Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

Do UFC Fighters Get A Salary?

Perhaps you’ve heard fighters complain about UFC pay, and how they don’t make enough for what they do, or perhaps you’ve seen the huge numbers that superstars like Conor McGregor bring in. Either way, you ended up on this post because you want to know how fighters get paid.

And that led you to the question we’re going to address in this post. Do UFC fighters get paid a salary?

In short, no, UFC fighters are not paid a salary. Instead, they are paid on a per-fight basis, based on the terms negotiated in their contract. However, the average UFC fighter earns $56,804 a year according to BloodyElbow.com, meaning the average fighter is paid about $28,402 per fight, assuming they fight twice a year.

But why aren’t fighters paid on a salary basis? How do the contracts work? And where does the contract model come from?

In the rest of this post, I’m going to cover these questions and more to explain how fighters are paid in the UFC.

Why Aren’t Fighters Paid On Salary?

So as already mentioned, UFC fighters on not paid a salary, but are instead paid a lump sum per fight. But why aren’t the fighters paid on salary?

Well to put it simply, it just doesn’t make sense from the UFC’s perspective. At the end of the day, the UFC only makes money until the fighters show up to fight. So it only makes sense that the fighters actually get paid when they do show up.

It simply doesn't make sense to pay fighters a salary, since there are many factors that could keep them out of competition.
It simply doesn’t make sense to pay fighters a salary, since there are many factors that could keep them out of competition.

It would also be very difficult to enforce any contract stipulations if the fighters were to get paid on salary. For example, let’s say the UFC does decide to pay a fighter an agreed salary, on the stipulation that they must fight twice in that year.

Who’s to say the fighter won’t simply fake an injury when their first fight comes around? They would have already collected their salary for a few months anyway right?

Now I know that’s a bit of a weird hypothetical, but it just makes more sense to pay fighters on a per fight basis. You show up, you get paid. And there’s a lot less hassle involved for the UFC.

Ok, so we get why the fighters aren’t paid on salary. But then, how do the contracts actually work? Who decides the pay?

How Do UFC Contracts Work?

If you’ve been a UFC fan for a while you may have noticed fighters talking about the pay in their contract, negotiating their contract, or other things like that.

This usually comes up in the post-fight press conference, after a fighter just had a huge win. Whether it was a win over a noteworthy opponent, a win in spectacular fashion, or even a controversial loss.

Despite being 2-2 in his last four at the time, Masvidal beat Darren Till and Ben Askren in impressive fashion, raising his 'stock' as a fighter.
Despite being 2-2 in his last four at the time, Masvidal beat Darren Till and Ben Askren in impressive fashion, raising his ‘stock’ as a fighter.

Basically, any fight where a fighter feels their “stock” has risen and they are deserving of higher pay, contract discussion comes up. But before we talk about the negotiation process, what exactly is specified in the contract?

When a fighter signs with the UFC, there is a negotiation for their initial contract, based on their ability, performance outside the UFC, and how popular they are. A UFC fighter’s contract will be signed for a certain number of fights, for a specified amount of pay for each fight.

In the contract articles that discuss pay, the UFC will also specify whether the fighter will receive a win bonus for their fight, and if they will be receiving pay-per-view points, adding to their potential earnings.

Prior to signing with the UFC, Eddie Alvarez was a Bellator champion. A dispute between the two organizations ended up in a disclosure of his UFC contract.
Prior to signing with the UFC, Eddie Alvarez was a Bellator champion. A dispute between the two organizations ended up in a disclosure of his UFC contract.

There is an excellent article by Bleacher Report covering Eddie Alvarez’s released contract from when he was initially signed to the UFC from Bellator. In the article, you can see the many clauses that the UFC includes in their contracts.

How UFC Contracts Are Negotiated

The UFC makes sure the contract has the best clauses for the company by leveraging its position as the biggest MMA promotion in the world. The fighter will usually accept even under less than optimal conditions, simply due to the UFC’s size and reputation.

A good example of this occurred when World Series of Fighting’s bantamweight champion, Marlon Moraes, decided to make a move to the UFC. As the WSOF champion, Moraes was making 90k/90k. That’s $90,000 to show up, and another $90,000 if he won.

Despite making $180,000 in each of his last WSOF fights, Marlon only made $140,000 in his first UFC win.
Despite making $180,000 in each of his last WSOF fights, Marlon only made $140,000 in his first UFC win.

However, his UFC contract resulted in a pay decrease! For his first two fights, Marlon was paid just 70k/70k! For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a $40,000 pay cut! And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Marlon lost his first fight, for which he was only paid 70k.

Anyway, I lost track back there. I meant to discuss the fact that a fighter’s contract specifies a certain number of fights, and the amount to be paid for those fights.

Typical contracts with the UFC will be for about six fights long. However, a fighter may choose a shorter contract for less optimal conditions, with the hopes of renegotiating a better contract when their current one ends.

In early 2020, Edson Barboza pleaded for the UFC to release him from his contract. Unfortunately, he will have to fight out his contract to fight with another promotion.
In early 2020, Edson Barboza pleaded for the UFC to release him from his contract. Unfortunately, he will have to fight out his contract to fight with another promotion.

Here’s how it works: The UFC wants a longer contract, because they can keep a fighter for a longer period of time, under the same conditions. A fighter will always push for either better contract conditions, or a shorter contract.

However, a fighter makes a risky move pushing for a shorter contract. Typically, renegotiations occur when a contract ends, because the fighter is then able to entertain offers from other fight promotions. For these negotiations to be in the fighter’s favor, they must have had an impressive run on their previous contract.

That means if a fighter pushed for a three-fight contract, but they looked unimpressive in their fights, the UFC now holds the negotiating power, and may even release the fighter based on their performance.

Elias Theodorou was released from his UFC contract after a single loss, despite having won his previous two, a decision likely due to his lackluster fighting style.
Elias Theodorou was released from his UFC contract after a single loss, despite having won his previous two, a decision likely due to his lackluster fighting style.

But, if the fighter won their three fights with impressive knockouts, they are now worth much more to not just the UFC, but also to potentially any other promotion. Thus, the fighter accepted less optimal conditions for their three-fight contract, but holds the majority of negotiating power at the end of it, and can now get a contract with much better pay.

Of course, renegotiations can happen even for fighters who haven’t completed their contract. This usually occurs when the UFC has a rising prospect, who they can’t risk losing to another promotion.

A fighter can still sign with another promotion, even while under contract with the UFC. However, the outside promotion will have to pay a hefty fee to the UFC for breaching the contract. This is a price a promotion might be willing to pay when looking at a fighter with start potential.

After Conor McGregor beat Diego Brandao at UFC Dublin, he was given a new contract in recognition of his ability and future potential as a star.
After Conor McGregor beat Diego Brandao at UFC Dublin, he was given a new contract in recognition of his ability and future potential as a star.

Such was the case with Conor McGregor when he was only a few fights into the UFC. After only three fights with the UFC, McGregor signed a new contract, despite likely still having fights left on his previous one.

This was done because McGregor had won all three fights by knockout, and the UFC couldn’t risk losing their next superstar to another promotion.

How Much Are UFC Fighters Paid Per Fight?

So we already talked about this briefly, but I want to go more in-depth on how the UFC pay structure works. At the lowest level of competition, UFC fighters are often paid 10k/10k, that’s show and win money.

For example, this was the case for Russian flyweight Askar Askarov at UFC 246. Askarov faced UFC veteran Tim Elliott, in what was his second fight with the UFC. Askarov was coming off a draw against Brandon Moreno, and so had yet to win a fight in the UFC.

Askar Askarov (right) was signed to the UFC with a common entry-level contract: $10k to show with a $10k win bonus
Askar Askarov (right) was signed to the UFC with a common entry-level contract: $10k to show, with a $10k win bonus.

For their fight, Askarov was paid $20,000, which includes a $10,000 win bonus. In contrast, due to his tenure with the UFC, Elliott was paid $31,000, despite losing the contest.

However, household names at the same event, such as Donald Cerrone, Holly Holm, and Anthony Pettis, each cleared six figures. Pettis earned $155k to show, while Holm and Cerrone each earned $200k.

And of course, the superstar of the event, Conor McGregor, took home a nice pay of $3 million, plus pay-per-view points.

How Much Is An Ultimate Fighter Contract Worth?

Lastly, I wanted to clear up any information about contracts related to The Ultimate Fighter show. As many of you know, the entire premise of the show revolves around the fighters earning their chance at what the show calls a “six-figure contract”. But what exactly does that mean?

Winners on The Ultimate Fighter, such as Colton Smith from TUF 16, earn a 'six-figure' contract with the UFC.
Winners on The Ultimate Fighter, such as Colton Smith from TUF 16, earn a ‘six-figure’ contract with the UFC.

In short, the Ultimate Fighter “six-figure contract” is only worth $150,000 over 9 fights, and worth $300,000 if the fighter wins every fight. The first year’s fights are worth $12k show plus $12k win bonus. The second year’s pay is $16k and $16k bonus, and the last year’s pay is $22k to show with a $22k win bonus.

So that’s most of what there is to say on how fighters are paid. I hope this cleared up any questions you may have had on the subject. If it did, please consider checking out other posts on the site, such as those on the Martial Arts History page. Thanks for reading!