Examining Pay Structure in Boxing and MMA

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 12: Miguel Cotto punches Ricardo Mayorga during their WBA Super Welterweight title bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 12, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

In the comments of the earlier "Is the UFC's Purchase of Strikeforce Bad for the Fighters?" article by Jonathan Snowden, a discussion started on the relative pay structure of MMA and boxing. The main point that some seemed to harp on was that undercard fighters on boxing cards fight for "peanuts." As I promised I would do in those comments I contacted the Nevada State Athletic Commission to get the full pay rundown for the six pro boxing events in the state so far in 2011.

This is going to be "numbers heavy" as we go through the cards and look at some of the details. The card disbursement is interesting as we see ESPN 2, HBO, Showtime, PPV and Fox Sports Net events all covered:

January 7 - ESPN 2 Friday Night Fights

Mauricio Herrera ($8,500) UD-12 Ruslan Provodnikov ($10,000)
Demetrius Andrade ($8,000) UD-8 Albert Herrera ($6,500)
Lonnie Smith ($800) KO-1 Jose Gomez ($1,800)
Harry Namauu ($2,000) UD-6 Manuel Otero ($1,500)
Richard Contreras ($1,200) KO-1 Juan Tepoz ($1,200)
Oscar Andrade ($1,200) UD-4 Deth'Marcus Hall ($1,200)
Jesus Gutierrez ($1,200) NC Franky Martinez ($1,200)

Total Payouts: $46,300

This was a small televised show and the top two fights had decent pay. Lonnie Smith stands out as a particularly low payout. He was a local fighter with an 11-2 record facing a guy in Gomez who was 3-4 entering the night. That's simply filling out the card. A fight like Andrade/Hall was two guys over 25 years old both only 3-4 fights into their career so it's hard to say they should have been raking in big bucks for their apperance.

January 22 - Top Rank Live on Fox Sports Net

Diego Magdaleno ($8,500) TKO-5 Marcos Leonardo Jimenez ($6,000)
Robert Marroquin ($7,500) TKO-4 Eduardo Arcos ($6,000)
Jose Benavidez ($4,000) UD-6 Fernando Rodriguez ($3,000)
Julio Cesar Dos Santos ($2,500) RTD-5 Valente Tinajero ($2,500)
Abraham Han ($2,000) TKO-2 Orphius Waite ($3,000)
Anthony Lenk ($3,000) UD-6 Tyler Pogline ($2,000)
Jesse Magdaleno ($2,500) TKO-3 Cain Garcia ($1,500)

Total Payout: $54,000

Low man on the payday totem pole was Cain Garcia. Garcia was 0-1 heading into the bout and facing a guy in Magdaleno who was 1-0. I want to make it clear that while it's easy to say "no one should make $1,500 for a fight" the reality is, making $1,500 when you're a career 0-1 ain't a bad gig.

February 19 - HBO World Championship Boxing

Nonito Donaire ($350,000) TKO-2 Fernando Montiel ($250,000)
Mike Jones ($75,000) UD-12 Jesus Soto Karass ($75,000)
Mark Jason Melligen ($10,000) UD-10 Gabriel Martinez ($6,000)
Mickey Bey Jr. ($8,000) MD-8 Jose Hernandez ($6,000)
Mike Alvarado ($20,000) RTD-4 Dean Harrison ($8,000)
Yordenis Ugas ($3,000) UD-6 Carlos Musquez ($2,500)
Rodrigo Garcia ($5,000) UD-4 Gerald Jordan ($3,500)
Ignacio Garcia ($2,200) MD-4 Armando Dorantes ($2,800)

Total Payout: $827,000

Low man this time was Ignacio Garcia. Garcia was a career 3-3 while his opponent was 8-2 but had never beaten an opponent who entered the night with a winning record. While the usefulness of the bottom of the undercard on a show like this is something it is more than fair to question, I don't see anything that sticks out as unfair pay.

February 26 - Showtime Championship Boxing

Brandon Rios ($125,000) TKO-10 Miguel Acosta ($125,000)
Robert Marroquin ($7,500) UD-8 Gilberto Sanchez Leon ($6,750)
Anthony Lenk ($3,500) TKO-6 Terry Buterbaugh ($2,500)
Andy Ruiz Jr. ($3,000) UD-6 Alvaro Morales ($2,500)
Mike Lee ($5,000) TKO-1 Pablo Gomez ($1,500)
Jesse Magdaleno ($2,500) TKO-1 Jamie Gutierrez ($1,500)
Hiromitsu Miura ($600) TKO-1 Ramiro Bueno Jr. ($1,500)
Aaron Garcia ($5,000) MD-4 Alejandro Lopez ($4,000)

Total Payout: $297,350

This is a weird card thanks to it being a split show on Showtime. Rios/Acosta was the main event and the co-main event was a bout out in Nebraska. This accounts for the huge drop in pay from the main event. Miura only made $600 but if we've learned anything about foreign fighters it's to never trust the reported payout. The $1,500 payouts belong to guys like the now 1-3-1 Pablo Gomez, 3-5 Jamie Gutierrez and 1-2 Ramiro (no) Bueno.

March 12 - Showtime PPV

Miguel Cotto ($1,000,000) TKO-12 Ricardo Mayorga ($50,000)
Miguel Vazquez ($150,000) UD-12 Leonardo Zappavigna ($65,000)
Pawel Wolak ($75,000) RTD-6 Yuri Foreman ($100,000)
Matt Korobov ($10,000) TKO-1 Michael Walker ($7,000)
Juan Gonzalez ($3,500) TKO-1 Jeremy McLaurin ($4,500)
Eric Molina ($8,000) TKO-6 Joseph Rabotte ($4,000)
Jesus Rojas ($3,000) UD-6 Isaac Hidalgo ($3,000)
Tommy Zbikowski ($50,000) TKO-1 Richard Bryant ($1,500)

Total Payout: $1,534,500

Tommy Zbikowski was a Notre Dame safety and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens, this was his second pro bout and was clearly there for the "celebrity factor" while Richard Bryant was there because he was a 1-2 guy who was likely to go down early. Other than that there isn't anything I would say that sticks out as shocking. Rojas is a minor prospect (17-1) who appears to be on the "beat guys with bad records" path to an eventual undeserved shot at a minor title. Mayorga got paid much less than Cotto but is rumored to have received a percentage of PPV sales to offset that.

Now, let's look at UFC 126 (also held in Nevada so we know methods of reporting pay are the same):

February 5 - UFC 126 PPV

Anderson Silva: $200,000 (includes no win bonus) def. Vitor Belfort: $275,000
Forrest Griffin: $275,000 ($150,000 win bonus) def. Rich Franklin: $75,000
Jon Jones: $140,000 ($70,000 win bonus) def. Ryan Bader: $20,000
Jake Ellenberger: $32,000 ($16,000 win bonus) def. Carlos Eduardo Rocha: $8,000
Miguel Torres: $56,000 ($28,000 win bonus) def. Antonio Banuelos: $9,000
Donald Cerrone: $36,000 ($18,000 win bonus) def. Paul Kelly: $19,000
Chad Mendes: $19,000 ($9,500 win bonus) def. Michihiro Omigawa: $8,000
Demetrious Johnson: $10,000 ($5,000 win bonus) def. Norifumi Yamamoto: $15,000
Paul Taylor: $36,000 ($18,000 win bonus) def. Gabe Ruediger: $8,000
Kyle Kingsbury: $20,000 ($10,000 win bonus) def. Ricardo Romero: $10,000
Mike Pierce: $28,000 ($14,000 win bonus) def. Kenny Robertson: $6,000

Total Payout: $1,305,000 + 300,000 reported bonuses = $1,605,000

The takeaway here is that clearly the drop off in pay from the top of the card to the untelevised undercard for boxing is substantial but no one seems to be getting paid significantly less than they deserve. The pay disparity is based solely on the lower quality undercards than you find in the UFC. Obviously, these higher quality undercards are a great thing for MMA fans and the UFC has done a wonderful job of making undercards matter. But that is also out of necessity to get fighters under contract the fights they need without running hundreds of shows.

Still, looking at a complete card rundown should put an end to the idea that fighters on the low end of these boxing cards are getting a fifty dollar bill and a handshake.

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