Over the last few weeks, the issue of fighter pay has been brought up repeatedly by former and current UFC fighters. One of the first was former Welterweight contender Jon Fitch who spoke passionately against the relatively low wages fighters receive. Middleweight Tim Kennedy, who makes his UFC debut this Saturday at UFC 162, also ranted about fighter pay saying he could make more as a garbage man. Kennedy did change the tone of his message a couple days later.
"You don't like the structure? All right, we'll pay the lower-level guys more money – no more f--king bonuses," Dana White said. "You guys come in, you negotiate your contracts, and we do away with all bonuses. That's what I'm thinking about doing."
"The bonuses are something we've been doing out of the kindness of our f--king heart," White said. "It was something we liked to do. Apparently, people don't like it. They want the lower-level guys to get paid more money."
White went on to say that he thinks comparisons to the NFL and MLB are unfair:
We're more like Major League Soccer, as far as financials go," he said. "You fight three times a year, you make [$50,000 to show and $50,000 to win], you're making $300,000 a year fighting three times a year. I know you have to take jiu-jitsu and do all these other things, but we have the same thing. We don't just put on fights; we have overhead, too.
White's example here is almost impressively misleading. First, a $50K to show/$50K to win contract would put a fighter in the upper-tier of non-champion competitors. Second, the $300K figure assumes the fighter wins all three bouts, which is far from guaranteed and considered a notable feat in the UFC. It's also worth mentioning that, as pointed out by Kennedy, fighters can expect to take home less than 50% of their disclosed wages, even before taxes are taken out.
As far as the MLS relationship is concerned, it's probably a more fair comparison than any of the other big league sports in the US. It's not nearly as well-established nor nearly as popular, much like the UFC. However, MLS salaries work out at $35K minimum, $160K average, and $89K median. Without having done the legwork, I'd be very surprised if the UFC's numbers worked out comparably.