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Is Being A UFC Fighter Worth It

A fighter for the UFC getting ready to compete.

Table of Contents

Mixed martial arts is one of the toughest sports in the world. Which takes both a mental and physical toll on the body. Constant dieting followed by intense weeks and months of pre-fight training camps. So many people often wonder if being a UFC fighter actually worth it?

Whether it is worth becoming a UFC fighter is really down to the individual themselves. With just over one-third of the UFC roster making less than the average US annual salary at $45,000 per year. Only some will make it to the top, while many will often struggle to pay their everyday bills.

Shop Best Selling Fighter Apparel and MerchandiseIs Being A UFC Fighter Worth It

Some fighters, they train and fight because they simply love the sport. Knowing they are likely never to reach the heights of fame and fortune like say a Conor McGregor or Jon Jones.

They will still persist in their goal of fighting professionally. Many do in fact continue to hold down a full-time job, while at the same time training full-time for their fights.

Some great examples of this are former UFC flyweight Neil Seery. Who after competing in his fights, would be back working at his day job in a warehouse the following week. Managing to fit in his pre-fight training, while at the same time having a family to support.

Former UFC flyweight Neil Seery is back at work Monday morning after competing at the weekend.
Neil Seery back at work sweeping the warehouse floor

Another name that pops up regularly is one of the most famous fighters in the world, UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Who trains full-time to stay ready to retain his title. While at the same time working a regular job at his local firehouse.

With no real need for a fighter of his stature to keep working a 9 – 5. Getting paid a lot of money to fight, while also having some major sponsorship deals. UFC fighters like Stipe do it for the love of the job itself, which as he has said, helps keep him grounded in reality.

Learning More About Who You Are

Having spent many hours on the mats and some time in the ring. There can be little doubt that MMA and combat sports more generally, teach you a lot about yourself.

It’s not all about beating up or being beaten by someone. As for many, who train, it’s more about finding who you are and what your limits might be. In terms of your fitness, mental strength and ability to compete.

And while all of these things are extremely valuable. At the end of the day, with all the hard work for some people there needs to be a career. With a regular income and a proven path for growth.

But for a large number of fighters that is very often not the case. Many still continue to struggle, even after they make it to the UFC. So signing with the world’s number one MMA promotion is not the panacea.

UFC Pay For Fighters

Often a subject that pops up where MMA is concerned is fighters’ pay. And when it comes to the vast majority of athletes, most make barely enough to survive and pay their day-to-day bills.

While the average household in the US makes $45,000. A 2018 report found that just over one-third of fighters on the UFC roster make less than this. However, depending on the success and popularity of the fighter, all of this can quickly change.

The UFC is a for-profit company and so will do its best to maintain a solid roster of fighters. While at the same time making sure they don’t have to pay anyone more than necessary.

So while there is a sizeable amount, approximately 33% are making an annual six-figure salary. The vast majority of those have been with the promotion for a very long time. So unless you are good enough to make that breakthrough, your income will remain in that lower tier.

Training Injuries In MMA

Before a fighter ever steps into the cage to fight they will have to undergo a lengthy and grinding pre-fight training camp. With weeks and even months of preparing to face another human inside a cage. There’s a lot to prepare for and quite often the camp can result in more injuries than the fight itself.

Injuries can and do lead to withdrawing from the fight. And the UFC being the UFC won’t pay fighters for all that training, then not being able to compete come fight night.

So many fighters are often playing a balancing game. Somewhere between getting in the best camp possible without being injured. And being fully prepared for any eventuality that may occur inside the octagon.

With some horror stories of training injuries that were so bad, fighters were never quite the same again. With the UFC ending the contract and the athlete forever being consigned back to the feeder promotions.

Head Injuries In MMA

Another issue to consider while trying to decide if MMA fighting is for you. Is a well-documented incident of head trauma from which combat sports athletes can suffer.

And while when compared to boxing mixed martial arts has better statistics, that does not mean it isn’t dangerous. And in the long run, sometimes further down the line, we don’t know what shape our brain might be in?

Former K-1, Pride FC and UFC heavyweight fighter Big Daddy Gary Goodridge is a good example of this. Known for his brawling style, Goodridge was a fan favourite for his no-nonsense, take no prisoners fighting style.

But after he stepped away from the sport, his cognitive abilities began to decline. And sometime later be diagnosed with CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. A traumatic brain condition linked with repeated blows to the head.

Gary Goodridge discusses living with CTE after fighting.

Professional Fighters Discuss The Sport

When it comes to being a professional MMA fighter. Former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz has always been an outspoken critic of the sport.

From the compensation, the fighters receive, to how the fights are promoted, right down to the actual fighting itself. Diaz has never been shy in telling his employers exactly what he thinks.

And on more than one occasion has called out the UFC for underpaying him and others for services rendered. With it is one of the major driving factors for the fan favourites love-hate relationship, both with the UFC and the sport in general.

“I don’t recommend anybody be a fighter… “I do what I do because I’ve got to do it.”

Nick Diaz Post fight UFC 183 interview

Andreas Kraniotakes is a German-based professional MMA fighter. And while he has not yet managed to make it to the lofty heights of the UFC. He is still an experienced fighter with some compelling words about going full-time.

“If someone gets involved in MMA for the money, they’ve chosen the wrong competitive sport. You do it because you want to fight and because you love the sport.”

Andreas Kraniotakes Vice interview

So regardless of the promotion, being underappreciated is very often a trend we see throughout mixed martial arts. And we should also consider that in recent years some bigger-name stars are actually making more money since leaving the UFC.

Not something you would have heard pre-Reebok, but the times are a-changing. So while Dana White and his partners continue to be the largest MMA promotion in the world by far. Who knows what the landscape will look like in the years to come.

Succeeding As An UFC Fighter

So becoming a successful UFC fighter is not just down to being dedicated to the sport. Sure, dedication can and will get you a long way. But once you reach the upper echelons, fighters who don’t have the necessary skills and talent very often tend to stall.

As for every superstar, there are 1000 fighters who just could not go any further. Hitting the limits of their capabilities and never moving up to where they can make the big money.

It’s a tonne of work, dedication and pain for a large chunk of the UFC roster who make less than the average American. It’s a tough sell, but for those who believe they have what it takes to go all the way. Let’s face it, is almost every professional MMA fighter worth knowing?

Then honestly, they will never know unless they try. And why not live out your dream, even if you fall short? At least you tried to do something you loved with persistence and a little bit of luck. You may very well be the next superstar in the sport.

Final Thoughts

So when it comes to becoming a UFC fighter there are several questions you have to ask yourself. Like, am I willing to put my body and mind through the grind of dieting, training camps, injuries, the mental lows and highs?

Have I got what it takes to do well in the promotion? Or will I be just another one-and-done fighter forgotten by fans? Yet another who is cast down to the lower rung of the ladder?

And while you make it to the UFC, there is still the pressing issue of fighter’s pay. While we hear all too regularly about the lavish lifestyles of some of their biggest stars.

What we don’t hear so much about are the fighters who still struggle to pay their bills. From food and rent to the gym and coaching staff. While the Reebok sponsorship deal did suit some newer fighters in the sport, helping them to get a few extra thousand in their pocket.

For many, the overall pay in the sport and even in the world’s largest MMA promotion is nothing to write home about. So choose wisely before you make the leap, considering all options and likely outcomes. And in the end, I hope you find what you are looking for …