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Do Amateur Fighters Get Paid in MMA/Boxing?

You may have watched an organized MMA or Boxing competition which featured amateur fighters, and found yourself wondering: do amateur fighters get paid? What is the pay difference between an amateur and a professional fighter? Well look no further, because in this post, I’m going to discuss finances in relation to amateur fighters, as well as answer the question: do amateur fighters get paid?

The short answer is, no, amateur fighters do not get paid for their fights in Boxing/MMA. According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, amateur fighters are allowed to get expenses covered by the promotion, but they cannot be directly compensated for competing in the event. By definition, an ‘amateur’ is described as someone who engages in a pursuit on an unpaid basis. The reasoning behind this is that lack of pay distinguishes a professional and an amateur, protecting amateurs from highly experienced competition.

So there’s your answer. However, there is a lot more to this question than just a yes or no answer. In the rest of the post, I will go more into detail on why the fighters cannot be paid, other ways in which they can be compensated, and the distinction between an amateur and a professional when it comes to money.

Why Can’t Amateur Fighters Be Paid?

It was initially confusing to me why amateur fighters did not get paid. Surely some amateur promotions must offer pay to their fighters right? Well, no. In fact, it is against the rules of the sanctioning body to allow an amateur fighter to be paid.

Since I initially did not know of these rules, I turned to the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s (NSAC) website. When I didn’t find answers, I called them, and that’s when a representative explained to me that the fighters are not allowed to get paid.

MMA Referee Keith Kizer seen representing the Nevada Athletic Commission.
MMA Referee Keith Kizer seen representing the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Basically, here’s how it works: The Athletic Commission for the state selects organizations that it approves to sanction events under the guise of the Athletic Commission. The Athletic Commission will take an organization off their list if they find the organization is not abiding by their rules, hence deterring the sanctioning body from doing something such as paying amateur fighters.

But this still doesn’t answer why. So I found a sanctioning body that was on the approved list of the NSAC. One of those sanctioning bodies was the International Sport Combat Federation (ISCF). On their website, I found a list of rules, which you can go to here.

In the rules, they explicitly state what they consider an amateur and a professional, with the only differentiation being that the professional fighter is paid. Their rules state that an amateur fighter never receives a fight purse, and once a fighter gets paid, they become a professional fighter for the rest of their life.

In the rules, they explicitly state what they consider an amateur and a professional, with the only differentiation being that the professional fighter is paid. Their rules state that an amateur fighter never receives a fight purse, and once a fighter gets paid, they become a professional fighter for the rest of their life.

If you look at the ISCF’s rules, they link to two articles in which they explain their reasoning for not paying amateurs (the writer seems very passionate about this). They argue in one article that not paying the amateurs is what deters professionals from competing with them. In the article, they bring up a professional kickboxer (Dmitry Shakuta, seen below) that was allowed to compete in an amateur Muay Thai tournament, in which fighters would be paid.

Multiple-time Muay Thai Champion Dmitry Shakuta, who participated in an 'amateur' competition despite being a professional fighter.
Multiple-time Muay Thai Champion Dmitry Shakuta, who participated in an ‘amateur’ competition despite being a professional fighter.

On this they stated, “how do AMATEURS compete with an athlete of this calibre? Once an athlete is accepted as a professional world champion or makes the professional world ratings, He’s A Professional!”

This makes sense, as if Shakuta had not been paid to fight at this ‘amateur’ event, he would not have taken the fight. So the main reason why amateurs don’t get paid, is to protect them from professionals who do get paid, especially when considering the experience gap between the two.

Can The Promotion Compensate The Fighter In Other Ways?

Yes, a fighter can be compensated by the promotion other than by paying them directly. However, as far as I know, the only way the promotion can compensate the fighter is by covering their travel costs. I know that this is allowed because the sanctioning body mentioned earlier (ISCF) mentions in an article that they covered an amateur fighter’s travel expenses for both himself and his trainer.

I have found people on some sites who claim that an amateur fighter can be paid a portion of the tickets they sell. This is because it is not ‘direct’ compensation for fighting, but rather compensation for their sales, which are unrelated. However, aside from these two ways, it does not seem that the promotion compensates amateur fighters in any other way.

Former UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson walking through the airport.
Travel is a big part of a fighter’s career. Pictured: Demetrious Johnson, former UFC Flyweight Champion.

In my opinion, these are good incentives to fight as an amateur. Although they may not be direct payment for fighting, it is still a good way to get experience and build your repertoire locally.

These compensations will probably vary by promotion, so it would be wise to look around for the one that offers both travel and ticket sale compensation. Even so, there are other ways for an amateur fighter to get paid for their fight.

How Amateurs Can Still Make Money For Fighting

Sponsorships! As a fighter, a good amount of your total income will come by way of sponsorships. If you did not know, under most promotions, amateurs can also wear sponsorships on their fight gear.

However, it will not be easy securing a sponsor as an amateur. For the most part, companies would prefer to sponsor a professional, as they are typically more popular than an amateur.

If you have a good following locally as well as on social media, sponsors will get behind you. The best way to find a sponsor will probably be by calling local businesses and selling them a spot on your shorts. Give them information about who you are, how big your following is, and the number of people who will be watching the event.

Another way in which you will likely get sponsors is through your gym. Your trainer will probably know companies that have sponsored fighters in the past, and can give you their info to help you land them as a sponsor.

Jon Jones had a sponsorship with Nike before UFC introduced its Reebok deal.
Jon Jones had a sponsorship with Nike before UFC introduced their Reebok deal.

If you can gain a big following on social media, there are also ways to make money outside the cage as well. Several MMA fighters have multiple sources of income, many of those coming from the internet. Whether it be a podcast, their website, or social media sponsorship, a following can be very easy to monetize.

Is Going Pro Worth The Money?

As a professional fighter, you will be paid a purse for your fights. However, there are other monetary benefits that come with being a pro fighter. Just the label of being ‘pro’ makes people more likely to view your fights and pay more attention to you.

You must take into consideration the increased level of competition you will face upon going pro. Once you do, the attention you receive will directly correlate with how many fights you win and the fashion in which you win them.

How often you fight will also play a factor, as you can be seen by more people and stay fresh on their minds if you fight more often. Many newer pros fight very often, something I talk about in the post How Many Time A Year Do Pro Boxers Fight?

In conclusion, despite the fact that amateur fighters do not get paid to fight, there are other ways in which they can earn money. If a fighter has a good following locally and on social media, they have many opportunities to earn income.

Once they are ready, an amateur fighter can go pro to start earning a fight purse, but at the cost of fighting higher-level competition. Thanks for reading!