The UFC, the number one MMA league, is the most popular combat competition in the world. Events regularly garner millions of pay-per-view. MMA is now more popular than ever and is getting more attention than boxing.
Naturally, many people started practicing the martial arts associated with MMA. However, before going pro, a fighter has to prove his worth on the amateur circuit and attract the attention of the public and pro MMA leagues.
Given the dangerous nature of these fights, you may wonder: Do amateur MMA fighters get paid?
Some amateur competitions will pay you one way or another, but it’s not the norm. Typically an amateur can have many fights before going pro, and it’s still not as financially prosperous as being a boxer. Whether you’re practicing or just here out of curiosity, keep reading to discover the current state of MMA amateur circuits.
Keep reading to find out more about do amateur MMA fighters get paid!
Do Amateur MMA Fighters Get Paid?
By definition, you won’t get paid because you’re not a professional. So don’t come into the amateur circuit expecting McGregor’s car collection. Even low-level pros don’t get paid that much, considering their skills. Even a fighter like Dustin Poirier, who beat Conor McGregor, struggled for years before reaching the level of recognition he has now, and even then, he was in his thirties, and it didn’t last long.
However, you can get lucky as an amateur and find a promoter that will give you a share of the proceedings, that is, if you’re popular and attract people. Though many promoters can be very exploitative at both the pro and amateur level. In most cases, you won’t receive any sort of payment. If the promoter feels generous, he can pay for your gas money and a hotel room if you have to come from out of town, but even then, it’s rare. If you’re offered such an opportunity, you can expect payments ranging from $50 to $250.
Is Making Money As An Amateur Possible, Then?
So relying on the promoter won’t get you far as an MMA fighter since it’s a small business. Your chances of getting paid for the fight itself are paper thin. This brings up another question: Can you make money as an amateur at all?
Technically, yes. Amateurs who gain some sort of following and get popular will have the opportunity to get sponsored by brands. It’s not something every fighter receives, but it can happen. Yet, the paychecks won’t be enough to make a living, which is why, even after going pro, many fighters have to keep a day job to pay the bills. At an amateur level, fighting is not stable enough to live, and you can partake in two fights per month, at the absolute maximum. Fighting more is unsustainable since you need to rest, train, and cut weight for each fight.
Moreover, your fight in amateur competition is not always guaranteed. Since it’s not paid, many fighters will get a spot and won’t show up on the day because they have something else to do. The promoter then needs to reassess and make do with what he has on the spot. So there’s a possibility that you showed up for nothing. Usually, the promoter will find a solution, but it can happen.
The main thing that should drive a fighter to join amateur competition is a passion for their discipline. Having the necessary talent and passion will attract the attention of pro MMA promoters, leading you to professional MMA organizations.
Why Do People Take Part in Amateur Fights?
In most cases, amateur fighters won’t get paid to participate, and you may wonder why these people take part in fights if they don’t earn any money. What drives them to put on the gloves and step into the ring? Why train hard every day and have a day job on the side? Is there a reward, an ulterior motive?
The Opportunity To Become a Pro Fighter
The first thing that can motivate someone to join the amateur route is the opportunity for clout. You can build a reputation and get noticed by the mma community, which then leads to joining the professional circuit. Many amateur fighters will promote themselves online and try to get attention on social media for their fights.
In this regard, social media like Twitter or Instagram represent a powerful weapon to help these fighters get noticed by the right people. If you follow the accounts of amateur fighters, you’ll often see them post videos of their best moments in the octagon, stories following their daily training, and all the things you can expect from an influencer. This is the best way to showcase their abilities and reach pro status, like any upcoming artist in music, for example.
Just For The Sake Of Passion For The Art
The second aspect is personal, and if you already practice martial arts, it will probably resonate with you. When you fight, you can be the sweetest person in the world and be respectful, which is how it should be. However, there’s always a part of us that’s seeking competitiveness and to be authentic in the cage. We can’t help it; that’s how we’re wired.
We, as humans, love to compete, you train hard, and victory is the reward. Moreover, it’s an opportunity for the fighter to show what their gym or dojo is capable of and how well they taught him, which is something to take great pride in.
Not everything in life is about money, and it’s a passion for your discipline that should push you to fight in such competitions.
How Can Amateur Fighters Earn Money?
When a promoter is generous enough to pay his fighters, it’s usually given in the form of a percentage of ticket sales. This is why you see many fighters promote the event online as best as they can, to hype people and drive the sales up.
As a fighter, even an amateur, you should keep in mind that you are part of a show and all that comes with it. Your face, your personality, your fighting style, and your track record are all tools you can use to earn money even if the promoter doesn’t pay you. The best fighters are not necessarily the most talented. Although your skills and winning are important, it’s also about building a relationship with the public and making them want to follow your career.
You’ll see many amateur fighters selling their own merchandise. Alternatively, modern fighters are setting up a Patreon to get monetary support from their fans. This implies being present on social media and other platforms that can promote you. Nowadays, being an MMA fighter also means becoming an influencer.
You can promote products on your Instagram or Twitter, and some sites or specialized media can ask you for interviews when you start to get noticed. You have to be careful about what you promote, but you shouldn’t shy away from such opportunities. These are not only sources of income but also necessary steps to create more opportunities for your career.
So if you really want to be a successful MMA fighter, you have to learn to market yourself and become your own brand. Only then can you stand out from the crowd and pique the public’s interest. The more people are aware of your existence, the more chances you’ll have to catch the attention of a scout looking for uncut gems.
What Do Fighters Earn After They Initially Go Pro?
If you catch the attention of the right person, you may integrate the pro circuit. Going pro means you have to get paid to participate in a fight. This doesn’t mean you should quit your day job and start a credit to get a brand new G-Wagon. In 2018, out of over 700 fighters in the UFC, only 187 made six-figure salaries. The UFC is the most prestigious league, so it’s not open to everyone, and you’ll most likely become a pro in a smaller organization.
Depending on the testimonies you’ll find online, the numbers can vary between $400 to $600 per match after taxes and training expenses. However, it rarely exceeds $500, as you’ll be fighting in small local venues. These matches are also rarely televised, if at all, so don’t expect pay-per-view to weigh into the balance. Depending on your reputation as a fighter and how many ticket sales you can generate, the promoter might cut in on some of the profits, but it’s not automatic. As we’ve mentioned earlier, if you seek to make a career out of it, these events are a chance to get spotted by a scout first and foremost.
The key thing to understand about becoming a pro is that it’s kind of a free-for-all. The organization will look at your track record and how popular you are to make you an offer. This offer is something you should negotiate.
Moreover, you should never forget that if you get paid per match, 33% of this money will typically go to the government, so that you won’t walk out with the exact amount promised. This is frustrating, but it beats fighting in Muay Thai in a country like Thailand, for instance.
This is something to consider when you receive an offer, and that’s why if you get offers from brands and the organization allows you to promote this brand’s products, you should take the time to study it. It can help you secure a stable income as a newcomer on the pro scene.
Being Pro Doesn’t Mean Being A Millionaire
We’re used to seeing athletes like Mayweather in boxing or Tom Brady in football make millions of dollars with every single appearance. This can lead us to assume UFC fighters get paid the same insane amounts. However, UFC is a relatively young organization compared to NHL, NBA, or other sports leagues that generate billions every year. They don’t have a players/fighters union like the other leagues either, so the percentage of revenue going to the competitors is far less.
A sport is only lucrative depending on ticket sales and pay-per-view. If these events are successful, brands get interested, and the sport grows. The UFC struggled with its violence for a long time, due to it not being family friendly, but has since struck up deals with ESPN on normal TV channels. Other promotions like Bellator and PFL have begun to rival the UFC in both competitiveness and pay In 2020, these were the five highest-paid fighters in the UFC:
- Khabib Nurgamedov — $6,090,000
- Conor McGregor — $3,060,000
- Junior Dos Santos — $1,560,000
- Israel Adesanya — $1,230,000
- Justin Gaethje — $920,000
Remember, these are the best fighters in the world, and this is their yearly income. Compared to another sport, soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is one the best in the world, and he gets paid $36,000,000 per year, not including endorsements and advertisements. We’re talking about the top of the UFC, so imagine what it means when you are at the bottom of the organization or if you’re in a smaller organization. Most top level pro fighters take a while to get to the UFC and even once there the starting rates are typically only around $10,000 to show.
However, it’s crucial to understand that some of these fighters, like many athletes, will get some of their income from endorsements and other activities their fame brings to them. MMA is unfortunately somewhat exploitative in terms of pay at this stage.
After all that we’ve covered, it’s easy to conclude that, no, amateur MMA fighters don’t get paid. However, the truth is more complicated than that. In some instances, a fighter can get paid, or at least the promoter can pay for his expenses, but it’s a rule of thumb, and nothing is guaranteed on this front.
Like many branches of entertainment, it’s up to the fighter to take matters into his own hands to stand out and create a situation where he is paid by other means. Creating and selling merch or becoming a social media influencer are the main ways fighters use to create a following and generate revenues. Also networking to find businesses or benefactors who just want to be a part of a fighter’s journey for notoriety is another way to get sponsorship money. So it’s possible to make money; it’s just not for anyone.
Even going pro isn’t an automatic access to a life where you can focus entirely on MMA. Entry-level pros still have a day job since the fights don’t pay enough to get minimum wage. If a fighter really wants to integrate the amateur circuit with the hopes of becoming a pro in the UFC, money shouldn’t be the reason.
Fighting in the octagon should always be motivated by passion and the love of competition. If you have the same passion for martial arts, don’t hesitate to check out our other articles to strengthen your knowledge.