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The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

How the UFC stiffs its athletes out of millions

Tripp Menhall

MMA fighters are today’s modern-day gladiators, putting their bodies and lives on the line to entertain millions of combat sports fans around the world. However, it’s not worth it for the fighters to put themselves through hell to receive little to no monetary benefit.

Before stepping into the ring, fighters must weigh the reality of limited pay against UFC President Dana White’s preferential treatment of high-selling fighters. Those who generate little pay-per-view sales often juggle a second job with a grueling five-day-a-week training schedule, all in pursuit of a UFC title.

The median annual salary for UFC athletes is $51,370; however, many fighters earn less. Of all fighters, 43% made less than $45,000 in median yearly earnings, according to a 2024 Gitnux Market Research study.

UFC fighters are not employees, but are classified as independent contractors. Through this form of employment, the UFC is not obligated to provide long-term health insurance or retirement benefits.

Despite being the ones putting in the hard work, only 18.6% of the company’s revenue goes to fighters. Compared to the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL (who share 50% of all revenue with players), that revenue share is minuscule.

The reason this number is so low is because there isn’t a UFC fighters union to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement. With no union, there’s no way to bargain with the executives.

However, there was once a time when UFC fighters were close to obtaining a union. The Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association was nearly launched in 2016, but never got off the ground. The truth is that up-and-coming fighters just couldn’t find the bravery to challenge the organization. The potential risk of being ousted from the organization they spent their whole lives trying to reach was not worth it to them.

The proportion of profits the UFC is willing to hand over to its athletes is borderline disrespectful. So why don’t UFC fighters just leave the promotion?

No other MMA organization in the world has the draw of the UFC. These fighters aim to reach the top of the food chain and become superstars. Organizations like ONE Championship, Bellator and Rizen simply don’t have the reach.

While the UFC increases its revenue year over year, White refuses to lower fighter taxes and pay the fighters more. In 2023, the UFC made $1.3 billion in revenue, yet not even 20% of this money went to the fighters.

The UFC taxes fighters 30% yearly, and fighters have to pay other expenses such as managers, gym memberships, medical bills and travel, leaving them with minimal pay. Considering many UFC fighters are international, they also have to pay international taxes that deplete their salary.

In addition, when UFC events are held internationally, the host country is able to enforce its income tax rates.

In past years, fighters were allowed sponsorships, which increased their annual revenue. Superstars like Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre and Randy Couture would crowd their in-cage shorts with logos like a NASCAR driver.

In 2014, when the UFC partnered with Reebok, these types of individual fighter sponsorships ended. The UFC decided that for a brand to sponsor an individual fighter, a $100,000 fee has to be paid to the championship itself. Some businesses just couldn’t afford it and were phased out of the organization.

White and other UFC executives’ greed is apparent. Instead of allowing fighters to profit from their likeness, they prefer to remove sponsorships from the fighters in order to make bigger and more lucrative deals for the UFC itself.

It’s not just fighters outside the top 15 who are financially handicapped. White has always expressed a level of favoritism toward superstars Sean O’Malley, Israel Adesanya and most notably, Conor McGregor. These fighters pull in the most revenue and pay-per-view buys, which is why White loves them. Yet, his favoritism toward them also hinders other fighters’ ability to grow their popularity in the sport and at times, ruins their careers entirely.

Demetrius Johnson, one of the most skilled MMA fighters to ever enter the octagon, was a fighter White and the UFC continuously disrespected. Johnson has spoken out about being mistreated by White and the media, and promoted unfairly. Despite defending the UFC flyweight title a record 11 consecutive times and being one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, Johnson is widely unknown today by casual sports fans.

White and the UFC board are too focused on the concept of “running a business.” MMA athletes are putting their mental and physical well-being on the line because of the sport. The UFC views its fighters as pawns in its ultimate goal of simply making the most amount of money. If you’re not valuable to the company’s financial gain, you’re likely to be forgotten, fighting for your life inside and outside of the cage.

The solution – unionize, unionize, unionize.

The power of a UFC fighters’ union could lobby for fighters to self-represent, have their own personal sponsors and receive healthcare benefits and pensions. The UFC lets their “independent contractors’’ be independent only when it comes to their health and their future.

Maybe if White took care of his fighters, MMA legends like Ben Askren, Anderson Silva, Nate Diaz and Tryon Woodley wouldn’t have to box Jake Paul for financial security later in life.

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About the Contributors
Ben Busillo
Ben Busillo, Associate Opinion Editor
Quinn O'Neill
Quinn O'Neill, Associate Multimedia Editor
Tripp Menhall
Tripp Menhall, Creative Director

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