Fighters pay within the UFC has been a topic of debate for a few years now, particularly with the meteoric rise of athletes like Conor McGregor. Despite the success of the company, UFC fighters are paid a lot less when compared to boxers.
It is estimated that the average salary of a UFC fighter was $147,965 in 2020, though that figure is skewed by outliers at the top end of the scale like McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Israel Adesanya. In fact, the lowest paid UFC fighter of last year – Cole Williams – received just $9,500.
A UFC fighter’s salary is determined by a number of factors, the most important being popularity. Simply put, if a fighter brings more eyes to the sport, they are paid more money – this is why the likes of McGregor and Khabib earn so much more than others. On top of that, they might also earn performance bonuses – extra $50,000 payouts for things like Fight of the Night, Performance of the Night and more. Lastly, some fighters also receive sponsorship money from the UFC’s official kit partner. This was Reebok, though Venum very recently took over.
Those figures are made public by the UFC, but many fighters – particularly those like McGregor and Khabib – will earn substantially more through a share of the pay-per-view (PPV) earnings, as well as any business ventures and sponsorships they have outside of the UFC.
In 2020, Khabib was the highest paid UFC fighter, raking in $6,090,000 for just one fight. He defeated Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 to defend his world lightweight title, before announcing his retirement in the octagon. His base pay for the fight was $6,000,000, and he also earned a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus, as well as $40,000 ‘fight week incentive pay’, which came from Reebok.
This goes to show Khabib’s status as a global star, and in June 2020, Forbes Russia declared Nurmagomedov Russia’s most successful athlete. What’s also startling is that Khabib earned this much even though his PPV with Gaethje was only the fifth best-selling of 2020, with McGregor’s return fight against Donald Cerrone earning the most buys.
You Can Bet on McGregor Taking Second Place
So, it’s no surprise that the Irishman was the second highest paid UFC fighter of 2020, earning a disclosed $3,060,000. This also came from just one fight in the calendar year, when he wrecked Cerrone inside a round in January. His base pay was $3,000,000, with the rest coming from bonuses.
That being said, Forbes estimated that he took home a total of $48m in 2020, with the vast majority of that coming from his share of the PPV buys for the Cerrone fight. McGregor was also recently unveiled as Forbes’ highest paid athlete during the 12-month period ending May 1, 2021. He is said to have banked a whopping $180m, with $158m of that coming from endorsements and the sale of his majority stake in the whiskey brand he set up in 2018.
Part of those earnings were also from his rematch with Dustin Poirier, in which he earned a disclosed pay of roughly $5m. Conor lost that bout and will face Poirier once again in July. For those interested in betting on UFC fights, ‘The Notorious’ is valued at 1.83/1 to win with 888 Sport.
Junior Do Santos Still Broke the Bank
Interestingly, aging heavyweight Junior Dos Santos was the third highest paid fighter in the UFC last year, earning a total of $1,560,000 from three fights. He earned $520,000 for each fight; a $500,000 performance fee, plus a $20,000 fight week incentive bonus from Reebok each time.
Dos Santos lost all three fights via stoppage. The first came in January 2020, when he topped a UFC Fight Night card against Curtis Blaydes. He then fought on the undercard of two PPV shows – UFC 252 and UFC 256 – losing to Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane respectively.
That marked four straight losses in a row for the Brazilian, after Francis Ngannou stopped him in 2019. As a result, the UFC released Dos Santos from his contract with the company in March of this year.
Adesanya Was Close Behind
Adesanya was the fourth highest paid UFC athlete of 2020 with a salary of $1,230,000. The Nigerian-born New Zealander successfully defended his world middleweight title twice, proving himself the king at 185lbs.
In March 2020, he outpointed Yoel Romero over five dull rounds, earning a base pay of $500,000, plus a £40,000 fight week incentive bonus. He followed that up with a sensational win over Paulo Costa in September, stopping the Brazilian inside two rounds. For that, Adesanya earned a $600,000 performance fee, a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus and the $40,000 fight week incentive.
Gaethje Takes Fifth Place
For his loss to Khabib, Gaethje earned $440,000 – $400,000 for performing and $40,000 from Reebok. Prior to that, he defeated Tony Ferguson in May 2020, earning $480,000. From that, he made $350,000 for fighting, $100,000 from bonuses (Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night) as well as $30,000 from Reebok.
With Khabib retired and a huge trilogy bout with Poirier coming up, McGregor looks likely to be the UFC’s top earner in 2021, though there are other top fighters on his heels.