Name a single major sport organization that puts women at the forefront of their marketing and promotion. Tennis and golf do a decent job at promoting their women’s divisions – except the WPGA Tour and the WTA are separate organizations from their male counterparts. The WNBA is unfortunately widely panned. Women’s baseball and football might as well be non-existent for the coverage they get, and the same goes for hockey and soccer (outside of the Olympics or large international tournaments). Female athletes just don’t have the same opportunities or exposure to create real, long-lasting professional careers out of their respective sports.
As depressing as that all may be, there is an unlikely champion of women’s professional sports that’s emerged over the past 2 years; mixed martial arts has decided to carry this particular torch. A sport that a mere 20 years ago had crowds almost exclusively populated by guys swimming in an ocean of testosterone, all screaming out for blood, is now a pioneer in gender equality in sports. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
In 2011, Dana White - UFC President - infamously said that women would ‘never’ step foot inside a UFC octagon, despite the fact that then-rival organization Strikeforce had introduced a WMMA division to a positive reception. Nearly one year later he voluntarily ate his own words and kickstarted the women’s bantamweight division in the UFC, awarding the inaugural UFC women’s bantamweight championship to Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey. What changed his mind? Well, in business, money talks, and assumedly White realized that this had the potential to be a big cash cow. This time, he was right. MMA is now virtually the only sport to promote their women’s division alongside the men. Rousey has become a big draw for the UFC, right up there with the drawing power of Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez.
Although at times the women’s bantamweight division in the UFC can feel a lot like the Ronda Rousey show, the decision to introduce a strawweight division (106-115lbs) shows that the organization is determined to move beyond Rousey into establishing women’s MMA as an integral part of their operations. Until then, the women’s bantamweight division and the 20 fighters who form it are the only women in the UFC. Today we'll take a look at the contracts for the 7 highest earning female fighters in the UFC. All payout figures are per fight, and include both the standard pay and the win bonus – which, as a general rule, is the same as the standard pay. These figures don’t take into account any sponsorship deals or backroom bonuses awarded to fighters that may be left off the publicly disclosed information.
7 Germaine de Randamie - $18,000 Per Fight ($9,000 to show, $9,000 to win)
The ‘Iron Lady’ is originally a Dutch kickboxer who made the transition into MMA. She made her MMA debut in 2008, in a loss to Vanessa Porto. She fought for Strikeforce 3 times before entering the UFC upon their purchase of the now-defunct organization. In her last fight against Amanda Nunes at UFC: Fight for the Troops 3, she came up short and went down in the 1st round by TKO from elbow strikes. She currently has a professional record of 4-3, and her next opponent has yet to be determined.
6 Julie Kedzie - $18,000 Per Fight ($9,000 to show, $9,000 to win)
The 33-year-old American may not be stepping inside an octagon anytime soon, but since her last fight made her among the highest earners in women’s MMA she gets the nod on the list. Kedzie made her MMA debut in 2004, long before women’s MMA was even conceptualized in the mainstream. She went on to become a competitor in EliteXC and Strikeforce, facing high quality opponents such as Miesha Tate and Gina Carano before her contract was picked up by the UFC. She has a professional record of 16-13 and is currently riding a 4-fight losing streak, with the latest loss coming in December 2013 at UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Bigfoot. After her last loss she took to twitter to announce her retirement from MMA, a decision she has thus far stuck to. Still, combat sport athletes are notorious for retiring and then coming back again, and at 33 she’s still relatively young. Only time will tell if we’ve seen the last of her in the octagon.
5 Liz Carmouche - $24,000 Per Fight ($12,000 to show, $12,000 to win)
Carmouche was one-half of history when she stood opposite Ronda Rousey in the octagon for the very first women’s MMA match in UFC history at UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche. She came up short in that championship fight, but made a name for herself as a serious contender in the nascent women’s bantamweight division. She made her MMA debut in 2010, and fought for both Strikeforce and Invicta before entering the UFC. She has a professional record of 9-4, and last fought at UFC: Fight for the Troops 3. That night she lost to Alexis Davis, so she’ll no doubt be doubling up on her training to try and throw her name in the hat of contenders for one more shot at Rousey’s crown when she faces Miesha Tate at UFC on Fox 11.
4 Alexis Davis - $30,000 Per Fight ($15,000 to show, $15,000 to win)
The Canadian jiu-jitsu black belt from Ontario has made the most of her UFC run. The 29-year-old’s first MMA bout was in 2007, and in between then and her current position in the UFC she fought for both Strikeforce and Invicta. Since joining the UFC in 2013, she’s gone 3-0 against top quality competition including Rosi Sexton, Liz Carmouche, and Jessica Eye – improving her professional record to 16-5 in the process. Recently it was announced that she’ll be the next woman to stare down Ronda Rousey across the octagon, and the two are currently expected to clash at UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida, in the co-main event of an already stacked July 4th weekend card. Davis will be looking to make history and get the upset victory against the heavily favored Ronda Rousey to become UFC women’s bantamweight champion.
3 Sara McMann - $32,000 Per Fight ($16,000 to show, $16,000 to win)
Former Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann is no stranger to the big stage. Whether it was wrestling at the Olympics or MMA in Las Vegas, she doesn’t shy away from the lights or the challenge of competition. She made her MMA debut in 2011, and then went on to acquire an undefeated record with 7 consecutive victories. She encountered defeat for the first time in her career at the main event of UFC 170: Rousey vs. McMann back in February, when Rousey brought her down with a liver shot in the 1st round. McMann is simply too good to let the loss get to her, though. She’ll be back and in fine form the next time she steps in the octagon.
2 Miesha Tate - $56,000 Per Fight ($28,000 to show, $28,000 to win)
When Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey met in the co-main event of UFC 168: Weidman vs. Silva 2, it was after months of promotion and marketing, probably more than any other WMMA fight before it. Tate was the woman Rousey had defeated at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey to become Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion, which later became the UFC women’s bantamweight championship. Tate and Rousey are not friendly with each other, and it showed when Tate replaced the injured Cat Zingano as head coach on The Ultimate Fighter, starring opposite Rousey. The two fighters shot venom back and forth at each other all season, which culminated in a championship fight rematch. Tate lost once again, but became the only woman to push Rousey into the 2nd round in her entire career. With that loss, her professional record dropped to 13-5. She’ll be facing fellow former contender Liz Carmouche at UFC on Fox 11.
1 Ronda Rousey - $110,000 Per Fight ($55,000 to show, $55,000 to win)
Finally, we come to the Queen of the bantamweight division herself. ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey is an undefeated mixed martial artist with a perfect professional record of 9 wins with no losses. After winning the bronze medal in Judo at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, Rousey set her sights on MMA. She made her debut in 2011 in dominant fashion, and hasn’t slowed down since. Prior to her fight against Miesha Tate, all of her victories were in the 1st round by armbar. In her fight against McMann she revealed that a devastating knee strike to the liver is also part of her arsenal. Dana White has gone on the record to say that the only reason he changed his mind about women’s MMA was because of Ronda Rousey. As of now, she is the de facto face of not only the UFC women’s bantamweight division, but all of women’s mixed martial arts. After helping make WMAA mainstream, it’ll be interesting to see just how long her reign as champion is going to be. Every woman who steps foot in an MMA ring will have Rousey in the back of her mind. Only time will tell if Ronda Rousey can live her life forever with a target on her back, but right now, she’s unstoppable.