Professional mixed martial artists do not make enough money.
Argue with me, I dare you.
My job is to support and actively further the careers of professional fighters. I know what they go through. I know the expense that they incur to improve themselves every day. I also have a pretty good idea of what kind of money they are making to do this.
Consider this: In order to become a professional, paid athlete in most states a fighter is required to fight at least 4-5 times as an amateur. Fighting at the amateur level requires expense. Gym fees, gear specific to fighting and training, time off work to train and to fight, licensing fees, medical expenses, I’m certain more could be named. Per year that is a cost of around two thousand dollars. Let’s say the average amateur fights for 2 years before turning pro – he is already in the hole by $4000 before he ever steps into the cage as a paid performer.
Debut fighters are often paid anywhere between $250-500 purse and $250-500 win bonuses for smaller regional promotions. $500/500 is a high purse for a fledgling pro. Before reaching the level of national attention, most professionals are making a good deal less than $2000 for each fight and that is if they WIN – I have seen a fighter with 5 pro fights walk away from a loss with $250 for his trouble. So average that out – if you fight 4-6 times during the first year and you earn an average of $700 per fight, you’ve earned at the most $4200. Include the expenses you’ve incurred in the same year (which, although potentially less, are generally the same as that of amateur fighters) and you’ve LOST money, not earned it. Chances are your sponsors are not paying you in cash money although they may be relieving you of some of your expenses.
Now, admittedly, this article is simplifying the issue. But let’s break down what VALUE means in terms of fighting and what factors affect pay on a local/regional level. (We’ll talk about the UFC later.)
1. Supply and demand. If you’re one of 16 fighters at your weight class in your region, your pay is going to be less. If you’re the only one within a large radius then obviously you’re worth more. If a promoter is desperately trying to fill a gap in a last minute card, your value is higher because demand is high and supply is low. Easy, it’s basic capitalism.
2. Ticket sales – Can you put butts in seats? Or, let’s be honest – conversely, are you willing to take a beating from a guy who CAN put butts in seats?
3. Age, size, and revenue of the promotion in question – obviously a newer promotion is going to have a smaller budget for shows. Many promoters lose money on their first few attempts. A solid promotion that has been in business a number of years is going to have more money to put into fighters.
I have been criticized for not accepting low purses for the pro fighters that I manage. I have 7 guys, 2 of which do this to feed their families. How can I justify sending them to fight, putting their safety and well being at risk, for money that barely justifies the expenses they incur to train? Is it for my own benefit – my percentage is small, it is very negligible difference if someone earns $500 to fight or $1500 in terms of my overall revenue, especially when my expenses are taken into account. When one of my fighters reaches national level I will be compensated more and I can feel confident that I’ve earned the pay raise by way of standing by them in the early days when they needed the push. I believe by demanding a reasonable take for my fighters I am improving the situation for them and for other fighters. Nobody should be fighting for less than what he is worth.
So how to determine a pro fighter’s value?
I think a base pay scale based on experience would be valuable to begin negotiating. Base pay for pro debut + certain $ amount for each win + certain $ amount for each loss. Let’s say $500 for pro debut + $50 for each win +$25 for each loss. Alternatively this could be based upon a percentage of the promotion’s revenue, which would take into account the relatively higher purses for larger promotions. Win bonuses and finish bonuses can be negotiated based on skill level and opponents. A percentage of ticket sales is a very reasonable way to even out pay for those who can put butts in seats, they can have a chance to prove it. UFC fighters sometimes receive a percentage of PPV profit, this goes all the way up the chain. I have tried the math a variety of ways – it has benefits and drawbacks. The biggest drawback is that promoters in many cases simply cannot afford to pay these purses and if they cannot then they will stop having pro shows. This sounds bad — but look at the big picture. It will increase attendance for the fewer promoters who CAN continue to host pro cards. So instead of having 6 promotions in a region competing for sales you will have 1 or 2. Quality of the promotions will increase once the others have faded. There is this idea that in MMA there should be a huge brotherhood of love and assistance from everyone – I think that’s bullshit, this is a business and fighters should treat their own careers as such. Love and brotherhood is fine, but don’t let it diminish your value, you aren’t putting your face and limbs in harm’s way out of love and brotherhood. If you are, keep fighting as an amateur.
I am interested to know others’ opinions on this – it is NOT a publicly discussed topic very often, I find I get a lot of flack for my bulldog ways in terms of purses. I just wonder what would happen to the fight landscape if all pro fighters demanded the money that they deserve. I don’t think most UFC fighters make enough money either, if you don’t believe me go here. Then, for a bit of perspective, go here.