UFC: Salary or Prize Purse

Ultimate Fighting Championship

Ultimate Fighting Championship (Photo credit: ATempletonPhoto.com)

A gig in the UFC must be pretty lucrative, right? I mean, look at the top UFC earner Chuck Liddell. His lifetime total pay-per-view career bonus earnings since is estimated at over $4.3 million. Tito Ortiz isn’t far behind with just over $4 million. And what do the lower ranking fighters earn? Two thirds of them are estimated to make less than $100,000 per year. That’s gross salary. Take out insurance, taxes, equipment, and license fees and the payout isn’t as sweet at the bottom. Some office drones take home more money than UFC fighters do. And those drones don’t have anything close to the job hazards associated with the UFC.

So what gives? Why the huge discrepancy? They all get the shit kicked out of them at one time or another, right? MMA in general, UFC in particular, has been criticized for paying athletes much lower salaries than similar sports like boxing. The controversy led UFC President Dana White to defend the salary structure of UFC, in part saying that no one knows exactly how much top fighters earn because the fighters don’t want anyone to know how much they earn. He went on to say that the UFC pay structure “smokes” boxing’s pay structure, yet gives little insight into such insight.

So what do the fighters make? President White jumps around the issue in a Fox 11 Sports Interview from September 2012. While he insists that there’s a guaranteed amount, he dances around the question, insisting that “the guys get paid a lot more money than what you’re seeing on things.” He admits that bonuses and incentives make up part of the pay structure. Obviously the amount of the prize money correlates directly with the hype surrounding the fight.

How much? Well, not all bonuses are made public. In fact, the athletic commissions didn’t even release prize purse information until 2004, so it’s impossible to account for UFC 45 back. And currently the only prize purse amounts that are released are Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, and Submission of the Night. The rest of the bonuses beyond that, including sponsorship money, pay-per-view cuts, and other “locker room” bonuses aren’t even publicly reported. But new UFC rules require sponsors to pay the UFC for the right to provide sponsorship for fighters, a stipulation that leaves less money that goes directly to the fighter.

Dana White says that the fighters are free to share their income figures if they like; their contracts do not gag them from releasing the amounts. Yet it’s difficult to pin down the exact amount the UFC grosses each year from ticket sales, pay-per-views, merchandising, DVD sales, and video games. Fighters like Jon Fitch and Tim Kennedy have publicly spoken out against UFC’s pay schedules. In fact, Kennedy stated that emptying trash cans pays better than the UFC. It’s further proof that it’s all about the purse.

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