Second Opinion: Tough Financial Road for Fighters

April 14, 2009

The following is a guest editorial from Nick Meyer of BetUS Sportsbook.

With the success of The Ultimate Fighter TV show and the larger-than-life personas of the fighters, it seems as if everyone wants to at least train in MMA if not make it to the big show. It is little wonder as the glory and respect garnered by popular UFC fighters puts them right up there with movie starts now that the sport has blown up.

Many young people who have been discouraged about their chances of making it far in major pro sports such as the NBA and the NFL because of the incredible caliber and number of athletes populating these positions, have now turned their attention to training for an MMA career.

While there are success stories of underdogs who have made it far in the UFC, the reality of the business is that the only fighters who can make a comfortable living off of the sport in this day and age are the big-name guys, big-time personalities, and the most exciting fighters.

One look at the UFC 96 pay scale for fighters shows just how hard it is to make a living in the sport for the lesser-known’s. While Quinton “Rampage” Jackson made $325,000 for his fight with Keith Jardine, which wasn’t even a title fight, Jason Day, a pretty solid fighter according to most, only made $5,000.

Day was 17-7 going in with wins over some good fighters like Alan Belcher and Jonathan Goulet and he even has an interesting nickname, “Dooms,” but he doesn’t put fans in the seats so he was relegated to a tiny salary for the night.

The fight was Day’s first in three months, which equates to a $20,000 yearly salary going by fight salaries only. He would have gotten a $5,000 fight bonus but going up against a guy like Kendall Grove is tough.

Fighters are lured by cash incentives given to the guys that win Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night, among others.

But that raises another problem for the up-and-comers: there’s always tremendous pressure to put on a show in addition to the pressure of actually winning the fight. If guys of Day’s caliber don’t put on a high-octane, back-and-forth undercard fight that entertains the crowd, they will be booed mercilessly. And if they win in a not-so-exciting fashion, which might be their best bet in a lot of cases, they aren’t likely to get a good slot on the next fight card, either. All these things are going through a fighters head before he enters a ring or octagon with an opponent that is trying to knock you out.

What many people don’t consider when they think about the life of MMA fighter is everything outside of the ring. Take into account the costs for training and equipment as well as the immense physical and mental toll it takes to be a fighter at the highest level. There is also the strong possibility or inevitability of being knocked out of action for long stretches due to injuries and it’s easy to see why the life of a UFC fighter coming up through the system is often anything but glamorous.

Still, fighters often jump at the chance to fight in the UFC because the exposure and clout they gain from the organization can help them further their careers down the line.

Many UFC fighters such as Shane Carwin continue to hold down second jobs. Carwin remains a full-time engineer while also juggling a busy family life and the type of training it takes to be a high-level UFC fighter.

It takes that kind of commitment, some luck, and good management skills to become a profitable UFC fighter these days. With the short expected career span for a guys in this dangerous line of work, you can’t fault them for wanting to squeeze every last dollar out of their fighting careers before it’s time to move on to a different lifestyle. That is, if you can make it that far.