The crowd of 17,249 was roaring at the jam-packed Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec as the arena became illuminated with flashing, chaotic lights and the sound of Bruce Buffer’s unmistakable voice rang out over the microphone.
“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s time for the undisputed UFC Welterweight Championship of the world!”
This is the scene at UFC 154, the most recent mixed martial arts (MMA) pay-per-view event held by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on Nov. 17, 2012. The main event of the night was between the current Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre (22-2 MMA, 16-2 UFC) and the Interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit (28-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC). The total gate for the event was around $3,143,000.
The fight provided viewers with a gritty, five-round battle that lasted the maximum 25 minutes. A back-and-forth match that left both fighters beaten and bloody in the end was highlighted by a vicious head kick by Condit to Pierre’s temple. The kick sent Pierre to the canvas, but as champions often do, Pierre persevered and went on to beat Condit by decision, earning the UFC Welterweight Championship.
For his impressive victory, Pierre was awarded with the highest purse of the night, $470,000. Because it was a championship fight, he received a $200,000 win bonus and $200,000 for fighting. The match was declared Fight of the Night, given to the fight that league officials deem the most exciting, and both fighters received a $70,000 bonus. For losing, Condit still received a respectable $125,000.
While marquee fighters that compete in highly-touted fights, including main events, are given a respectable paycheck, the new, obscure fighters are not righteously compensated for the hard work and dedication that they put into the sport.
The salaries of each of the 337 fighters that compete in the UFC were estimated by MMA Manifesto for the 2011 fiscal year. It was reported that “while the average UFC fighter made over $91,000 in 2011, 72 fighters (21 percent) made $10,000 or less.”
Mixed martial arts and boxing are frequently compared because of the inherent dangers of competing in both sports. Boxing has been popular for much longer than MMA and is considered to have more integrity, but the injuries that fighters sustain in both sports are troubling.
On the other hand, MMA fighters can use different fighting styles to win a match. Instead of repeatedly pounding on an opponent’s head, fighters can use holds and submissions to force their opponent to tap out. Because of this, mixed martial artists generally suffer less head trauma in a fight, and in their career, than boxers do. Not to mention the grueling 12 rounds that a boxer could endure, while the UFC’s limit is five rounds per fight.
With the amount of injuries sustained in boxing and MMA, there has often been debates concerning the salaries of the fighters from both sports. Without a doubt, the biggest names in boxing create more money in pay-per-view events and receive much larger purses than those of marquee UFC fights.
Take Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. for example. In 2012, Mayweather was number one on the Forbes’ List of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes. For his last two fights, which he was in the ring for less than an hour total, he earned a combined $85 million.
While the earnings of UFC fighters are nowhere close to those of popular boxers, the best in the business are still making a considerable amount of money. In 2011, the highest paid fighter in the UFC was Tito Ortiz, earning around $1,495,000. In the same year, nine fighters were paid over $500,000 and the top 89 were paid over $100,000.
Much scrutiny has been put on the President of the UFC, Dana White, for the inadequate salaries of his fighters.
White commented about the purses of boxing compared to UFC, saying, “If you look at the UFC numbers compared to Boxing now, we smoke them. When you look down [at] their card, the numbers drop big time. When you look at a UFC card the numbers are consistent all the way through.”
White knows that the UFC doesn’t cash out millions of dollars to their top fighters like boxing does but says their paychecks are much more evenly distributed. Professional boxers early in their careers make about $1,000 to $4,000 per fight depending on whether they win or lose. Considering most boxers only fight four times per year, their yearly salary is not staggering. In 2011, it was estimated that the average boxer makes about $32,000 a year.
While most sports enthusiasts would find this hard to believe, the pay structure in the UFC is considerably more compared to boxing. When a newcomer signs a UFC contract, their first three fights are always on a set monetary scale. In accordance with the pay-scale, if a fighter won their first three matches of their career in the UFC, they would earn a respectable $48,000.
The UFC also offers three different bonuses for fighters at each of their events. Awards for Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night are given to the four fighters that exemplify each category. The payouts for these awards usually range from $55,000 to $75,000 total.
Although the UFC can’t pay its athletes as much as other professional sports, the motto remains the same: The best get paid the most. UFC Chairman/CEO Lorenzo Feritta said it perfectly: “Like any company in America, you have to perform to be able to get compensated.”
By Bill Felo