UFC contracts and how much fighters are paid have been among the hottest topics in the MMA community for a long time now. With limited information available, many people are still confused about how UFC contracts actually work, and in this article, you are going to get a detailed explanation of all the clauses.
Each UFC contract includes various clauses such as — fighter purse, number of matches, bonuses, commercial identification, and various others put in place to legally protect both the fighters and the promotion. The crucial thing to know is that UFC issues contract through its sister company, Zuffa, LLC, the entity owned by the Endeavor Company.
Keep reading this article to learn more about how UFC contracts work in detail. We will explore salaries, hidden issues, manager roles, and much other unique information.
How Do UFC Contracts Work (Fully Explained)
A UFC contract represents a written agreement between the UFC as a company, and an MMA athlete agreeing to fight X number of times for X amount of money over a specific period.
The UFC contract structure includes many clauses and is not standardized. This means that each fighter signs their own, unique contract with unique terms and conditions.
They may sign just a one-fight deal for as little as $10,000 to show up to a fight, or multi-million contracts to 8 or more fights. On average, the UFC is giving its best to give each fighter three fight offers a year based on the number of shows.
However, the majority of clauses are standardized, and the following is a detailed explanation of each one. Bear in mind that UFC contracts are confidential and not available to the general public.
The legal aspect of a fighter signing with the UFC
Most UFC contracts are structured in a similar way. But the exact terms and conditions vary between fighters and are confidential. The structure is based on various factors such as the experience of a fighter, their popularity, ability to sell a fight, status within a division, and many others.
Each contract is actually issued by the UFC’s sister company Zuffa, LLC, founded in 2000 by Fertitta Brothers and Dana White. The company was later sold to Endeavor and remained its entity, responsible for contracts. So though they are fighting under the UFC banner, the contracts and other legal aspects are handled by Zuffa, LLC.
Following is a detailed explanation of UFC contracts and each clause.
When a fighter sits down to negotiate a contract with the UFC, the first thing both sides need to agree on is the weight class. The UFC has 8 different weight classes for men, and 4 for female fighters, or 12 in total.
Each weight division has an upper and lower weight limit. Each athlete must choose in which weight class they are going to compete according to their physical attributes.
In general, MMA athletes compete in divisions below their natural ones. They go through a process of extreme cutting in order to gain a physical advantage on the fight night. A fighter weighing 210 pounds outside the competition fights as a middleweight (185 pounds) for example.
This part of the contract is important as the UFC wants to be sure a fighter is able to make weight each time they sign a contract to compete. According to the contract, fighters will lose between 20–30% of their fight purse for missing weight even if the Athletic Commission approves the fight. In case the match gets canceled, the UFC is not obligated to pay them any money.
Number of fights
The UFC is offering three fights per year to each fighter on average, but the number of fights on the contract is not standardized.
The number of fights varies between the fighters at the different levels and usually ranges between 1 and 8. For example, newcomers usually sign a one-fight deal as they are yet to prove their worth to the UFC. In case they have a good performance, the next contract may include 2 or more fights depending on many factors.
Well-established fighters and the ones at the highest levels sign multi-fight deals. For example, Conor McGregor signed a 6 fight contract in 2018, and there are cases in which fighters would sign even more.
Overall, the company is doing its best to offer each fighter at least 2–3 fights a year, considering the number of all events.
Fighter purse (base salary)
One of the key aspects of the contract is the amount of money fighters receive to show up and perform. The salary is based on various factors such as:
- UFC experience
- Win/Lose ratio
- Status within a division
- Your worth to the UFC brand
- Ability to sell the fight
As a result, newcomers and low-level fighters, in general, usually sign to compete between 1 and 3 times. In most cases, they receive between $10–20,000 base salary + another $10–20,000 as a win bonus.
Once they pass the low-level stage, they would re-negotiate the second deal with the company. Again, the contract is based on their record, finishes, style, fan base, and hype they managed to build. On average, mid-level fighters get between $40–100,000 show money and an additional $40–100,000 for the win.
The big money comes when they reach the highest level of the game, usually when they break into the top 10 rankings in a division. A fighter might start getting six-figure paychecks for each fight and even seven if they are champions.
According to stats, the average annual UFC salary is $160,000. 42% of the fighters earned six figures in 2021, while 38% of the fighters earned less than an average household income in the US.
UFC fighters are eligible to receive bonuses in different ways. The well-known one is the post-fight bonus where they can get $50,000 based on:
- Performance of the night
- Fight of the night
- Finish of the night.
Next, the UFC is partnered with the Venum brand. Once they sign a contract, fighters agree they would promote the Venum brand only, and for that, they receive another bonus. The exact amount varies but it’s usually around $500–2,000 per fight for wearing their outfit. High-level athletes, of course, receive more.
Lastly, the contracts of most popular fighters may include a clause where they would receive show money, a win bonus, and a percentage of the total pay-per-view sales. The PPV share can significantly boost their incomes, especially if there is a big hype around the event.
Promotion of events
The main job of a UFC fighter is to prepare, come to an event, perform at the best of their abilities and win the fight. However, according to the contract, they also must take part in other activities such as promoting the fight.
They must show up to all pre-fight press conferences to answer media questions, while post-fight is not mandatory. Next, they must shoot promo materials such as “Countdowns”, “Embedded Series”, photo shootings, promote UFC merchandise, do interviews, sign posters, etc.
With so many obligations, fighters have barely enough time to fully focus on the main objective during the fight week.
When they sign the contract, UFC fighters are actually giving the promotion the right to use all of their ancillary rights for promotion and marketing purposes. Even if the fighter is retired or died, the UFC can still use everything related to them to promote their business.
This includes fighters’ images, names, voices, matches, interviews, all of the promo material they had shot while being active, and much more. The UFC might use this for promoting future events, selling merchandise with their names and images, etc.
The main problem with this is — the fighters do not receive financial or other compensation for this. The best example is the UFC video game developed by EA Sports. The game includes visual animation of just about all fighters, their names, and their biography. Yet, fighters do not receive a single dollar from this.
Zuffa’s intellectual property rights
UFC fighters, current or former, are not allowed to use UFC titles, logos, or other parts of the brand to promote themselves or to advertise their independent work as all of this belongs to Zuffa’s intellectual property. In order to use any of these privileges, athletes need to inform the UFC and get their permission first.
For example, if they launch their own podcast, they can’t put the belt on the table, and use their footage, logos, and other material without the UFC’s written permission. And even if they get it, the UFC has the right to change their mind anytime.
UFC fighters are not allowed to speak about their contracts in public unless this is required by law. If they break this rule and start talking about the payments, bonuses, and other clauses, the UFC has the right to sue them and terminate their contracts.
This is the main reason why you will never hear UFC fighters in press conferences or during interviews talk openly about their contracts. They might express their feelings of being underpaid, or maybe ask for better treatment, but you will never hear them talking about specific clauses from the contract because they are well aware of the consequences.
However, there have been some serious changes related to the confidentiality of the contracts in recent years. Some parts of the contract, notably the fighters’ base pay are now disclosed by the State Athletic Commissions. After each event, the Commission would publish fighters’ purses and their base salary for that specific performance. UFC can no longer keep, at least the base salary, as “top secret”.
This clause enables the UFC to terminate the contract and release a fighter under specific conditions. Though terminating the contract does not happen often at the mid and high levels, these things are quite common among newcomers.
If the UFC does not spot the potential in them, they might terminate their contract and sign another hot prospect. They might also do this if an unranked fighter loses three matches in a row and has a boring style. Fighters who often decline fights also tend to get released quite often.
There are also scenarios where a UFC might terminate a contract due to reasons not related to fighting itself. For example:
- If a fighter can’t get a visa to come to the agreed location of the match
- If they don’t get licensed by the Athletic Commission.
The champion clause extends the champion’s contract for one extra year or the number of fights both sides have agreed on. This prevents the champion from using their rise in popularity and worth to test the free market, and maybe sign with a different promotion, as boxers do for example.
The best example of this clause in practice is the UFC heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou, and his contract dispute with the company. Ngannou’s last fight on the contract was the one against Cyril Gane, which he won via decision.
But the UFC is relying on the champion clause to keep Ngannou, who on the other side, feels he deserves better treatment and more freedom as a champion. In short, he does not want to sign multi-fight contracts, but rather re-negotiate the contract after each fight.
If both sides fail to come to an agreement, Ngannou will become a free agent in January 2023, after the “right to match” clause expires. This will enable him to leave the UFC as a free agent, and do whatever he wants with his fighting career.
Right To Match
Most contracts include a clause that prevents fighters from signing with another MMA promotion at least one year after their last match under the UFC banner. This clause clearly favors the UFC. It gives the company time to analyze the market, and possibly re-negotiate the contract with the fighter, or even offer them a better deal.
Of course, fighters do not have to accept the new offer from the UFC, as many of them didn’t in the past. They can always turn down the offer and sign with the new promotion but not before the time in the contract expires.
Acts of God
The UFC won’t be at fault if its contract obligations are delayed by reason of any act of god such as fire, wars, civil unrest, natural disaster, etc. Or in other words, if a fighter gets injured during the training camp and has to pull out of the match, the UFC is not obligated to pay them their show money or cover their medical expenses. However, the UFC has the right to extend the contract, and give an athlete time to recover and come back.
UFC will cover fighters’ costs of traveling and accommodations. They will also pay for the three members of your team, and give you one or two separate rooms. They will also provide you with a facility or place where you can train before the event and a private chauffeur to drive you around.
Some popular fighters may receive a more luxurious treatment. This may include private jet flights, business class tickets, luxurious rooms, etc.
While under contract, fighters are required to always maintain a high level of sportsmanship and behave as professional athletes. The UFC doesn’t care what you are doing outside the fighting game. But prior to, during, and after each event, you must conduct yourself in a professional manner.
Considering all the trash-talking during press conferences, and fighters insulting each other’s religion, nationality, or family, let’s say that this specific clause in the contract is not that important.
Representation and warranties
This clause of the contract means that the fighters are obligated to prepare and perform to the best of their abilities. It is a fairly typical clause in athlete contracts all across the board. This prevents fighters or members of their team from fixing matches or getting into a match carrying a serious injury that might impact their performance.
UFC fighters are not allowed to promote any brand apart from the one that is the official partner of the UFC. Previously, fighters were allowed to have their own sponsors. They would design their own fight gear which would include the logos of all private sponsors.
However, this has changed and they can now only wear or drink the products that officially sponsor the UFC, and get small financial compensation for it. During the event, fighters must wear Venum cloth only, drink Monster drinks, etc.
Renegotiating a UFC Contract
UFC is a business, and as in any business, there are contracts and intense negotiations between the fighters and matchmakers. Each side is trying to box out the best deal, and the key for both is to come to what each side sees as even terms.
However, the UFC is the best MMA promotion in the world and holds the monopoly, which gives them big negotiating power over its fighters. It is in rare occasions that a fighter can dictate the terms, as Conor Mcgregor did.
When it comes to negotiations, it’s all about your power and worth to the company. If you have completed a 6-fight contract with a 6–0 record and 6 finishes, of course, you are going to renegotiate a new deal and ask for more money and better treatment.
And the same applies if it is the other way around. You can’t ask for more without leverage. This is also where the reputation and influence of a good manager come into play.
But overall, the UFC is strict and rigid when it comes to negotiations. They are well aware of its brand power, which is a reason why so many fighters are in a contract dispute with them. Francis Ngannou and his efforts to re-negotiate his deal is the ideal example.
Are UFC Fighters Paid For Canceled Fights?
According to Dana White, UFC fighters are not paid their show money (base salary) if the match gets canceled. Even if both athletes pass the weigh-ins and the match is on, they won’t be paid if the fight gets canceled in the following 24 before the event.
White also stated the fighters would receive “some” money behind closed doors. However, he didn’t specify the exact amount. But this is probably enough for the fighters to cover the costs of preparations, going through weight cuts, and showing up.
As with all else, this also depends on the circumstances, mainly on the reason behind the cancellation. A fighter who “caused” the fight to be canceled probably receives less than a fighter who wasn’t at fault.
What Happens When A UFC Fighter Declines a Fight?
UFC fighters are allowed to decline the fight offer, both legally and from an ethical perspective. As long as they have a legitimate reason to do so, the UFC will be fine with their decision and move on to find a replacement.
In most cases, fighters decline due to the reasons such as:
- The injury they sustained during the fight camp
- Some private issues such as going through a divorce or losing a family member.
In this case, the UFC will not only accept their decision but also try to help. They will recommend doctors, ask them to come to the performance center (PI) for further tests, and maybe even provide financial support.
In some other cases, however, fighters may refuse to fight due to, what the UFC considers illegitimate reasons. They may ask for more money, time, or maybe a better opponent. The matchmakers will accept their decision, but this will have a negative impact on their relationship.
From then on, they will look at this fighter as unreliable, unprofessional, and hard to work with. As a result, they will give them less good opportunities and focus on fighters that are loyal to the company.
Are UFC Fighters Paid If They Miss Weight?
When a fighter misses weight, the UFC will arrange a catchweight fight and the match is still on. Both fighters will get paid, however, a fighter who missed weight must forfeit between 20 and 30% of their show money to their opponent who acted professionally and hit the scale at the right weight.
But there were cases when the fighter missed weight by such a large margin that the match had to be canceled. In that case, fighters are not paid, certainly not the ones who missed the scale. However, their opponent would probably receive compensation for being professional and showing up.
Do UFC Fighters Get Pay Per Fight?
UFC fighters are paid per fight for the prize previously agreed on in the contract. The contract may include a one-fight deal or a multi-fight deal, but in both cases, fighters get paid per match.
For example, let’s assume the fighter signs a 4-fight contract according to which they receive $40,000 show money and another $40,000 as a win bonus. They will get paid this amount per each of these four matches. Once they complete the contract, they can either leave the UFC or re-negotiate another deal.
Final Thoughts On UFC Contracts
UFC is the absolute leader in the MMA industry. This is clearly seen through the way UFC contracts work as all the clauses go in their favor. In fact, contracts leave the fighters almost no space at all to raise any questions or ask for more. And this is the main reason why so many fans are concerned with the moral and ethical values of UFC as a company and the way they treat its athletes.
But with MMA expanding at a high rate and more promotions emerging on the market, we might see drastic changes coming in the future and UFC fighters receiving much better treatment.