by Ivan Trembow, MMAWeekly.com
UFC Salaries Fail to Grow Even as Sport’s Popularity Skyrockets
Feedback – IvanTrembow@mmaweekly.com
The popularity of mixed martial arts in the United States continues to grow at a rapid pace, and for much of 2005 many people (including myself) have been waiting to see the hugely increased revenue and popularity of the sport pay off for the fighters in the form of increased salaries. The year is just about over, and we’re still waiting. So, prior to offering a full breakdown of all the recent UFC salaries, the general trend in UFC salaries needs to be addressed.
In early 2005, The Ultimate Fighter television show was first airing on Spike TV, and the UFC’s mainstream recognition went through the roof compared to 2004, when you could only see first-run material on pay-per-view. When the salaries of UFC fighters did not increase in early 2005, I brought this to your attention but naturally felt that the pay scale wasn’t going to increase overnight and that it would take a little while for the higher revenue to be reflected in higher salaries.
Over the summer of 2005, this concern grew as more shows took place. As a general trend, the salaries were still not increasing, even with the extremely lucrative contract that Zuffa scored for The Ultimate Fighter 2. I expressed concern about this and proposed a new minimum salary for UFC fighters (an amount that would still be fairly low: $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win). However, the possibility still existed that Zuffa was just being a little bit slow in the process of making its fighters’ salaries more proportionate to the company’s own huge increases in revenue.
Now, with the UFC having run its last event of 2005, the fighters’ salaries have still not increased, and on the whole they appear to have actually decreased slightly. MMAWeekly has been bringing you the full scoop on fighter salaries for several years, and throughout that time, most everyone associated with the sport has agreed that MMA fighters deserve to be paid a lot more than they actually get paid. However, in the period of 2001 through 2004, Zuffa could legitimately say that it was losing money on most UFC events, and it honestly couldn’t afford to pay the fighters more.
In 2005, that simply isn’t the case anymore. The UFC is now a mainstream fixture on cable television. It draws higher advertising rates per-viewer than WWE programming. Zuffa had drawn a million-dollar live gate less than ten times from 2001 to 2004, and it now draws a million-dollar live gate for every PPV event even if there is no marquee main event. Pay-per-view buyrates and revenue are up, as is sponsorship revenue. Zuffa gets paid a “rights fee” from Spike TV for every single episode that is produced of UFC Unleashed, The Ultimate Fighter, or a live fight special. On top of that, the Wrestling Observer has reported that Zuffa gets approximately half of the advertising revenue that is derived from The Ultimate Fighter, which would easily be a seven-figure dollar amount on its own.
All of this additional revenue that simply didn’t exist in late 2004 is now in abundance in 2005, and yet the UFC just put on a live TV special in October with the lowest Total Fighter Payroll of any UFC event since Zuffa bought the UFC. Just a couple of weeks ago, the UFC 56 pay-per-view had the lowest Total Fighter Payroll of any UFC PPV that Zuffa has ever held in the state of Nevada.
The top-level fighters are making practically the same amount of money per fight that they were making before the Zuffa revenue boom of 2005, and in some cases they are making literally the same exact amount. One example is Matt Hughes, who got paid the same exact amount by Zuffa in late 2005 that he got paid in 2004, 2003, and 2002.
The entry-level fighters who used to be making peanuts are still making peanuts, and as I wrote earlier this year, Zuffa should be embarrassed to be paying any fighter $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win, given how mainstream and lucrative the sport now is compared to where it was. Many fighters make a lot more money from sponsorships than they used to, but then again, so does Zuffa, which is just one of the half-dozen aforementioned reasons that they can afford to pay fighters a lot more.
The time is over for fans, fighters, and managers to merely wait and hope that Zuffa does the right thing at some point, because Zuffa has now had a whole year to ratchet up the pay scale and they have failed to do so. When I get e-mails following the publication of one of these salary articles with readers saying that they can’t believe how little UFC fighters actually make, I used to be able to tell those people, “Well, Zuffa isn’t making a lot of money, so you can’t realistically expect to see UFC fighters make what they deserve until the UFC starts to make a lot of money.” What is there for anyone to say now in response to such e-mails? “Actually, Zuffa is making a ton of money now, but they would apparently rather keep that money to themselves rather than sharing a larger percentage of it with the fighters who put their bodies on the line in the cage”?
I don’t want to hear that this is some kind of anti-UFC bias or that I’m not “supporting the sport.” Facts are facts: Zuffa’s revenue has drastically increased over the past year, while the average fighter salaries have not. There is no pro-UFC bias or anti-UFC bias in the world that is going to change that basic truth. As for “supporting the sport,” don’t you think the first thing that a true fan of MMA should want is for the fighters to be compensated fairly for their services?
Would it be better to smile and pretend that Zuffa’s revenues are the same now that they were in late 2004, or to draw attention to the fact that revenues are up drastically while fighter salaries remain largely unchanged? How “supportive” of the sport is it to watch a UFC event knowing that at least half of the fighters who compete in the UFC have to hold down non-fighting jobs to make ends meet, when that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case for many of those fighters?
None of us can precisely determine that “X fighter deserves to be paid X amount per fight” and then do the same thing for the entire UFC roster. However, all it takes is common sense and the slightest bit of business knowledge to come to the conclusion that with Zuffa’s revenues at an all-time high, the average salaries of UFC fighters should not be staying the same as they were before the revenue boom, and they sure as hell shouldn’t be decreasing.
What follows is a complete salary breakdown for three recent UFC events, followed by my commentary and analysis on each event’s salaries.
“UFC Ultimate Fight Night 2” Fighter Salaries
Event took place on October 3, 2005
-Evan Tanner: $20,000 ($20,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $22,000)
-David Loiseau: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Chris Leben: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Drew Fickett: $8,000 ($4,000 for fighting; $4,000 win bonus)
-Brandon Vera: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting; $3,000 win bonus)
-Josh Koscheck: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Spencer Fisher: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Jonathan Goulet: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Jon Fitch: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Fabiano Scherner: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Edwin Dewees: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Thiago Alves: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Jay Hieron: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Brock Larson: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $82,000 (average of $5,857 per fighter)
Commentary and Analysis:
-This event had the lowest Total Fighter Payroll of any event in the history of the UFC since it was purchased by Zuffa. There were no huge names on this card, but this only draws more attention to the fact that the bottom rung of UFC fighters is making an embarrassing amount of money.
I have written before that the minimum salary for any UFC fighter in any given fight should be at least $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win. Certainly, it would not put Zuffa out of business (or even put them in the red) to have a minimum salary of $10,000 to fight and an additional $10,000 to win, but it would be a huge step in the right direction even if half that amount were to be implemented.
In the past, one could honestly say that the fighters making less than the “$5,000/$5,000” figure were fairly rare in the big picture of the UFC pay scale, but that can no longer be said. With the UFC running more shows and bringing in more fighters than ever before, there are all too many fighters who are fighting for peanuts. Looking at this event specifically, only four of the fourteen fighters met the $5,000/$5,000 standard, and only one fighter surpassed that amount.
It should be even more embarrassing for Zuffa that with the UFC’s mainstream media credibility at an all-time high and with the company’s revenues increasing dramatically, they just put on an event where seven of the fourteen fighters on the card were paid $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win. As I’ve written before, the UFC should be ashamed to be paying any fighter that amount of money to step in the Octagon and put their bodies on the line, especially when you look at some of the medical suspensions/injuries that are often sustained in MMA bouts.
-Looking at the salaries of specific fighters on this card, the fighter who jumps out at me as being the most under-paid is David Loiseau. Why is one of the top middleweight contenders in the UFC only making $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win? Even before Zuffa’s 2005 revenue boom, one would expect someone in Loiseau’s position to be making a much higher amount per fight, based on prior UFC pay scales.
-Evan Tanner has a slightly different contract than most UFC fighters, in that his win bonus is larger than his “show” money, so he would have actually made $42,000 if he had beaten David Loiseau.
-Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck made the standard amount for a TUF 1 contestant who didn’t win the reality show competition: $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. While obviously Leben and Koscheck deserve a lot more than that, it’s hard to argue that they should get their raise before the many fighters who are making $2,000/$2,000 get their raise, especially given the fact that the TUF fighters make a lot more in sponsorship income than the non-TUF fighters, many of whom have similar or greater MMA experience.
-Up to this point in his UFC career, Drew Fickett had only been making $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win; he was given a raise for this fight to $4,000 and $4,000. One would think that he would get a pretty significant raise after beating a well-known mainstream fighter like Josh Koscheck, but only time will tell on that one.
-Edwin Dewees made $2,000 and $2,000 for his UFC debut way back in 2003 when he fought Rich Franklin, and he was still making $2,000 and $2,000 for this event, despite the fact that he was fighting in the second-from-the-top fight against Chris Leben on national cable television.
-All of the other fighters on this card fought for the increasingly ridiculous amount of $2,000 and $2,000, with the exception of Brandon Vera and Fabiano Scherner. Even in the case of Vera and Scherner, who were paid more because they were fighting at heavyweight, they were still only making $3,000 and $3,000.
“UFC Ultimate Finale 2” Fighter Salaries
Event took place on November 5, 2005
-Diego Sanchez: $24,000 ($12,000 to fight; $12,000 win bonus)
-Kenny Florian: $12,000 ($6,000 to fight; $6,000 win bonus)
-Rashad Evans: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Joe Stevenson: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Josh Burkman: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Melvin Guillard: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Keith Jardine: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Nick Diaz: $10,000 ($10,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Brad Imes: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Luke Cummo: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Sam Morgan: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Marcus Davis: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Kerry Schall: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Kit Cope: $2,000 ($2,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $123,000 (average of $8,786 per fighter)
Commentary and Analysis:
-The first thing that needs to be addressed for this event is the actual contracts that are awarded to the winners of the Ultimate Fighter reality show, as one of the TUF 1 winners fought on this show and two new TUF winners were crowned. The term “six-figure contract” was loosely thrown around throughout the second season, and the UFC specifically said regarding the winners of the TUF 1 competition that they would be getting “three-year contracts valued at over $300,000.”
As it turns out, that was not exactly the case. In fact, the TUF winners do not get paid X amount of dollars per year for three years. The TUF winners actually get paid a certain amount per fight for the first year, a slightly higher amount per fight for the second year, and a slightly higher amount per fight for the third year.
According to Dave Meltzer of the Observer Newsletter, these are the legitimate figures that the TUF winners actually get paid by the UFC, and these figures are supported by the payroll information obtained by MMAWeekly. Keep in mind that the term “six figures” (which was thrown around so much during TUF 2) is normally used to refer to someone who is making at least $100,000 per year.
In the first year of their three-year contracts, the TUF winners get three fights, and for each fight they get paid $12,000 to fight and $12,000 to win. So, their total fight salary for the year would be somewhere between $36,000 and $72,000, depending on their win/loss record.
In the second year of their three-year contracts, the TUF winners get three fights, and for each fight they get paid $16,000 to fight and $16,000 to win. So, their total fight salary for the year would be somewhere between $48,000 and $96,000, depending on their win/loss record.
In the third year of their three-year contracts, the TUF winners get three fights, and for each fight they get paid $22,000 to fight and $22,000 to win. So, their total fight salary for the year would be somewhere between $66,000 and $132,000, depending on their win/loss record.
If you add up those numbers, you’ll find that the legit salary that the TUF winners are actually paid by the UFC is somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000 over the course of three years (although if they’re losing so many fights that the amount is close to $150,000, they would likely be released and re-signed for a cheaper price tag).
Realistically, a fighter like Forrest Griffin could probably go to Pride and immediately make a lot more than $12,000 and $12,000 per fight for the first year of his contract. However, all TUF contestants are locked into the UFC in the event that they win the competition, based on the contract that they have no choice but to sign when they sign up to be on TUF in the first place. There’s also the fact that the various TUF winners might get more sponsorship deals fighting in the United States than they would get if they fought in Japan, but their sponsorship money would not disappear altogether, and Pride would likely make it worth their while financially if it weren’t for the long-term UFC contracts.
In reality, the so-called “six-figure contracts” that are given to the TUF winners are not so much guarantees for the TUF winners about their long-term financial future; they serve more as guarantees for Zuffa that the TUF winners are locked up for three years/nine fights and won’t be taking their new-found mainstream fame to the competition. It’s hard to blame the UFC for putting these clauses in the contracts, but they could stand to be a lot more up-front about it.
-Given that he is still in the first year of the three-year contract that he got for winning TUF, Diego Sanchez made $12,000 to fight and an additional $12,000 to win on this event. He still has one more fight at that salary before his salary gets bumped up to $16,000 and $16,000. Additionally, Diego Sanchez was fined $500 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission prior to his match for showing up late to the weigh-ins.
-Nick Diaz is another fighter who you’d think would be making a lot more money than he is, given the fact that he was a top contender at welterweight (and could easily be again). Diaz’ bout agreement for the Sanchez fight was for $10,000 to fight and $10,000 to win, which was a raise over his previous UFC salary of $6,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. Nick Diaz was not fined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
-As with the TUF 1 finale, all of the TUF 2 fighters who competed on this card had bout agreements that paid them $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. All of the TUF 2 fighters who fought on the non-televised undercard got significantly more money than Kit Cope, who fought on the main card and was only paid $2,000 and $2,000.
-Now that they have won the TUF 2 competition, Rashad Evans and Joe Stevenson will be making $12,000 to fight and $12,000 to win for their next three fights. Brad Imes and Luke Cummo, who each lost in the TUF 2 finals, also earned UFC contracts for their efforts.
If TUF 1 is any indication, Imes and Cummo will likely be fighting for $6,000 and $6,000 in their future UFC fights. (That’s what Kenny Florian has been making in each of his fights since losing in the TUF 1 finals, including his fight on this card.) So, what’s the bottom-line difference between winning in the TUF finals and losing in the TUF finals? The winner gets twice the salary per fight and also theoretically gets a longer-term contract, although they could still be released.
UFC 56 Fighter Salaries
Event took place on November 19, 2005
-Matt Hughes: $110,000 ($55,000 for fighting; $55,000 win bonus)
-Jeremy Horn: $50,000 ($25,000 for fighting; $25,000 win bonus)
-Georges St. Pierre: $35,000 ($16,000 for fighting; $19,000 win bonus)
-Rich Franklin: $26,000 ($13,000 for fighting; $13,000 win bonus)
-Joe Riggs: $12,000 ($12,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $8,000)
-Nate Quarry: $10,000 ($10,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Sean Sherk: $10,000 ($10,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Sam Hoger: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Trevor Prangley: $6,000 ($6,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $6,000)
-Gabriel Gonzaga: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting; $3,000 win bonus)
-Nick Thompson: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting; $3,000 win bonus)
-Thiago Alves: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Kevin Jordan: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Jeff Newton: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Ansar Chalangov: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Keith Wisniewski: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $294,000 (average of $18,375 per fighter)
Commentary and Analysis:
-The Total Fighter Payroll of $294,000 was the lowest for any UFC live pay-per-view event that Zuffa has ever held in Nevada.
-As previously mentioned, Zuffa is paying Matt Hughes the same amount of money per fight that they have been paying him snice 2002, despite the fact that Zuffa is making much more money now than they were in 2002, and despite the fact that Hughes is just coming off a 13-week run as the featured character on a nationally-televised reality TV show.
-While Hughes’ lack of a salary increase over the past three years is a bit mind-boggling, the unofficial award for the most grossly underpaid fighter on this show undoubtedly has to go to Rich Franklin. He was only paid $13,000 to fight and an additional $13,000 to win, despite the fact that he was in the main event, and is the UFC Middleweight Champion, and is also just coming off being one of the two coaches on a hit reality TV show.
You may wondering how it’s possible for Franklin’s contract to only be paying him that amount of money when in the past year alone he decimated a huge name in Ken Shamrock on free television with nearly two million people watching, he dominated the Middleweight Champion Evan Tanner to become the champion, and he was one of the two coaches on TUF 2. The reason it’s possible is the same reason that it’s possible for the TUF winners to be making what they’re making: He’s locked into a long-term contract.
You have to give Zuffa credit: They had the foresight to sign Franklin to a seven-fight contract before the Ken Shamrock fight, Evan Tanner fight, or TUF 2 coaching gig ever happened. Now, Franklin is locked into that contract and cannot seek a more appropriate market value for himself elsewhere. Instead, his multi-fight UFC contract is scheduled to pay him slightly more with each passing fight, but he will still be grossly underpaid for the forseeable future unless the UFC decides to voluntarily give him a new and more equitable contract.
While you have to give Zuffa credit for contractually locking Franklin up long-term, you also have to give Franklin credit for being a man of his word. In a situation that was similar in some ways and very different in other ways, Tito Ortiz refused to honor his contract with the UFC just two fights into a six-fight contract, showing that neither his word nor his name on the dotted line really mean anything. Actually, Ortiz was one of the highest-paid UFC fighters even with the contract that he held out to avoid honoring, which is certainly not the case with Franklin.
Also, Franklin’s contract pays him about one-sixth per fight what Ortiz’ contract paid him, and Franklin is still honoring his contract even as he cements his world-class elite status with the first successful UFC Middleweight Title defense in a very long time. I commend Franklin for being a man of his word, but I also hope for his sake that Zuffa voluntarily re-works his contract to pay him more.
-You might think that Jeremy Horn is over-paid compared to some of the other fighters, but you have to remember that in exchange for this contract, Horn agreed to fight one of the top fighters in the world in a weight class that is one division above the weight class where he would be most comfortable. You also have to take into consideration the fact that Horn is one of the most experienced mixed martial artists in the world, which should count for something. While it’s hard to argue after the loss to Liddell that Horn deserves to be paid more than Rich Franklin or Georges St. Pierre, that’s really more of a case of Franklin and St. Pierre being under-paid than it is a case of Horn being over-paid. Hopefully, if he keeps winning, Horn will get the Middleweight Title shot that he deserves against the winner of Franklin vs. Loiseau.
-Georges St. Pierre’s salary is pretty typical on the current UFC pay scale for a top contender at a given weight class who has never won the championship, but it now has to be considered low given the fact that St. Pierre has becoming one of the biggest emerging superstars in the sport. First of all, St. Pierre is charismatic, he delivers exciting action in the cage, and he’s fantastic at interviews. Only St. Pierre could call out a fighter while at the same time being so charming to the live audience, and it was an all-time classic moment (which also endeared him to the crowd) when he said, “He [Matt Hughes] beat me fair and square last time… excuse me, I mean fairly squarely.”
Even more importantly than all of that, St. Pierre is an extremely talented fighter when the bell rings. He’s still getting better all the time at just 24 years old, and in his last two fights he completely plowed through two elite welterweights. Not a lot of people would have expected St. Pierre to completely dominate Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk in the way that he did, and certainly “Georges St. Pierre by devastating ground-and-pound” was not among the most likely scenarios for his fight against a ground-and-pound specialist like Sherk. St. Pierre’s salary for his fight against Sean Sherk was a decent-sized raise over his previous salary (which was $13,000 to fight and an additional $15,000 to win), but one would think that he’s in line for a much bigger raise after the kind of star-making performance that he delivered at UFC 56.
-Joe Riggs was scheduled to be the challenger for Matt Hughes’ Welterweight Title on this event, and his bout agreement for this fight called for him to make $12,000 to fight and an additional $8,000 to win. As it turned out, Riggs failed to make the welterweight division’s 170-pound weight limit, and his fight was changed to a non-title bout.
As with any fighter who fails to make weight in a title fight in their jurisdiction, the Nevada State Athletic Commission fined Riggs 10 percent of his purse, which was $1,200 in this case. As the rules call for, half of that money went to the athletic commission, while the other half went to Matt Hughes. The reason that his opponent got half of the fine is because Riggs’ higher weight could have given him an unfair advantage against a smaller opponent, which many feel was the case earlier this year when professional boxer Jose Luis Castillo failed to make weight for his second fight against Diego Corrales and subsequently entered the ring much larger than Corrales.
-Nate Quarry had previously been making the standard amount for a TUF contestant who did not win the competition, which is $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. Because he stepped up to take on the UFC Middleweight Champion so soon after the conclusion of TUF 1, Quarry’s pay for this fight was raised to $10,000 and $10,000. Quarry still has a bright future in the UFC, as there’s no shame in losing to one of the top 185-pound fighters in the world in your first title shot.
-Ten thousand dollars to fight and ten thousand dollars to win was also the amount that Sean Sherk was fighting for. Sherk had previously said in media interviews that it wouldn’t really be worth it for him to return to MMA full-time unless he were to get paid $20,000 to fight and $20,000 to win. Contrast that with the fact that the UFC would probably pay any other fighter in Sherk’s position no more than $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win; and a compromise was ultimately reached that resulted in Sherk being paid $10,000 and $10,000 for this fight.
-Sam Hoger continues to make the standard amount for a non-winning TUF contestant, and he will continue to earn his spot in the UFC as he long as he continues to either win his fights (as he did against Bobby Southworth and Jeff Newton), or lose fairly close fights (as he did against Stephan Bonnar).
-Trevor Prangley made $6,000 and $6,000 for this event, which was double his previous UFC salary of $3,000 and $3,000. Still, you’d think he would have made more than that amount, given the fact that he was one of a very small group of UFC middleweights who were coming off a win when this fight was made. In fact, when thinking of possible challengers for Rich Franklin’s title belt on this card, there were only four fighters who were coming off a win in the middleweight division who were available for this card: Trevor Prangley, Nate Quarry, Chris Leben, and Josh Koscheck.
-The remaining seven fighters on this card all made ridiculously low amounts of money, as they all fought for either $3,000 and $3,000, or they fought for $2,000 and $2,000. I’ll say it yet again: There is no reason for anyone to be fighting in the UFC for those dollar figures. If you were to change the bout agreements for all seven of those fighters to $5,000 and $5,000 instead of what they were actually paid, the Total Fighter Payroll for the event would have been $316,000 instead of what it was ($294,000).
At a time when Zuffa’s revenues have never been higher, that would have been an increase of just 7 percent, and it would have still been the lowest Total Fighter Payroll for any Nevada-based UFC PPV event that Zuffa has ever held.