In the early days of MMA, it was difficult to figure out how to market the sport. After the initial sell of a ‘no holds barred’ Bloodsport-style tournament, the UFC had to find a way to market themselves. For a while they found inspiration in pro wrestling, which was in a boom period during the same era in the late 90s that MMA was trying to come into itself. Fighters like Tank Abbott and Tito Ortiz had ridiculously cheesy, and in retrospect cringe-worthy, entrances that would be fit for a WWE ‘superstar’. By going down that route, the UFC used its highest profile fighters to market the sport in the same way that boxing and pro wrestling do. Of course, after building huge stars, those same personalities would realize their worth and ask for better contracts. Over time there was a two-tiered system built into MMA, with the top draws getting hundreds of thousands per fight and the rest of the roster getting peanuts in comparison.
The elite-tier of MMA fighters may not be making Floyd Mayweather Jr. money, which in itself is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that the UFC’s top draws don’t make serious bank. While the contracts for lower level fighters remain to be a sore point for fighters and fans – a seriously embarrassing sore point – there’s no denying that if the top guys in the company (Lorenzo Fertitta, Dana White, Joe Silva etc.) recognize that a fighter puts butts in seats, they reward them with lucrative deals.
Fighters like Anderson Silva, GSP, Chuck Liddell, and even Tito Ortiz helped build the sport. Their long tenures in the UFC meant that throughout their career they pocketed millions of dollars - and that’s only off of their contracts. Some fighters get pay-per-view points, where they take a percentage of the total revenue of pay-per-views that they appear on. Then there’s the matter of the mysterious ‘backroom bonuses’ that many insiders claim to know of. Word is that that the UFC will throw extra money at the fighters they want to reward and keep all of it strictly off the books. While we can’t confirm that, what we do know is what contracts these fighters are operating under. Knowing that, we can make a guess as to what they made over the course of their career. These figures don’t take into account anything other than contracted pay, so we may never know who really made the most money during their UFC career, but this list is the closest that outsiders will ever get.
Career earnings values via mma-manifesto.com.
10 #10 Jon Jones - Career Earnings: $3,100,000
The most polarizing figure in MMA has raked in $3.1 million in contracted pay since making his UFC debut back in 2008. He became the youngest UFC champion in history when he defeated ‘Shogun’ Rua for the belt back in 2011, and he’s been completely unstoppable since. He’s defended the UFC light heavyweight championship a record 7 times, and looked completely unfazed in 6 of those fights. Some people love him, some people hate him, but there’s no denying that Jon Jones is quickly approaching the upper echelon of all-time great fighters. With 2 or 3 more title defenses, there’s no doubt that Jones will have inserted himself into the conversation for greatest of all time.
9 #9 Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera - Career Earnings: $3,140,000
8 #8 Lyoto Machida - Career Earnings: $3,225,000
Everyone’s favorite Brazilian karate master has pulled in $3.225 million over the course of his UFC tenure. Machida made his UFC debut back in 2007 and quickly amassed a following thanks to his unique, elusive karate-based style and undefeated record. He would go on to become UFC light heavyweight champion before experiencing his first taste of defeat at the hands of fellow Brazilian Mauricio Rua. Regardless, since he first exploded onto the scene Lyoto Machida has been a fan favorite across all of the UFC’s markets, and he’s more than earned that money.
7 #7 Quinton Jackson - Career Earnings: $3,240,000
Although he may be a Bellator employee now, there was a time when Quinton Jackson ruled the UFC’s light heavyweight division as its champion. His wild antics and no-nonsense brawler mentality made him a fan favourite, but he soon found himself clashing with UFC management. He left the company in early 2013 to join rivals Bellator MMA, where he is now one of their biggest draws. He benefited from already being an established name under contract at PRIDE when the UFC bought them out. Over the course of his UFC career Jackson pocketed $3,240,000 from his fights.
6 #6 Rashad Evans - Career Earnings: $3,778,000
The winner of the Ultimate Fighter season 2 has been fighting in the UFC since winning the aforementioned reality TV show back in 2005. ‘Sugar’ Rashad initially faced blowback from fans that weren’t a fan of his grinding style that usually ended in a decision victory. Evans proved everyone wrong when he brutally knocked out Chuck Liddell on his way to becoming the UFC’s light heavyweight champion, but would later lose the strap when he defended it against Lyoto Machida. Since then he’s become a mainstay in the UFC and has been involved with some of its biggest fights, such as his bouts against former protégée Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson. Hate him or love him, Rashad is a legitimate draw who has earned all of his $3,778,000.
5 #5 Tito Ortiz - Career Earnings: $4,135,000
Another current Bellator MMA employee, Tito Ortiz was, at one time, the face of the UFC. ‘The Huntington Beach Bad-Boy’ made a name for himself thanks to his brash personality and ability to back up his trash talk in the cage. From 2000 to 2003, the UFC’s light heavyweight division was Ortiz’s playground, and fans tuned in to see him go to work. He hit a bit of a wall when he encountered Randy Couture – who took his championship – and an up-and-coming Chuck Liddell. Ortiz’s turbulent relationship with former manager and current UFC president Dana White meant that his relationship with the company seemed to always be on thin ice. Regardless, Ortiz still pocketed $4,135,000 over the course of his UFC tenure – not bad for a guy whose boss hates his guts.
4 #4 Anderson Silva - Career Earnings: $4,297,000
3 #3 Chuck Liddell - Career Earnings: $4,380,000
2 #2 Georges St-Pierre - Career Earnings: $4,452,000
With all respect to Matt Hughes, GSP was the most dominant welterweight in the history of the sport. During his title reign, GSP was a veritable superstar in Canada, and was the key to opening up the Canadian MMA market for the UFC. He headlined 13 UFC pay-per-view events and became one of the company’s most marketable stars. Naturally, he was paid boatloads of cash to keep doing his thing. Over the course of his career GSP earned $4,452,000 in contracted fighter pay – and that doesn’t include bonuses or pay-per-view points, something that GSP allegedly received much of. He vacated his title in late 2013, but left the door open for a possible return someday.
1 #1 Michael Bisping - Career Earnings: $4,535,000
Curiously, it isn’t always about how much you get paid, but also about how often you fight. Michael Bisping took the best of both worlds for that, and because of it he’s made more money – at least based off of disclosed contractual pay – than anybody else in the UFC. The Ultimate Fighter season 3 winner has fought 21 times in the octagon, which isn’t all that far off of Tito Ortiz’s record of 27. When he first emerged, the UFC believed Bisping was the key to opening up the MMA market in the UK, something Bisping himself was well aware of. Consequently he was able to negotiate himself into a very nice contract. The fact that he’s consistently been a draw has helped him keep that leverage in contract negotiations, and Bisping has quietly amassed a small fortune without ever having been in a championship fight in the UFC. Fans of the ‘The Count’ can look forward to him stepping into the octagon against his latest nemesis Luke Rockhold later this year.