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Court filings reveal more info on how much ‘top’ UFC fighters are paid

An internal UFC document entered as evidence details, without revealing names, what the top UFC fighters made from 2012-2015.

For years, when fans had questions regarding any matter related to the UFC’s finances, the best answers were often little more than guesses. But thanks to the UFC antitrust lawsuit, where once all we had were guesses we now have numbers directly from Zuffa.

I have previously written about what was revealed during the recent hearings and what we now know about the UFC’s finances (which will have to be updated as new information becomes unsealed), while Tim Bissell has written a series of articles using the unredacted portions of the expert reports (which you can read here, here, here, and here).

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at what else has been disclosed by the suit, including UFC event expenses, boxing wage shares, and financial details for other MMA promotions. For today’s piece though, we will be starting with fighter pay, namely those at the top of the card.


A few weeks ago I posted an article that made use of several graphs that were shown during the expert hearings. The first graph came from a report prepared for the sale in 2016, entitled “Project Basquiat” that revealed the total wage share and total pay for the fighters from 2012-2015 plus estimates for 2016-2020. Last week, Zuffa’s attorneys filed a redacted version of that report, with that specific page included, which I have posted below.

I also made use of two graphs that were projected on slides during the hearing. These were titled “Fighter Comp as % of UFC Event Revenue” and “Fighter Comp as % of PPV Event Revenues.” Both of these graphs were part of a series of graphs produced by Stephen Tecci, the then Director of Strategy (and current Director of Operations), back in 2013 for John Mulkey, Zuffa’s Chief Financial Officer at the time. All of the graphs were filed, unsealed, for the court, and I have posted all of them below.


In addition to these new graphs (which I will have to update my UFC finance piece to include) the Project Basquiat report included another page that gave us some idea of what the top UFC fighters make per year.

Source: from “Project Basquiat” document filed as exhibit in Le, et al v. Zuffa, LLC.

Using the total fighter comp and percentages given, we can calculate not only how much the top 20 highest paid fighters made combined from 2012-2015, we can break it down so that we also now how much the top fighter, the next 4, the 6th-10th. and the 11th-20th figher made in total earning in the years given.

Top 20 highest paid UFC fighters total annual compensation

Fighter Pay Rank 2012 2013 2014 2015
Fighter Pay Rank 2012 2013 2014 2015
Top Fighter 4.89 8.2 1.81 8.54
Fighters 2-5 11.9 19.29 6.05 18.03
Fighters 6-10 6.11 11.58 5.24 9.97
Fighters 11-20 7.63 9.16 7.06 10.92
Total Comp for Top 20 30.53 48.23 20.16 47.46
All amounts in millions of US dollars (000,000s of $s)

Top 20 highest paid UFC fighters average annual compensation

Fighter Pay Rank 2012 2013 2014 2015
Fighter Pay Rank 2012 2013 2014 2015
Top Fighter 4.89 8.2 1.81 8.54
Fighters 2-5 2.98 4.82 1.51 4.5
Fighters 6-10 1.22 2.32 1.05 1.99
Fighters 11-20 0.76 0.92 0.71 1.09
All 1-20 1.53 2.41 1.01 2.37
All amounts in millions of US dollars (000,000s of $s)

What these number don’t tell us is the names of the fighters, what they made for individual fights, or how many fights they participated in to earn what they did. People will have to go back to guessing who made what for those details.

What they do show are some rather surprising numbers, perhaps the most surprising being that the highest paid fighter in 2014 — a year in which neither Georges St-Pierre nor Anderson Silva fought — apparently only made $1.8 million for the year.

(Or perhaps not that surprising when comparing them to the numbers who got from a fighters’ survey I conducted a few years ago.)

There was also a piece of additional information, found at the bottom of the first Project Basquiat page I posted above, that we missed in the court.

UFC $/min stats based on 30min of fighting annually and 2015’s $8.6m payout to top fighter. Note [Redacted] expected to receive $15m in 2016 (2.3% of 2016 revenues).

Besides $8.6 million in 2015 to the highest paid UFC fighter, (my calculation based on the graph was a nearly identical $8.54 million) the UFC was apparently projecting that the highest paid fighter in 2016 would earn $15 million. Giving us something of a hint as to who that fighter is, the redacted portion is exactly 5 letters in length, suggesting that the name might belong to either Brock (Lesnar), Conor (McGregor), (Jon) Jones, or Ronda (Rousey).

Lesnar seems like a likely guess, because his large purse was cited as one of the reasons why UFC 200’s total payout would be much higher than typical. The report also goes on to highlight his PPV history.

A couple of things lead me to exclude him as the likely candidate though. First, according to another page in the report, the UFC’s plans for Brock in 2016 were limited to UFC 200. He was not projected to take part in another UFC event that year.

Second, we know from the hearings that the total payout for UFC 200 was approximately $19.9 million. Since the reported payout for this event was just under $7 million, for Lesnar to have been paid $15 million for that one event then no one else on the card could have received any unreported pay. With Anderson Silva, Daniel Cormier, and defending Champion Meisha Tate on the card — based on what we know about the UFC’s pay structure — that seems impossible.

If not Lesnar, then McGregor, Jones, and Rousey, three fighters that were citied as the biggest draws in the rport, are all good candidates. Rousey seems the least likely, since she was forecast to fight only once by the UFC in 2016. Having earned $8.6 million in three fights in 2015, it seems unlikely to me that she would nearly double that amount for a single fight in the next year. Therefore Jones, who they were planning on having fight three times in 2016 (the report was written before his failed drug test for UFC 200), and McGregor, who was penned in for only two fights at the time of the report, are the most likely names.

Based on what has been released the last few weeks, it seems very likely we will be revisiting this post to update it sometime in the near future. Until then, keep an eye out on Bloody Elbow for future posts looking at the breakdown of revenues and expenses for UFC events, the business of boxing promoters, and a look at the finances of some of the UFC’s competitors, namely Bellator and Strikeforce.

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