Let’s assume you have firmly decided to become a professional MMA fighter. You may wonder what you may expect on your journey. Is MMA a good career when you take all factors into consideration?
MMA is a tough road for anyone unless you are among the 1% lucky ones. First, MMA includes the highest rate of injuries out of all sports according to studies. Next, the salaries are low and you will be underpaid at all levels.
Expect to earn a couple of hundreds or thousands while working your way up per match. Even when you sign with the UFC, you will put your life at risk for around $42,000 annually. So overall, no, MMA is not a good career choice statistically.
Keep reading this article to learn more about how you become a pro fighter, how much you can earn, and much other unique information.
Is MMA A Good Career? (Pros and Cons)
If a good career means winning titles while maintaining good health and stable finances, then no, MMA is not a good career. Statistically, it is the most dangerous combat sport that imposes a high risk to your health. And, the salaries are low as well as your chances of reaching the pinnacle of the game and becoming famous.
Here are some of the most important pros and cons you should take into consideration before enrolling in MMA.
It takes a lot of time to learn
First, MMA is the most complex combat system and it takes many years to develop high-level skills. Since MMA is a hybrid mix of grappling and striking, you have to be trained in multiple arts. You have to know wrestling, boxing, BJJ, and Muay Thai.
And it is not just about learning each one as you need to mix all the techniques together in a harmony to be an all-around fighter. As a result, you may need between 5 and 10 years to develop good enough skills for pro-competition.
MMA is the most complex sport
MMA competition is unforgiving and there are so many variables and possible ways you can win or lose a match. Each athlete has strengths and weaknesses in any sport. But due to so many variables, it’s almost impossible to cover all the holes in your game in MMA, and you will lose matches.
In boxing, you have only punches. In kickboxing, punches, and kicks. In MMA, there are submissions, punches, low and high kicks, knees, elbows, takedowns, slams, clinch fighting, etc. All of this makes MMA very unpredictable.
This is why you won’t see athletes going on 20+ win streaks (there were few exceptions) in the UFC like in other sports.
As an MMA fan, you can often hear MMA fighters complaining about the low salaries, even the champions. The worst part is, they are usually talking about the UFC, the biggest promotion in the world. The situation in the low-mid level promotions is even worse.
In the UFC, entry-level fighters are paid around $10,000 + $10,000 if they win, while mid-level may earn a couple of dozen. Six and seven-figure contracts are reserved only for the ones at the highest levels such as contenders and champions.
While competing on the regional scene, you may expect to earn just a couple of hundred per match. Or in the best-case scenario, you will get a couple of thousand. This is surely not enough to cover the cost of living, which means you will need a full job. In fact, these paychecks would barely cover the gym fees and preparations.
MMA is not about whether you are going to get hurt or not, it’s about when and how badly. It is an unforgiving sport that has the highest injury rate out of all sports, both when it comes to training and competition.
You must spend each week grappling, striking, sparring, doing strength and cardio workouts, and training 6 days a week, 2 or even 3 times a day. No matter which experts you hire to manage your diet, rest, and training schedule, the risk of your body giving up on you is too high.
Enables you to rise quickly
In MMA, you can rise from the low to the high level in just a few years. The sport is still a young sport and developing in terms of regulations and organizations. Although it is a mainstream sport in the US, it is not as developed in other parts of the world. This means that the competition on the regional scene might not be as strong as in other well-established sports such as boxing or kickboxing.
As a result, you can climb the lathers much faster in MMA than in most other sports. If you have what it takes in terms of talent, skill, persona, and ability to sell a fight, you can get into a title contender position in a top European promotion after a few dominant wins. The same stands for the UFC where exciting fighters enter the top 15 rankings after just a couple of fights.
For example, Jiri Prochaska got his title shot after two wins inside the UFC octagon.
Enables you to transition from other sports
The majority of MMA fighters come into the sport with a strong background in one or more martial arts. This is considered their “MMA base” on top of which they later add more techniques to become well-rounded. Some martial arts considered the best bases for MMA are — boxing, wrestling, BJJ, and Muay Thai.
In fact, wrestling has produced the most UFC champions in history according to stats, with BJJ being second. Fighters who transition to cage fighting from these arts can rise and succeed much faster than athletes without any experience.
For instance, Daniel Cormier and Yoel Romero both enrolled in MMA in their 30s as Olympic wrestlers, and have reached the highest levels in just a few years. You can’t do that in boxing, karate, or Taekwondo for example.
You can quickly become rich
Yes, salaries in MMA are so low to the point you can use the word “miserable”. But, the sport is offering many opportunities for fighters to cash out a lot of money. Again, they need to be entertainers both inside and outside of the octagon, and each time they get in front of the camera. Conor McGregor is the best example of how you become a multi-millionaire in MMA.
Becoming a champion or popular fighter opens your doors to many other opportunities. You may get good endorsement and sponsorship deals, movie roles, etc.
What Age Is Best To Start MMA?
The age of 14–16 is considered ideal if your goal is to become a pro-MMA fighter. In case your goals are to improve fitness, get in shape, and learn self-defense, then it’s never too later nor too early to start training.
There is a good explanation for why getting into MMA as a teenager is close to ideal. At this stage, your body is almost fully developed and ready to be “shaped” for MMA.
With intense MMA workouts and specific exercises, you can build reflexes, muscles, body mechanics, and athleticism required for cage fighting. As a result, you will be athletically superior to other fighters who started their journey later.
Next, starting at a young age enables you to build a lot of experience early in your career both as an amateur and a pro. By the age of 22 for example, you can already accumulate 20 fights both as an amateur and pro.
First, this makes you feel comfortable as you are already used to competing in front of a crowd, cameras, etc. This puts you much ahead of the fighters who have started late, and have less experience. It enables you to deal with the pressure in a better way, be more focused and overall, perform better.
How To Become An MMA Fighter? (Grow Career)
The first step is to find a gym where you can develop MMA skills. Then, you must train hard for at least 2–3 years before you can start taking part in amateur matches. After gaining some experience, you need to get a pro license, work even harder, and start competing as a pro.
Here is a brief explanation of each step.
There are two roads you can take to learn MMA. First, you can find an MMA gym where the teaching methods are structured to cover all the aspects of the sport. Or, you can choose to specialize in one martial art that conceptually works well in MMA such as BJJ and wrestling, which are considered the best. After years of training, you can switch over to an MMA gym and start adding more skills to your game.
Both of these ways have pros and cons and it’s up to you to decide which one suits you the best.
If you start without any martial art background, you will need between 2 and 4 years of training on average before you may start competing. Fighters who come into the sport from wrestling or BJJ tend to rise much faster. They are already familiar with a lot of techniques used in MMA, have a lot of competition experience, and better work ethic.
Of course, the exact time is based on many other factors such as individual talent, consistency, dedication to training, quality of coaching staff, and other factors.
Compete as an amateur
Competing in amateur MMA is not mandatory, but highly recommended. The amateur level is less intense and there is less pressure because the losses do not go into the official records. It enables you to learn to perform under pressure, get a feeling of how the entire environment looks like, and above all, improve your skills.
It’s always better to get your weaknesses exposed on the amateur scene so you can improve these areas before becoming a pro.
Get a professional license
In order to become a professional fighter, you must get licensed by the main MMA governing body in the state or country you are living. The most important aspect of getting a license is to pass a medical test.
The medical officials will check your blood and urine samples, blood pressure, medical history, and other relevant aspects. Once you pass the tests, you must gather all the necessary documentation, sign the papers, and pay a small fee.
Congratulations, you are now a professional MMA fighter.
Do Amateur MMA Fighters Get Paid?
Amateur MMA fighters are not paid for their fights whether it is a single amateur event or tournament. According to Athletic Commissions worldwide, amateur athletes are not allowed to receive money for their performances, not just in MMA, but in all other sports as well.
However, the promotion responsible for organizing an amateur event can cover the basic expenses. This includes the costs of travel, accommodation, fighting gear, etc.
But, they are not allowed to directly pay fighters for their performances. This is illegal and if get caught, these promotions would lose instantly lose the license to organize amateur events.
The main goal of this rule is to protect amateur athletes, who are in most cases still young and developing. The lack of money keeps them away from the pressure and lifestyle of pro-competition. Most importantly, it protects them from being exploited by the professional industry.
Instead of focusing on pursuing big paychecks, dealing with sponsorship deals, and all other aspects, amateurs are forced to focus on crafting their skills and improving their game.
What Is The Average Salary Of a UFC Fighter?
Pro UFC fighters earn as little as $10,000 per match, all the way up to $25 million, which is how much Conor McGregor got from the UFC. The salary is mostly based on the level you are competing. But it also depends on other factors such as your fighting style, persona, and ability to sell a fight. In most cases, the UFC contracts include:
- Base salary
- Win bonus
- Post-Fight bonus
- PPV share (only reserved for champions)
Newcomers and other low-level fighters usually get between $10–20,000 base salary to show up + another $10–20,000 if they win. They also get a percentage of the reebok deal and may win a $50,000 bonus for the performance, knockout, or submission of the night.
Mid-level fighters earn who already have a couple of wins on their records and veterans in the later stages of their careers get between $70–100,000 to show up, and a 100% win bonus. They are also eligible for a $50,000 post-fight bonus and a percentage from a reebok deal.
High-level fighters like contenders and champions earn anywhere from $300,000 to dozens of million. In most cases, champions get between $700,000 and $2 million. Bear in mind that this is just a base salary. Some champions get a percentage of total pay-per-view sales which can significantly increase their salary. Fighters like Conor McGregor are rare exceptions.
Best MMA Promotions and Salaries?
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the biggest MMA promotion and the absolute leader in the industry. As in any other sport, MMA promotions could be separated into three groups: Big, mid-level, and low-level.
Low-level promotions are usually regional ones and the ones in countries where MMA is not well-developed. These events are reserved for newcomers and athletes who are transitioning from amateur to pro-competition. Do not expect to earn more than a couple of hundred dollars fighting in these shows, or a high-level treatment.
Mid-level promotions are usually the ones where talents emerge and are scouted by bigger promotions. In some cases, mid-level promotions have partnership deals where their champion has a guaranteed spot in the UFC or Bellator. The collaboration between UFC and M-1 global is a good example.
This is a level where the competition gets tougher, but payment also increases to dozens of thousands. Getting a title in the mid-level promotion such as KSW or Cage Warrior matters speaks about your talent, and opens your doors to many opportunities.
High-level promotions are well-known ones such as the UFC, ONE FC, and Bellator usually include only the best and most talented fighters on the market. However, there is a big disproportion with the UFC having the monopoly and being by far the biggest. Winning the ONE FC or Bellator world title is great. But the dream of every MMA fighter is to win the UFC belt because this makes them a legit world champion.
While working your way up in the UFC for instance, you will be paid the same amount as were getting as a champion in a mid-level promotion. But six and seven-figure contracts are guaranteed if you reach a high level.
How Dangerous Is MMA?
According to studies, MMA is a combat sport with the highest rate of injuries, which makes it one of the most dangerous sports. One study showed that 59.4% of MMA fighters receive some type of injury in competition, some others suggest this number could be as high as 68%. Amateur competition is safer and includes an injury rate of 51%.
On average, athletes sustain 28.6 injuries per 100 fight participation, which is much higher than in boxing where that number is 17.1. However, MMA is more versatile and the injuries are evenly spread across the entire body. The most common body region injured was:
- Head/neck (38.2%)
- lower extremities (30.4)
- Upper extremities (22.7%)
Due to the importance of grappling and other aspects, fighters sustain far fewer head strikes than boxers. As a result, boxing is actually more dangerous than MMA when it comes to the severity of the injuries, the ones that will impact your health in the long run.
Is MMA a Good Career — Final Thoughts
If your dream is to become a successful MMA fighter, go for it. Yes, MMA is a bad career choice overall due to the injuries, low salaries, and short careers (around 10 years). But if you have strong self-belief, work ethic, and talent, go and fight for it, or at least give it a try.
Whether MMA is going to end up being a good career for you is based on many factors. In fact, MMA is still a young sport where you can rise very quickly if you have what it takes. But accept the fact that these fighters are in a huge minority.