One of the most contentious issues in modern MMA has to be fighter pay. After a two decade long period of growth – sometimes with the fate of the sport itself teetering on the brink of collapse thanks to a public vehemently opposed to ‘human cockfighting’ – MMA fans can breathe a sigh of relief since their sport is here to stay. During the early days, fighter pay wasn’t an issue that was ever discussed. The salaries of MMA’s early stars were quite literally fractions of what their counterparts in boxing were getting paid, but it’s not like they had much bargaining power. The UFC was the only show in town and very few fighters had the name recognition to even use as a leveraging tool in contract negotiations.
Perhaps because of this history, fighter salaries in the UFC have lagged far behind most professional sports. UFC, and indeed most MMA contracts, have an agreed upon base pay and usually have a win bonus. Generally, the win bonus is the same amount as the base pay. This means that if a fighter is paid $50,000 to show up and compete, should he come away with the victory he’ll net an additional $50,000, bringing his total to $100,000. The UFC also has performance bonuses of $50,000 to encourage exciting fights. The base UFC contract for newly signed fighters with little-to-no name recognition is $8,000/$8,000 – that is, $8,000 to fight and $16,000 if they win.
The UFC’s middleweight division is home to some of the biggest names in the sport, and consequently some of the most lucrative contracts in the organization can be found fighting at 185lbs. The contract data is kept under locks by the UFC, so unfortunately there’s no official source to draw upon when comparing the figures. Fortunately there are people who work on the inside who regularly leak some of that information after most of the events, and because contracts are for multiple fights, the fighter’s salary will only change intermittently every few years. Because of this we can actually paint a pretty accurate picture of who is making what, which is exactly what we’ll do now. These are the 8 middleweight fighters with the best contracts in the UFC.
#8 Tim Kennedy – $60,000 Per Fight + $30,000 Win Bonus
Former Special Forces soldier Tim Kennedy has endeared himself to many American UFC fans that bleed red, white and blue, and the way he smothers opponents with his grappling has proven to be effective, even if it isn’t always the most exciting way to win. The 35-year-old previously found success in Strikeforce before joining the UFC, developing rivalries with both Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Luke Rockhold, both of whom share his space at the top of the food chain in the middleweight division. Kennedy makes $60,000 each time he fights and an extra $30,000 if he wins, bringing his total purse after a victory up to $90,000.
#7 Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza – $72,500 Per Fight + $28,000 Win Bonus
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza is another fighter who has opted for more steady pay instead of a more lucrative win bonus. Jacare has a record of 21-3, and recently all but confirmed his status as next in line for a title shot after middleweight champion Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort duke it out later this year. His recent headline fight against Gegard Mousasi became a showcase for Jacare, as he demonstrated to fans and company brass alike why he’s a force at middleweight. The former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion has made the very best of his transition into MMA, and because he’s won of all of his UFC appearances thus far he’s been pocketing $100,500 a fight ($72,500 to show and $28,000 to win).
#6 Cung Le – $150,000 Per Fight
Cung Le’s contract is as unusual as his MMA career path has been. Before starting a career in MMA in 2006 at the age of 34(!), Le was an undefeated kickboxer with a 17-0 record that he still holds today. From 2006 to 2008 he ran through the Strikeforce middleweight division, eventually becoming their middleweight champion after defeating Frank Shamrock in 2008. He would later vacate the title to pursue a career in the film industry, but would return periodically for MMA fights. When the UFC purchased Strikeforce, they acquired Le’s contract. Cung Le’s contract is unsual in that it has no win bonus. Le managed to negotiate himself into a position where he receives a substantial sum for each fight regardless of the outcome, which is probably a good idea when you’re still fighting into your mid 40s.
#5 Lyoto Machida – $200,000 Per Fight
Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida is one of the most beloved fighters in the UFC today. Since his legendary undefeated run that took him all the way to the championship, Machida has remained a big name fixture within the UFC. Although he recently came up short in a close contest with middleweight champion Chris Weidman, Machida will remain a perennial title contender as long as he can keep racking up wins. Since dropping down to middleweight from light heavyweight, Machida has looked scary good. It’s possible that his fine form can be attributed to the lack of financial stress in his fights – Machida gets a cool $200,000 per fight, regardless of outcome.
#4 Vitor Belfort – $275,000 Per Fight
Vitor Belfort is a rare breed of fighter who, quite literally, grew up in the UFC. Since making his debut as a young man in a new sport back in 1997, the Brazilian has amassed a small fortune fighting in the UFC, PRIDE, and other organizations. His position as a veteran of the sport – one who can still hang with the best in the world – has allowed him to command a sizeable fee. Vitor’s $275,000 per fight contract gives him a financial freedom that most fighters can only dream of. If he can do the impossible and pull a Randy Couture on surging UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman in December, he’ll be able to re-negotiate for an even sweeter contract.
#3 Michael Bisping – $275,000 Per Fight + $150,000 Win Bonus
Long before Chael Sonnen and his trash talking ways, ages before Conor McGregor took the featherweight division by storm with his abrasive personality, there was only Michael Bisping. The original king of smack talk, Bisping has been a perennial contender in the UFC’s middleweight division for the better part of a decade. As it stands right now, he may be the most popular and highly paid fighter to have never received a title shot; he always seemed to come up short in title elimination matches. Despite all that, the man puts butts in seats – which is really all the UFC cares about. Consequently Bisping gets a nice paycheck for each fight; $275,000 to show and an extra $150,000 to win.
#2 Chris Weidman – $225,000 Per Fight + $225,000 Win Bonus
It only takes a glance at his contract details to see that the champ is a confident man. Most top-tier fighters load up their payout on the ‘to show’ side of their contract, where the guaranteed money is. Chris Weidman took a chance and took the 50:50 ratio, but it’s paid off for him thus far. He’s still undefeated in his MMA career and there doesn’t look to be anyone on the horizon who looks ready and capable to dethrone Weidman. He famously refused to renegotiate his contract before his title-winning performance against Anderson Silva, choosing instead to wait until after a fight that everyone outside of his inner circle expected him to lose. The man dreams big, and with each consecutive title defense he’ll be pulling in $450,000.
#1 Anderson Silva – $600,000 Per Fight + $200,000 Win Bonus
He may no longer be the champion, but ‘The Spider’ was still the face of the middleweight division for close to a decade and is arguably the greatest fighter to ever step foot in the octagon. Prime Anderson Silva would dismantle elite opponents with ease, and judging by his contract it’s clear that he and his camp know his worth. Silva pulls in $600,000 just to show up for a fight, and then an extra $200,000 when he wins. Over the past few years Silva has been making absurd amounts of money for each fight, and even though he says he won’t be seeking to challenge for the title again there’s no doubt that he’s still worth every penny of that contract. People tune in and buy PPV’s to see Anderson in action, and the entire MMA world will be fixated on him when he makes his return against Nick Diaz in January.