In 2021, Conor McGregor held the top spot of Forbes’ highest-paid athletes of the year to become the first MMA fighter to receive such a distinction. Instead of fight purses, it was bolstered mostly by the sale of his ownership stake of Proper Twelve whiskey, which reportedly earned him around $150 million.
But for 2022, things took a drastic turn for “The Notorious.” Based on Forbes’ new list, the new name at the top is football star Lionel Messi, whose net earnings are reported to be around the $130 million range. McGregor, on the other hand, is not even part of the top ten as he drops to number 35.
According to Forbes, the former UFC champ-champ earned $43 million, with $10 million from endorsements and $33 million supposedly coming from just his second loss to Dustin Poirier in 2021. (Note: Forbes’ 12-month period is from May 2021 to May 2022, so this only included the July 2021 bout to Poirier, while the January 2021 loss was on last year’s list)
The lone combat sports athlete on the top ten list is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who sits at the number eight spot with a reported $90 million.
A notable newcomer on the list is Jake Paul, who made waves in the boxing world this past year for his victories over Ben Askren and former UFC champion Tyron Woodley. “The Problem Child” is at number 48 on the list with reported earnings amounting to $38 million before taxes.
Take these numbers — especially McGregor’s — with a grain of salt. As Anton Tabuena noted when the Irish star topped the list, Forbes’ estimates for his UFC purses haven’t been very accurate at all in the last few years:
It’s worth noting that the UFC anti-trust lawsuit has revealed a lot of financial information, and it showed that Forbes’ previous estimates for McGregor’s past purses were inaccurate and significantly inflated. It’s also curious that they estimated McGregor to have made $32 million to fight Cerrone in 2020, then supposedly earned $10 million less for his next bout with Poirier, which was far more successful on pay-per-view.
Bloody Elbow’s business expert, John Nash, also shared a closer estimate of his current contract amount:
Forbes reported by in 2017 that the UFC paid McGregor $27 million for 2 fights (UFC 202 & 205) but we know from the lawsuit that neither of those fights could have been more than $8 million, as that was the highest amount paid through 2016 (it was for Brock Lesnar at UFC 200.) Details of the McGregor’s contract at the time were also floating around amongst members of the industry and would have paid him around $7 million for each of those events for a total of $14 million — far lower than Forbes’ $27 million figure.
McGregor then signed an 6-fight extension at UFC 229. While we have seen published reports of McGregor earning $30 million or more per fight since then, what is being floated by those same industry sources is not quite the same. They suggest that his new contract was very similar to the previous one but with the addition of a side letter guaranteeing several million more and the right to have his own sponsor in the Octagon and promoted at the event (Proper 12). This would mean that if that contract info is correct and UFC 264 really did sell 1.8 million buys then he would have made almost $17 million ($3 million as his contracted purse, another $3 million for so or his side letter, and around $11 million from his unique pay-per-view bonus that pays an escalating bonus along with additional points after crossing a threshold.)