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  • Cooper Burke

Amidst Legal Battles, Star UFC Fighter Pay Revealed

One of the trade secrets of mixed martial arts is fighter pay. Only the fighters and those in the company know what they are getting paid, and there are no unions or athletes’ associations to publicize the information. Unfortunately, many of the mixed martial arts promotions in the United States have used this to their advantage, declining to disclose fighter paychecks that do not come close to the salaries of other professional athletes.

Oftentimes, fighters have their contract split in half. They receive 50% of their pay when they make weight, and the rest of their contract is considered a “win bonus”. This hardly seems fair in any other sport, as most of a contract is rarely a bonus, but this is a hallmark of combat sports.

Recently, a lawsuit against the UFC alleging anticompetitive practices, Le vs. UFC, has advanced as a judge struck down the UFC’s motion for summary judgment and ordered it to trial. As of Nov. 2, courts unsealed expert testimony from anti-trust expert Robert Blair, according to MMA Fighting.

Zuffa defense attorneys commissioned the report in light of a lawsuit filed by former UFC fighters, including Cung Le, Nathan Quarry, and Jon Fitch regarding anti-competitive practices from 2011-2016.

The lawsuit alleges the UFC used monopoly powers to pay fighters far less than they were worth and pushing other promotions such as Bellator and Strikeforce out of contention as a leader in MMA. Recently, federal judge Richard Boulware allowed the case to proceed to class action status.

The report comes from “internal Zuffa bout compensation” listing the date, compensation, and how many fighters were making that money for their bouts. It does not mention any fighter specifically by name, as that part is still redacted.

However, when combined with historical data, interviews, and the rest of the anti-trust law suit, the compensation table suggests the fighters’ pay. Bloody Elbow first reported the pay structure and several of the payouts.

Firstly, Conor McGregor was atop the list. For his featherweight title win against Chad Mendes, the Irishman reportedly earned a flat $500,000 dollars. However, he also earned a $2.11 million-dollar discretionary bonus, according to Bloody Elbow’s John Nash. This brought his payout to $2,642,204 or $3,285,000 according to the report.

McGregor made $4,476,662 or $4,536,932 in his nine-second win against featherweight legend Jose Aldo, and then followed it up with a flush $5,576,315 at UFC 196 against Nate Diaz in their first bout. Even though Diaz won the bout by majority decision, McGregor walked away a lot wealthier. His next two fights (Diaz II and Eddie Alvarez) netted him $5,615,490 and $6,812,374, respectively.

Women’s MMA pioneer Ronda Rousey also had significant paydays, though not to the level of McGregor. Her first title win saw her earn $262,000 or $574,720 against Liz Carmouche. Her first defense netted her almost double at $1,817,907, but her check slimmed down against Sara McMann, earning her $870,969. She earned $1,063,688, $1,458,282, and $2,642,204 in her next three fights, although the challenger Bethe Correia made almost half a million dollars more.

In Rousey’s last two fights in the UFC, she earned around $10.2 million dollars before losing by knockout to Amanda Nunes and retiring.

Former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time, only netted around $21 million for 8 fights, including a $4.3 million dollar payout against former middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Other notable paydays for “the Spider” include $4,208,675 against Daniel Cormier, and $3,250,000 for fighting Michael Bisping at UFC London.

Georges “Rush” Saint-Pierre collected $15,184,231 total in fights against Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and Johnny Hendricks, despite having defeated every opponent he faced, only losing twice two Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, who he later beat.

All this to say, these athletes are laying their bodies on the line for the sport of mixed martial arts, and their pay does not stack up to other sports. Just recently, much-maligned guard Dillon Brooks signed a $4-year, 80-million dollar contract with the Houston Rockets despite being regarded as one of the poorest offensive players in the league. His payday trumps that of any of these fighters, who have to fight multiple times a year to even come close to a million-dollar year, and that is if they are on the upper echelon of the sport.

Athletes like McGregor and Silva may be multi-millionaires, but that is only because they are regarded as the greatest fighters of their generations, if not all time. Their average checks being much less than the run-of-the-mill basketball player or NFL player is why Le and others in the plaintiff’s party see the UFC’s pay structure as archaic.

Now that there is a little more transparency, it seems that pay will begin to go the way of the fighters, and many argue that it is high time. Gone are the days of multi-fight one-night tournaments, and as the sport progresses, its pay structure will as well.

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