by Ivan Trembow
MMAWeekly has obtained the complete fighter payroll information for the UFC’s Ultimate Fight Night event, as well as the fighter payroll information for two recent King of the Cage and K-1 USA events. The King of the Cage and K-1 USA salary information is presented for the purposes of comparison, in order to add some perspective to the UFC salaries. Below is a full listing of all the salaries from the three organizations, followed by my commentary and analysis on the salaries.
K-1 USA Fighter Salaries
Event took place on April 30, 2005
(fighters were paid a base salary with no win bonuses)
-Mighty Mo Siliga: $5,000
-Remy Bonjasky: $5,000
-Rick Roufus: $5,000
-Akio “Musashi” Mori: $5,000
-Carter Williams: $5,000
-Yusuke Fujimoto: $5,000
-Gary Goodridge: $5,000
-Glaube Feitosa: $5,000
-Tsuyoshi Nakasako: $5,000
-Dewey Cooper: $3,000
-Sean O’Haire: $2,500
-Mark Selbee: $2,000
-Scott Lighty: $2,000
-Patrick Barry: $1,500
-Terrol Dees: $1,500
-Dustin Hanning: $1,500
-Steve Steinbeiss: $1,500
-Dan Evensen: $1,500
Total Fighter Payroll: $62,000 (average of $3,444 per fighter)
King of the Cage 52: Mortal Sin Fighter Salaries
Event took place on May 7, 2005
-Eric Pele: $3,500 ($2,000 for fighting; $1,500 win bonus)
-Urijah Faber: $2,000 ($1,000 for fighting; $1,000 win bonus)
-Marvin Eastman: $1,500 ($1,500 for fighting; win bonus would have been $1,000)
-Jason Lambert: $1,500 ($1,000 for fighting; $500 win bonus)
-Bobby Hoffman: $1,000 ($1,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $1,000)
-Hiroyuki Abe: $1,000 ($1,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $0)
-Joe Frainee: $750 ($500 for fighting; $250 win bonus)
-Hector Ramirez: $750 ($500 for fighting; $250 win bonus)
-Manny Tapia: $750 ($500 for fighting; $250 win bonus)
-Fernando Gonzalez: $700 ($700 for fighting; win bonus would have been $300)
-Dave Terrell: $600 ($400 for fighting; $200 win bonus)
-Miguel Gutierrez: $600 ($300 for fighting; $300 win bonus)
-Frankie Bollinger: $500 ($500 for fighting, win bonus would have been $0)
-Richard Goodman: $500 ($500 for fighting, win bonus would have been $0)
-Ray Perales: $500 ($500 for fighting; win bonus would have been $250)
-Kendall Groves: $400 ($400 for fighting, win bonus would have been $200)
Total Fighter Payroll: $16,550 (average of $1,034 per fighter)
UFC Ultimate Fight Night Fighter Salaries
Event took place on August 6, 2005
-Stephan Bonnar: $24,000 ($12,000 for fighting; $12,000 win bonus)
-Nathan Marquardt: $20,000 ($10,000 for fighting; $10,000 win bonus)
-Kenny Florian: $12,000 ($6,000 for fighting; $6,000 win bonus)
-Chris Leben: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Nate Quarry: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Josh Koscheck: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Mike Swick: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Ivan Salaverry: $8,000 ($8,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $8,000)
-Patrick Cote: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Sam Hoger: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Alex Karalexis: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Pete Sell: $4,000 ($4,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $4,000)
-Pete Spratt: $4,000 ($4,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Drew Fickett: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Gideon Ray: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Josh Neer: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $136,000 (average of $8,500 per fighter)
Analysis and Commentary:
-This was not a full-fledged UFC event from a financial standpoint, as it was not a pay-per-view event and it didn’t feature a huge star like the April 9th live event did with Ken Shamrock. In general, the total fighter payroll for the Spike TV events will always be smaller than the fighter payroll for pay-per-view events, which are still the UFC’s biggest revenue generator.
-Nathan Marquardt had a big contract for his UFC debut, and you may be asking yourself why his salary was so high compared to other fighters when they make their debut in the UFC. The answer is simple: In order to entice Marquardt to sign with the UFC, Zuffa had to offer a higher-than-usual amount of money, because Marquardt was actually making more than that on a per-fight basis in the Japan-based Pancrase organization, where he is one of the biggest stars in the promotion. In order to make it worth his while to sign with the UFC, Zuffa had to offer Marquardt a higher-than-normal UFC debut salary, in addition to the allure of fighting on American television and potentially becoming a star in America.
-At his UFC debut back in February, Pete Sell made $2,000 to fight and an additional $2,000 to win. After choking out Phil Baroni in that fight, Sell’s contract for his next UFC fight called for him to make $4,000 to fight and an additional $4,000 to win. Given the controversy surrounding his loss to Nate Quarry, I would expect to see Pete Sell return to the Octagon at some point, perhaps in a rematch with Quarry.
-Drew Fickett also had the “$2,000 and $2,000” deal for his UFC debut in February. After losing to Nick Diaz in that fight, Fickett was given another chance to be a successful UFC fighter with the same introductory salary, and he took full advantage of that opportunity by making quick work of Josh Neer on August 6th.
-Gideon Ray is another fighter who was brought back for another chance after losing his UFC debut, probably because he took his debut fight against David Loiseau on short notice as an injury replacement. Ray’s willingness to step up on short notice was rewarded with another shot in the UFC after losing his debut fight, with a contract that called for him to make $3,000 to fight and an additional $3,000 to win. Unfortunately, Ray was unable to capitalize on that opportunity, as he was knocked out quickly by Mike Swick.
Patrick Cote’s Contract
Patrick Cote’s initial contract in the UFC was for $10,000 to fight and an additional $10,000 to win, which is what made it worth Cote’s while to take an extremely risky fight on short notice when Guy Mezger had to pull out of the main event of UFC 50 against Tito Ortiz. Cote took the fight with Ortiz in late 2004, and was paid more than a debuting UFC fighter would normally be paid, thanks to the fact that he was willing to step up to the plate and fight an excellent fighter like Tito Ortiz on short notice.
After losing the Ortiz fight and also losing a UFC fight to Joe Doerksen, Cote’s salary for this fight was cut to the new total of $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win. With the loss to Chris Leben on this show, I would now expect that Cote will have to go prove himself on smaller shows before he gets another UFC opportunity, simply because his UFC record is 0-3.
Sure, two of those fights were very competitive, and the other fight was a decision loss to a fighter who was expected to plow right through him, but 0-3 is still 0-3, so I stand by the contention that Cote needs to win a couple of fights in smaller promotions before he’s brought back to the UFC.
Ivan Salaverry’s Contract
Ivan Salaverry’s contract for this event was for $8,000 to fight and an additional $8,000 to win. That is a big raise over his previous contract, which called for him to make $4,000 to fight and an additional $4,000 to win. If there is any fighter on Ultimate Fight Night who was severely damaged by his performance on the event, it was easily Ivan Salaverry.
The UFC’s matchmaking plans were reportedly that if Salaverry beat Nathan Marquardt and did so impressively, he would have been next in line after Matt Lindland for a shot at the Middleweight Title. Instead, Salaverry not only lost, but looked uninspired and listless while doing so. The only thing worse for a fighter’s marketability than being on the winning end of an extremely boring decision (as Marquardt was) is to be on the losing end of an extremely boring decision (as Salaverry was).
As a result, Salaverry has been released from his multi-fight UFC contract, which is something that often happens to UFC fighters after they lose a fight. Salaverry’s release could simply be a case of the UFC wanting him to re-sign him at some point for his previous salary instead of his much bigger new salary. However, it could also be a case of the UFC actually parting ways with Salaverry until he proves himself again on smaller shows.
Ironically, it is Ivan Salaverry who stands as the biggest example of this feat being something that can be achieved. This exact same thing happened to Salaverry a few years ago, as he was previously released from his UFC contract after he lost a lopsided and rather boring decision to Matt Lindland in 2002, only to be brought back to the UFC in 2004.
The UFC remains on good terms with Ivan Salaverry personally. His release is simply a result of losing a fight the way he did, as realistically that fight makes it extremely hard for the UFC to market an Ivan Salaverry fight in the near future as any kind of featured attraction. If he had beaten Marquardt impressively, instead of losing the way he did, Ivan Salaverry would be the #2 contender for the UFC Middleweight Title right now, behind only Matt Lindland in line for a title shot.
After that performance, I believe that Ivan Salaverry should have been demoted and not allowed to be on another TV or pay-per-view fight until he was victorious in at least one or two fights on UFC undercards. Instead, he will now have to be victorious in at least one or two fights in smaller MMA promotions.
Contracts for Ultimate Fighter Season One Contestants
It was established at the April 9th live event that the base-line salary for a contestant from the Ultimate Fighter TV show would be $5,000 fight and an additional $5,000 to win. The UFC stuck with that pay scale for all of the TUF fighters who fought on this event, with the exceptions of Stephan Bonnar and Kenny Florian since they were finalists in the TUF competition.
Florian was given a contract that would pay him $6,000 to fight and an additional $6,000 to win (as opposed to the standard “$5,000 and $5,000” contract), in order to reflect the fact that he was a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter.
Stephan Bonnar was the highest-paid fighter on this show, which makes sense given the fact that he was the biggest star attraction on this card by far. Note that the salary earned by Stephan Bonnar, Forrest Griffin, or Diego Sanchez for any particular UFC fight is in addition to the “prize” that each of them earned by winning the reality show, with that prize being a three-year contract for approximately $117,000 per year (for a total of $350,000).
After their Match of the Year-level bloody stand-up brawl earlier this year, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin are each scheduled to compete in another UFC fight that is not a rematch of the Bonnar-Griffin classic (with Griffin scheduled to face Ian Freeman and Bonnar possibly facing Elvis Sinosic). If Bonnar and Griffin emerge from those fights victorious, which is a big “if,” the next logical step would be to have a Bonnar vs. Griffin rematch on pay-per-view. Given the quality of their first fight, that match has “money” written all over it provided that Zuffa puts it on pay-per-view and puts the hype machine behind it.
Why TUF Contestants Have a Higher Minimum Salary than Non-TUF Contestants
The minimum salary for Season One Ultimate Fighter contestants is actually slightly more than the minimum salary for young UFC fighters who were not on the reality show. Several non-TUF fighters on this show who were appearing in the UFC for the second time (Pete Sell, Drew Fickett, Gideon Ray) actually made less money than the TUF contestants did on this show, which can be looked at in one of two ways.
One outlook is that it’s insulting for the fighters who were not on TUF. The other outlook is to look at it in a realistic business sense, which is that anyone’s salary is all about negotiation, leverage, and market demand. For example, if someone like Chris Leben, who has a huge level of national television exposure, were to take his services elsewhere, his market value would be a lot more than Drew Fickett’s market value. Therefore, Leben is going to draw a bigger paycheck in the UFC than Fickett. That’s just simple economics. It’s no different than Nathan Marquardt drawing a higher-than-normal salary for his UFC debut, simply because Pancrase is willing to pay him a lot of money.
The Ultimate Fighter Contestants Deserve Some Respect
The fighters from the Ultimate Fighter TV show should not be decried as though they’re just a bunch of bums that Zuffa and Spike TV picked up off the street. Some of them had more credentials than others, but many of them were among the hottest untapped MMA talent in the country prior to the show. Of the sixteen fighters from the first season, eight of them have shown that they have the potential to have a huge future in the UFC, and most of them were making names for themselves on smaller MMA events before the TV show came along (which is how they earned the opportunity to be on TUF in the first place).
The eight fighters who appear to have big futures in MMA are Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck (who could have gone to the Olympics with his amateur wrestling credentials, but chose to pursue MMA instead), Chris Leben, Nate Quarry, Mike Swick, and Kenny Florian. Some will succeed more than others, but every name on that list has enormous potential.
It’s flat-out disingenuous and even dishonest for any MMA fighter or fan to dismiss the TUF contestants as just a bunch of C-level fighters, when the fact is that every one of those eight names is a legitimate fighter who has a chance to someday be a top five fighter or even a champion in their respective weight class. You can say what you want about the other eight fighters from the first season, but that’s why you have a reality show in the first place: To find out who is really the cream of the crop, and who isn’t.
Where the UFC Needs to be Careful
On the other hand, the UFC needs to be careful in some areas related to the TUF fighters. In order to avoid having too many TUF fighters on UFC events, the TUF fighters who lost on this show (Sam Hoger and Alex Karalexis) should not be brought back for the forseeable future. If the UFC does decide to bring them back, it should be for the same pay that a normal UFC rookie would receive.
Fortunately, it seems as though the UFC has the same mindset about this, as none of the TUF contestants who lost on the April 9th live event have been brought back to the UFC, other than the finalists.
The UFC also needs to be careful with its wording during the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. It’s not, “Eighteen fighters, and only two UFC contracts!” The reality is more like, “Eighteen fighters, and only two of them will get massive six-figure contracts, but several others may get starter-level UFC contracts.” There’s a way to say that without misleading people into thinking that nobody other than the two winning fighters from each season of TUF will ever fight in the UFC.
Some Perspective on the UFC Salaries
Instead of having the UFC salaries out there alone in space with no basis of comparison, it’s important to look at the King of the Cage and K-1 USA salaries for some perspective.
Out of all the MMA promotions that are based in the continental United States, King of the Cage is #2 on the list, with a history dating back to 1999 and the huge asset of having national exposure on both satellite pay-per-view and the mass-market InDemand pay-per-view network that goes out to cable subscribers across America.
Nonetheless, the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel contract for a UFC fighter is still more than the highest-paid fighter at a King of the Cage event, at least in this case. The UFC minimum seems to be $2,000 to fight an additional $2,000 to win, while King of the Cage main-eventer Eric Pele was paid $2,000 to fight and an additional $1,500 to win on the show outlined above. Three-figure salaries are the norm at non-UFC events, with some fighters making as little as $400 or $500.
As for the K-1 USA salaries, they ranged from $1,500 (which is slightly less than the unofficial UFC minimum) all the way to $5,000 (which is what I think the UFC minimum should be now that Zuffa is no longer bleeding money on every event).
Proposing a New Minimum for UFC Salaries
Zuffa lost money on all-but-one UFC event in the time period of 2001, 2002, and 2003. However, that is no longer the case. The company is not losing money with every event. Given that fact, I would argue that the UFC should establish a minimum salary that they would always meet (or exceed) with every fighter: $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win. This would make a big difference to the up-and-coming fighters who are just starting out in the UFC with the minimum salary, and it would not drastically change the UFC’s total fighter payroll.
If you don’t believe me, it’s not that difficult to prove that this would not drastically increase the UFC’s total fighter payroll.
For example, if you go through the Ultimate Fight Night card and look at every fighter whose contract was for less than $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win, and you change all of those fighters’ salaries to the “$5,000 and $5,000” standard (while leaving all of the other salaries unchanged), it doesn’t have a huge effect on the total fighter payroll.
In the case of this event, it would have resulted in $13,000 of additional pay for fighters, increasing the total payroll from $136,000 to $149,000. That’s an increase of ten percent on the total fighter payroll.
If you apply the same standard to the UFC 52 event for every fighter whose contract was for less than $5,000 and $5,000, it would have resulted in $17,500 of additional pay for fighters, increasing the total payroll from $519,500 to $537,000. That’s an increase of just three percent on the total fighter payroll.
If you apply the same standard to the UFC 51 event for every fighter who didn’t meet the “$5,000 and $5,000” standard, it would have resulted in $29,000 of additional pay for fighters, increasing the total payroll from $456,000 to $485,000. That’s an increase of just six percent on the total fighter payroll.
So, if you want to look at the big picture of how this would affect Zuffa’s expenses over the course of multiple events, just combine the three events. The combined fighter payroll for those three events was $1,111,500. If you increase the appropriate salaries to make sure that the absolute minimum contract is the “$5,000 and $5,000” deal, the total fighter payroll for those three events would have been $1,171,000. That is an increase of just 5.3 percent.
So, in the big picture over the course of three events, implementing the “$5,000 and $5,000” standard would only result in a 5.3 percent increase in the UFC’s total fighter payroll. Sure, that’s a decent chunk of change and it would add up over time, but it wouldn’t put the UFC out of business, and it would be great for the up-and-coming fighters who are just getting started with their UFC careers.