Dominick Cruz is back, ladies and gentlemen. No injuries, no more torn ligaments, and nothing short of a freak sauna accident can ruin UFC Fight Night 81 now. That’s clearly tempting fate, but given the UFC’s good run of luck lately, it’s a risk this author is willing to take. Although this Sunday isn’t the strongest of cards from top to bottom, the headliner is as dynamite as the modern MMA fan could ever ask for, especially on cable television.
Moreover, Cruz is in the most important fight of his life, as current UFC Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw aims to ruin the former 135-pound kingpin’s return. The stakes are pretty high here, so let’s do our usual thing and run down the previous UFC salaries (with last Reebok sponsorship payouts) for all the main card talent on UFC Fight Night 81.
T.J. Dillashaw [#1 BW]
$100,000 = $50,000/$50,000 [UFC 177]
Dominick Cruz [N/A]
$100,000 = $50,000/$50,000 [UFC 178]
Analysis: If you need to guess any financial indicator of Dominick Cruz’s lost time in this sport, just look at his UFC 177 paycheck and think about how many more he’s missed. Had Cruz never torn his ACL in May 2012 and been healthy enough to fight a couple times a year, he could’ve banked at least a few million dollars in the prime of his career. Now the champ is just a couple months shy of 31 years old, and will only be stepping into the Octagon twice in over a 1500-day span. Thankfully, Cruz took to his Fox Sports analyst role like a duck to water, so he’s had a solid day job to pad things out.
On the other side, T.J. Dillashaw has enjoyed a huge (disclosed) pay bump since dominating former champion Renan Barao. Back at UFC 173, Dillashaw only made a recorded $36,000 in victory, and that doesn’t include the sponsorship money he used to enjoy.
Plenty of grief has also been heaped on Dillashaw for moving from the ridiculously-named Team Alpha Male to Muscle Pharm & Elevation Fight Team, but for a man barely making a comfortable living just a couple of years ago, the move makes so much sense. Without title contention, Dillashaw’s Reebok pay drops to $10,000 per bout, and who knows whether Zuffa would issue an immediate pay cut.
At the very least, both men will be paid relatively better for bantamweights than the last time Dominick Cruz main-evented a card with reported fighter salaries. At UFC 132, both Cruz and Urijah Faber made a combined $72,000 for their five-round title fight barnburner.
Anthony Pettis [#2 LW]
$200,000 = $100,000/$100,000 [UFC 181]
Eddie Alvarez [#6 LW]
$100,000** [UFC 178]
Analysis: If Alistair Overeem was once thought to be the biggest bust in Zuffa history, then Eddie Alvarez may be a close second or third. After the former Bellator champion’s contract negotiations blew the MMA fighter pay conversation wide open, he still banked a relatively handsome base salary for a UFC newcomer in the lightweight division.
We should also note that Alvarez has nowhere near the pull that Anthony Pettis gets in fighter pay or promotional support. Pettis still has an exclusive Reebok deal, while Alvarez is mired in the “$2,500 per bout” level of the Reebok tier system — showing in hindsight just how critical it was for him to secure the kind of contract that made then-lightweight-champion Benson Henderson so (rightfully) jealous.
Travis Browne [#9 HW]
$60,000** [UFC 187]
Matt Mitrione [#19 HW]
$66,000 = $33,000/$33,000 [UFC on Fox 13]
Analysis: There’s a pronounced salary gap between the elite of UFC heavyweights and everyone else, but this is a division where even non-contenders can make bank just by hanging around. Both Browne and Mitrione are in their mid-30s, but they’ll probably be fighting into their 40s or so.
Nonetheless, it’s highly unlikely that either fighter is looking at a pink slip with a few losses, but neither man “moves the needle” or has any active title run on the near horizon. About the best thing for them is probably fighting out their contracts and testing how much the free agent market in MMA currently values supporting players in the largest weight class.
Ross Pearson [#37 LW]
$90,000 = $45,000/$45,000 + $15,000* [UFC 191]
Francisco Trinaldo [#25 LW]
$12,000** [UFC 173]
Analysis: Francisco Trinaldo has come a long way since his Jungle Fight and Ultimate Fighter days, chipping out an 8-3 UFC record and riding a four-fight winning streak to boot. But without much name value and little star power to his credit, Trinaldo’s new UFC salary may not outweigh his $10,000 in Reebok money by too much.
It also couldn’t be more obvious that Ross Pearson is doing far better work towards his bank account, and at 17 UFC bouts, he’s not more than a year or two off from maxing out his own Reebok dollars. About the only question there is whether the Englishman can keep his head above water in a weight class that’s so flush with young, hungry, burgeoning talent.
# = Rankings Position
* = Reebok Sponsorship (since July 2015/UFC 189)
** = Loss, disqualification, no-contest, or no win bonus
UFC / Reebok Sponsorship Tiers
UFC Champion — $40,000
Title Challenger — $30,000
21+ UFC bouts — $20,000
16 to 20 UFC bouts — $15,000
11 to 15 UFC bouts — $10,000
6 to 10 UFC bouts — $5,000
1 to 5 UFC bouts — $2,500
Disclaimer: UFC salaries and Reebok payouts do not represent the full value or accurate dollar amounts paid to UFC fighters, which includes private gifts, unreported bonuses, and total undisclosed pay. “Performance of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” UFC bonus are not included. These figures also do not account for taxes, insurance, miscellaneous commission fees, or fighter expenses including traveling costs, gym fees, medical payments, coach salaries, and fighter management.