Without question, the UFC is the biggest show in town when it comes to the sport of MMA. They are essentially the NFL of mixed martial arts. While there are “competitors” out there the UFC brand is the one that is truly synonymous with the sport.

But while the UFC as an organization has seen explosive growth over the past decade and is seemingly making money hand over fist, fighter’s pay – or lack thereof – has become a major topic in the sport. Headliners like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor make a more than adequate living off of the sport, but there are many fighters under contract with the UFC who are scrapping by with zero protections and zero guarantees.

These are professional athletes, who compete for one of the biggest sporting organizations in the world yet many of them have to work full-time jobs just to make ends meet. Just think about that for a second…Imagine an NFL player having to moonlight as a janitor or a car sales man. Even the practice squad players in the NFL don’t have to moonlight. Every week, practice squad players take home a minimum $6,300 check; that’s over $100,000 a year to be on the practice squad.

The reason why all current NFL players are able to make a living commensurate with the risk they are opening themselves up to for our entertainment is because they stood together and collectively bargained with the owners to get their rightful piece of the pie.

Based on the current collective bargaining agreement, NFL players receive between 47 and 48.5 percent of league revenues. Players receive 55 percent of League Media (that includes TV and radio deals), 45 percent of NFL Ventures (licensing products) and 40 percent of local club revenues (ticket sales).

How does that compare to what UFC fighters as a whole are currently getting? Let’s just say it isn’t nearly as attractive.

The UFC is a private enterprise and as such many of their specific financials are not available for public consumption. So advertising, media deals, sponsorships and licensing where not included in the calculations below. The only figures that were considered for this breakdown was reported fighter pay (win and show money only) versus reported/estimated live gate figures and estimated pay per view revenue.

For 2015, starting with UFC 182 in January through UFC Fight Night 74 in August the UFC has hosted 29 events. Total live gate for those events is in excess of $44 million. 9 of those 29 events were pay per view events. Estimated total buys is roughly 4.8 million; at $50 per buy with 50-50 UFC-PPV provider revenue split the UFC netted approximately $122 million. Between live gate and PPV revenue the UFC took in roughly $166 million. Total reported fighter pay for those 29 events is roughly $27.9 million dollars (this is win and show money only). Based on those figures, UFC fighters are receiving less than 17 percent of event revenue.

That figure is only the percentage of event revenue fighters are currently earning. That is an extremely small piece of the pie. And that piece of pie would only get smaller if you were to factor in the numerous international media deals the UFC currently has and all of the licensing revenue the UFC takes in each and every year.

It’s laughable and it’s sad just how poor UFC fighter compensation is; especially when you take into consideration the time and effort it takes a fighter to make it to the UFC, not to mention the inherent injury risk in the sport.

Then on top of the paltry pay, the UFC dishes out to their fighters at large the organization effectively crippled their ability to supplement their fight income through individual sponsorship by making Reebok the official uniform sponsor for the UFC and banning the promotion of other sponsors during fight weeks.

So, not only is the UFC underpaying their most valuable commodity, but they are also hindering their ability to brand themselves. The UFC likes to say that their fighters are contractors and not employees but when those fighters’ ability to earn outside of the UFC is impacted by the UFC’s relationship with a sponsor then that contractor/employee line just got blurry.

Eventually, the UFC’s practices will result in a seismic shift in their relationship with the fighters. Eventually the UFC is going to be forced to collectively bargain with their workforce and the fighters will finally receive their rightful share of the pie.

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.