When Robert “Bubba” McDaniel accidentally tweeted how much money he made fighting last year, he inadvertently brought up what is probably the most common discussion in regards to fighter pay; the numbers. McDaniel tweeted that he made $33,200 fighting last year, which is a figure that raises some eyebrows. The median US income was $27,519.10 in 2012, which is not much lower than what Bubba claims to have made. It’s very easy for people to see these numbers and immediately cry out for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to raise fighter pay. After all, why should a fighter in the premier Mixed Martial Arts promotion be making so little?
Bubba himself was quick to stress that he was happy, telling Bloody Elbow “I didn’t need to have anyone think that I’m complaining. I’ve dreamed about being an athlete my whole life…I signed the contract, I’m not complaining about it.”
Bubba only fought in two professional bouts in 2013, going 1-1. He also noted that he has two other part-time jobs to help cover expenses. With the usual structure of TUF contracts being $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win, the amount of money he made was fairly typical for a TUF alumni, especially one who only fought professionally twice.
But since the big organizations don’t tend to make their payouts public, we can’t know exactly what fighters make, especially factoring in undisclosed bonuses and sponsorships. And there comes a point where over-speculation is just a waste of time. As Vinny Magalhaes recently pointed out, spending too much time speculating on specific figures can actually hurt the fighters, particularly in the case of websites posting inaccurate information about specific salaries.
However, there are some things that the UFC could very easily change that would help many fighters greatly, without even increasing fighter pay. Joe Lauzon recently discussed how the UFC deals with travel arrangements for fighters, stating that “UFC pays fighter plus 1. I have 3 corners and some other coaches/training partners though…when I fly to Vegas it’s like $350 per flight, for Japan it was over $1400 per flight. I always take care of my coaches with flights.” This can be a massive financial hit to fighters, especially considering that it’s become fairly uncommon to see fighters in the UFC without 3 cornerman. Other fighters, like Dong-Hyun Kim, have lamented the fact the UFC will only pay for their flights 4-5 days before their bouts, which can cause big issues with jet lag. These are expenses that the UFC should certainly be covering; they’re easy to fix, they’re fairly cheap, and they will directly affect a fighter performance in the cage, which is only a good thing for the organization.
While the UFC is the industry leader, it’s also unfair to only criticise them. While the UFC could certainly afford to pay individual fighters more, they’re still significantly ahead of everyone else in the MMA game. There are fighters in Bellator and World Series of Fighting making $2,000 or less in disclosed money, and generally only the very best fighters in those organizations make comparable money to their UFC counterparts. There are no longer organizations like Strikeforce or Affliction, who would often pay fighters exorbitant amounts, just so they could have a decent roster.
The UFC also offers a roster-wide insurance plan, which is more than any other organization can boast. While the UFC certainly has room for improvement, it’s the sport of MMA as a whole that’s still got a long way to go until it can compare itself to the other major sports of the world.