I have long said that we have a very wrong impression about the wallets of most MMA fighters. We only hear about the paychecks of the big names like Conor McGregor, Khabib, and even the odd fight that Brock Lesnar used to do. The fact of the matter is that most of the fighters across all the divisions and promotions such as UFC, Bellator, and ONE, barely make a living. In fact, outside of the top 10 or even top 5, there is a good chance you probably make more money than most fighters do.
Sean Strickland recently sat down for an interview where he revealed the trials and tribulations of fighters that are trying to make a name for themselves and scrap their way into the top ranks in order to make a living.
Now you would presume, as I do, that when you are ranked the 11th best fighter in the entire world in the most popular (by far) promotion that exists in MMA that you would be able to get fancy cars, a nice house, lots of toys, go on great vacations, and enjoy the spoils of war because "you made it!" Right? Well according to Strickland the opposite is the case.
Most of the guys outside of the main stage make so little money that they struggle to pay their bills and even though he is NEARLY in the top-10 he has many regrets over becoming a professional fighter in the first place. He laments not pursuing a more traditional career because he knows that if he doesn't continue to win that he will be released by the UFC and then face being broke.
Strickland also told about how many of the mid-card fighters have a real dilemma facing them when they step into the octagon: They need to NOT LOSE much more than they need to win. He tells us about a fight that he had in the past where he was looking at not being able to make a car payment if he were to lose that fight and therefore he held back on certain opportunities that would have given him a potential electrifying victory that might have propelled him further up the ranks.
He says that this is the reason why a lot of the mid-card fights it appears as though both fighters appear as though they are "afraid" to engage but the real reason behind this lapse in the action is because more often than not, both fighters in the ring are on the brink of bankruptcy and one wrong move could result in them losing their win bonus and even though the "fight of the night" bonuses are really attractive, the fact that you are basically fighting against the rest of the card for the night makes this very unlikely to happen, especially at the mid-card. Therefore, both fighters tend to stay at distance and jab or go for other "safe" approaches to decision victories.
I will admit that I have been very critical of "boring" fighters in the past but I never really thought about it from this angle. These men and women are literally fighting for their ability to continue to pay their rent and a loss brought on by "going all in" could be disastrous.
Let's look at a Fight Night from earlier this year for some perspective
When most people see that someone is getting paid 12 - 24 thousand dollars for a maximum of 15 minutes of fighting they perhaps think "wow! that's pretty great!" but they aren't looking at the bigger picture here. For starters, this doesn't take into account taxes, which is going to be 20% or more and then also the fact that these people only have the chance to fight maybe 2 or 3 times a year. Whoever they train with is going to take a cut of the winnings, their staff have to be paid, and normally their travel and living expenses are totally up to them. Therefore, let's imagine that William Knight actually DOES get 3 fights per year of this magnitude (he doesn't.)
That's about $50,000 a year in earnings less 20% for taxes = $40,000
Take away the 10% the gym takes from you now we = $36,000
We'll assume that all of his staff and trainers need to be paid as well and I'll estimate = $30,000
There are of course other expenses in life related to fighting, including insurance and other medical and this could easily be another $5,000 per year.
So congratulations! You are one of the best fighters in the world and you are managing to pull down $25,000 a year! Presuming that you have a normal life you are basically living at the level that someone who works part-time at Starbucks. From a purely financial point of view, you would be better off doing so, actually.
This all comes to a very bad ending when you consider that we don't really know the long-term damage these guys are going to experience later in life but there is a good chance that due to continued concussions and other damage that these guys are going to have a lifetime of aches and pains to look forward to when UFC invariably cuts them later down the line.
Herb Dean makes more money than a majority of the fighters and Dana White makes more than probably all of them combined. Joe Rogan and Bruce Buffer, who are no doubt a very integral part of the promotion's success make more for turning up to events than 80% of the people on the cards.
It's quite tragic when you bother to think about it because at the end of the day MMA is my favorite sport out there. However, as Sean Strickland indicates there is a better than average chance that if you sign with UFC at 28 or 29 years of age you are going to be with the promotion for 2 years and you will retire or be released, and you will be broke.
Despite all of this, Dana White doesn't pay more to the fighters because he doesn't have to. If Sean Strickland were to hang up his gloves, someone else would be more than happy to take his place.
So if you are ever watching UFC thinking to yourself that you wish you could have that lifestyle know that people like Sean Strickland and many others, probably wish they had your life.