Fighter income is far more complex than the show/won figures commonly cited by Athletic Commission.
Fighters bear significant costs including training expenses, a percentage to management, a percentage to the trainer, plus insurance, licenses, and taxes. On the income side, sponsorship money can be a substantial portion of income, although it has dropped lately. As well there are explicit 'of the Night' performance bonuses, and less formal 'locker room bonuses.'
Further, many fighters earn income from teaching, from appearances, and in some cases from regular employment in the non fighting space.
Lastly, for the most elite, headlining fighters, there may be points on a PPV. These deals are privately negotiated between the UFC and the fighter's management, and little is known about them definitively. However, a window opened up on points during a couple of court cases.
When Alistair Overeem was sued by his former management Golden Glory, it was revealed that for a title shot, 'Reem was to receive $2.00 per view for sales in excess of $500,000 in the United States, Canada and online. With a cost of $50 or so per PPV, this would mean getting points after just 10,000 sales.
More common is something like what was offered to Eddie Alvarez, in which the fighter earned $1 for each buy between 200,000 and 400,000 buys, $2 per buy between 400,000 and 600,000 buys, and $2.50 per buy over 600,000 buys. For a card in excess of 1,000,000 buys like UFC 168, this would result in additional income in excess of $1,500,000.
But not every headliner gets 1,000,000 buys. UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson appeared on MMAJunkie Radio and said he would rather get his money up front than negotiation a potential windfall from PPV, that could evaporate of the fight does not connect with the fans.
“I’ve talked to fighters in the past who’ve had pay-per-view points, and they’ll fight on pay-per-view, and they won’t reach their goal, so they won’t get the pay-per-view points,” said Johnson. “I know I’m not a big name like Anderson Silva or GSP. That’s why there are only a few guys that have that kind of thing.
“I’d rather take the money up front than wager a bet.”
“You’ve got to think, like, I come from a job where I used to make $10.76 an hour, and I would only net out, like, $20,000 a year or maybe $18,000 a year. For me, I fight to take care of my family and be secure and to live. I’m only 27 years old, so I’ve still got a lot more years to climb the ladder.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to make payouts like Jon Jones and GSP. But for right now, I’ve got to work my way up. I’m not the type of fighter who’s going to complain, where you see fighters that come in the UFC and they’re making 3/3 and say, ‘Man, I can’t do anything.’ I started there. My first fight for the WEC, my payout was $3,000 and $3,000, and my MRI cost $3,000, and I lost the fight, and I still had to pay out my coaches. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
“I’ve always been curious what ‘F-U’ money is, but I don’t know what it is. I would just say $100 million. The UFC takes care of me, my wife doesn’t have to work, I don’t have to work, and my son, he’s good. I’m happy.”
Johnson earned a disclosed $175,000 for knocking out Joseph Benavidez on UFC on FOX 9 last month, plus a $50,000 “Knockout of the Night” bonus. His sponsorship money and any locker room bonus is a private matter.
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