The Disparity in Fighter Compensation: Examining the Underpayment of MMA Fighters

May 31, 2023
A. J. Riot

One of the most controversial topics in the UFC is the fighters not receiving adequate payment for the hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears they put on the line every time they climb into the Octagon and put their life on the line to entertain us. It’s a delicate balancing act, but there’s no doubt that the UFC benefits from being the monopoly in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, with other organizations not having anywhere near the size, stature, or reputation of Dana White, who is the monolith who runs the day to day operations of the business.

It’s a touchy subject in any field. Still, in professional sports entertainment, there’s a considerable disparity between MMA and many other professional sports. MMA and boxing are duopolies in the world of combat sports. Both call Las Vegas home for their biggest super fights, which allows sports fans to bet on the outcome, play casino games, and breathe in the magnificent atmosphere of fight week.

Dana White has a home in Las Vegas and has been known to play big hands at the roulette table. When Dana isn’t choosing to play casino games, he runs a very tight ship at UFC HQ. Dana has taken many huge gambles as head of UFC, and he has raised it from the shadows of the fight game to an organization that lights up the strip every month.

His drive and willingness to take risks, as displayed at the roulette table, also help him benefit in the corporate world, making critical decisions that help bolster the organization’s standing and reputation on an international scale. However, he has faced severe criticism from fans, journalists, and some fighters regarding the percentage of the gate his fighters earn and how much money he takes home.

Comparison With Boxing

UFC implements several components into its business model, which is head and shoulders above boxing. UFC cards are often stacked with the best fighters at the top of the rankings competing with each other at the top of their division. Due to the overarching influence of Dana White, it is far easier to make the big fights happen. Boxing has a real issue with promoters thinking they’re the A-side or fighters completely overpricing themselves out of fights.

The most recent high-profile example of this is the impending heavyweight unification fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk; if this were in the world of MMA, Dana would have this fight signed, sealed, and delivered. However, Fury has been accused and is widely considered to be treading water and making outrageous demands, despite Usyk holding more belts in the division.

Fighters who disagree to face off against the most demanding competition risk being stripped of their belts, which is a real risk in UFC. In contrast, boxing has more politics, with many promoters involved. As a result, many believe it is killing the sport and will eventually lead to UFC taking over as the more popular combat sport.

The Negatives Of Having One CEO

Although we have addressed the positives of the UFC, the elephant in the room is that a monopoly on any industry can cause a pyramid-like swell of profits to the top end of a business. Although Dana White has passionately rebuked this claim on more than one occasion, there is evidence within the numbers that UFC fighters are paid far less of a gate percentage than professional boxers.

It’s also come to light that the UFC is a multi-billion-dollar organization. Still, the top fighters will earn considerably less than the top boxers. For example, Conor McGregor is the highest-earning UFC fighter of all time, and his career earnings total $20 million in the UFC; he moved over to boxing to fight Floyd Mayweather and trebled his entire career salary with one boxing match.

Even modern-day examples put it into perspective; the recent big boxing showdown between Ryan Garcia and Tank Davis generated a lot of hype, especially considering there wasn’t even a world title on the line. Gervonta “Tank” Davis is set to earn $10 million from this fight, which blows any UFC fighter’s earnings for one fight out of the water, even fights that have generated similar PPV buys.

The Bottom Line

These questions and suggestions aren’t without merit, and as more fans begin to boil down the numbers, it becomes pretty clear why top UFC fighters are discussing the possibility of switching to boxing, even if striking isn’t their forte.

Suppose UFC continues to grow in popularity, and these questions become more difficult for Dana to answer. In that case, it may result in fighters receiving more pay for their work. One thing that could help UFC fighters would be the emergence of a rival organization that legitimately challenges its supremacy. If the competitor rose to the ranks and paid fighters more money, this could force the UFC’s hand to pay fighters more. Still, it is a question that will linger until it receives a definitive answer.