convince anyone of anything else. The Reebok deal is proof that the UFC can’t be trusted to treat their fighters with dignity and respect.