Cash Rules Everything Around Me: UFC 145 Salary Report

For sports nerds, there are two subjects that always come up when evaluating an athlete: One, pertinent statistics and two, how much money does this guy make?  An athlete’s salary is fascinating for a number of reasons.  Is a player worth what he’s getting paid?  How much is his contract potentially hurting my team’s chances to succeed?  What kind of lifestyle does this person have?  A few digits on a piece of paper have a dramatic effect on our perception of a human being.

The physicality of mixed martial arts provides some resistance against this kind of scrutiny.  As long as someone isn’t making Mayweather money, even the biggest critics of athlete compensation would be hard pressed to call someone overpaid when their job description includes “getting the piss beaten out of them”.  Even at the highest levels, fighter income can seem absurdly low, assuring fans that the competitors they’re watching are truly doing it for the proverbial love of the game.  The problem is that MMA is frequently touted as the fastest growing sport in the world.  So what is proper compensation for a UFC fighter?

The second fastest growing sport.

 There are many things to consider beyond wins and losses.  I want to analyze the salaries for every future UFC card as the information is made available (some commissions choose not to disclose this information) in an attempt to better understand the sometimes bewildering accounting of combat sports.  Let’s take a look at a selection of payouts from UFC 145:

(source: MMAJunkie.com)

Total payroll: $1, 241, 000

The Breakdown

Starting at the top with the biggest earners…

Jon Jones – $400,000 (no win bonus)
Rashad Evans – $300,000

The standard fighter payout is broken down into show money and a win bonus.  You get paid just for stepping into the cage and winning the fight doubles your salary.  Once you get to the main event, the win bonus is usually a little different.  Jon Jones doesn’t have one (he’s guaranteed a larger show fee) and Rashad Evans’ is modified ($225,000 to show, $185,000 to win at UFC 114, May 29, 2010).

More importantly, Jones and Evans’ are both entitled to a cut of the pay-per-view profits.  To provide some reference, Alistair Overeem made $2 per PPV buy for his fight against Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar himself was rumoured to make at least $5 per buy.  That event did about 800,000 buys, meaning that made an extra 1.6 million and Lesnar an extra 4 million.

How did Jones and Evans do?  I don’t have exact numbers, but there are some safe assumptions we can make here.  Overeem is an established international star so it’s understandable that the UFC would have to open up the wallet to get him.  Jones is not a proven PPV draw, but I have to think he’d be similarly valued.  As a main eventer (UFC 128 v. Shogun Rua, UFC 135 v. Rampage Jackson, UFC 140 v. Lyoto Machida) he’s produced strong, but unspectacular returns (around 400,000 to 500,000).  That said, the UFC is heavily invested in him and I’d be amazed if he wasn’t also making at least $4 per buy, possibly more.

Evans is a proven PPV draw as he has been in the main event of three pay per views that topped 950,000 buys (UFC 92 v. Forrest Griffin, UFC 98 v. Lyoto Machida, UFC 114 v. Rampage Jackson).  However, even after winning the title back in ’08, it’s unlikely that he had the contract leverage that an established name like Lesnar would have.  Let’s say he’s due about $4 per buy.

According to MMAMania, UFC 145 did around 700,000 buys.  That’s over 2 million dollars in PPV bonuses for Messieurs Bones and Suga.  Evans and Jones undoubtedly benefited from the UFC’s recent sabbatical and their deeply personal feud.  Still, that’s a great number and the UFC should feel good about Jones as their leading man if he’s going to be bringing in those numbers on a regular basis.

One more thing to consider is that Dana White has stated on several occasions that there are always undisclosed discretionary bonuses paid out to the fighters.  He’s been known to reward exciting undercard fights, so I’m sure he takes care of his marquee talents as well.  Add in sponsorships, and a conservative estimate would be that both fighters cashed in around the $3,000,000 dollar mark.  That’s about ten times their reported salary.

On the flip side…

Chris Clements – $12,000 (includes $6,000 win bonus)
Keith Wisniewski – $10,000

It should be mentioned that there were a ton of Canadian fighters on this card as it was originally scheduled to take place in Montreal.  Clements hails from Chatham, Ontario.

Even taking into account the aforementioned discretionary bonuses and sponsors and the fact that the UFC handles most of the accommodations and medical considerations, $12,000 is not a large chunk of change.  Let’s not forget that the fighter has to pay their manager, training staff and that a lot of these men have families to take care of.  Swingin’ bachelors like myself might think ten grand for a night’s work sounds pretty good, but it’s really not much in the grand scheme of things.  Clements would have only made $6,000 if he hadn’t won.  Now that’s fighting out of passion.

$6,000 for 15 minutes of work?  I’m RICH, BITCH!

 How about those Ultimate Fighter winners…

Mac Danzig – $54,000 (includes $27,000 win bonus)
Efrain Escudero – $10,000

Danzig was the TUF 6 Welterweight Division winner.  Escudero was the TUF 8 Lightweight Division winner.  The Ultimate Fighter prize works like this:

  • Three year contract
  • Three fights a year
  • Only the first year is guaranteed
  • Year one salary (show/win): 12K/12K
  • Year two salary: 16K/16K
  • Year three salary: 22K/22K

This was actually Escudero’s second fight since returning from a 2010 release.  Thus, his base salary is akin to that of a fighter making their UFC debut.  The Ultimate Fighter is not a guaranteed path to fame and riches.

Danzig, despite having a middling record (5-5 in the UFC after Saturday), has carved a nice niche for himself as a considerable challenge for any opponent.  UFC 145 marked Danzig’s tenth fight with the UFC, meaning he just passed the nine fight mark on his original contract.  While I’m sure he’s renegotiated before, it’s still an impressive milestone.  Congratulations, Little Mac.

Ben Rothwell – $104,000 (includes $52,000 win bonus)
Brendan Schaub – $14,000

Coming in with the third highest pay, “Big” Ben Rothwell!  This has to be surprising considering that your average MMA fan has no idea who Rothwell is.  Throw in the fact that he earned the Knockout of the Night ($65,000) and he made off with a couple hundred grand for about a minute of work.  How does someone with a 2-2 UFC record pull that off?

Heavyweights are always going to be the highest earners.  Just like NBA centers, quality size is hard to come by.  You might be able to find a legion of tall, chubby dudes out there, but it’s hard as hell to find one who can move without tripping over his own ankle fat much less compete in a high level martial arts contest.

I got nothing but love for the immortal Butterbean.

Rothwell actually entered the UFC with considerable hype, having competed in the ill-fated but respectable International Fight League.  He also fought Andrei Arlovski at the first Affliction event.  Both the IFL and Affliction had to hand out bloated contracts to convince talent to sign with them instead of the UFC, which is how Rothwell ended up getting $250,000 to face Arlovski (who got $750,000!).  He actually took a pay cut under Zuffa employment!

One last tidbit: Big Ben had a higher base salary than fellow heavyweight Travis Browne (undefeated in five UFC contests), Miguel Torres (former no. 1 ranked bantamweight) and Mark Hominick (one half of the main event of UFC 127) combined.  Speaking of Browne…

Travis Browne – $24,000 (includes $12,000 win bonus)
Chad Griggs – $27,000

Yep, Griggs made more money than his opponent by getting subbed in two and a half minutes.  (Browne won the Submission of the Night bonus, but that ruins the gag).  It might seem unfair, but Griggs was a holdover from Strikeforce (yet another organization forced to overpay its roster) and Zuffa has to honour that contract.  Hopefully, they won’t hold this drubbing against him at his next performance review.

The Legend Of Chad Griggs

 

You don’t know Chad Griggs.  You might know the mutton chops, but you don’t know the man.  Take a glance at the UFC 145 odds and you’ll see this:

Travis Browne (-250) v. Chad Griggs (+195)

Travis Browne is a massive heavyweight, standing at 6’7”.  He recently changed camps and he now trains with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Before coming to the UFC, he’d knocked out five opponents inside of a minute.  He ended one match in nine seconds.  The next one only lasted eight.  He’s undefeated, with three wins in the UFC including knockouts of James McSweeney and Stefan Struve.  Dude is a beast.  But I’m not here to talk about Travis Browne.

I want to tell you about the 2-to-1 underdog: Chad Griggs.  He’s known as “The Grave Digger”, but based on how he was booked in his first three mainstream fights, you’d think it was “Stepping Stone”.

One look at Griggs will tell you two things right away: This man is not a true heavyweight by any stretch of the imagination and this man truly could not care less about his appearance.  He has a tiny head and it’s made all the more absurd by those glorious sideburns.  Look at them.  They’re fantastic.  Those aren’t sideburns, those are a sideinferno.  He weighs in around 235, but that’s probably after a hearty meal.  With a little effort, he could definitely make the light heavyweight cut and fight people closer to his size.  That has to be better than facing genetic freaks like Bobby Lashley.

When: August 21, 2010

Where: Strikeforce: Houston (Houston, Texas)

Odds: Bobby Lashley (-800) v. Chad Griggs (+500)

Lashley, famous for his time with the WWE, was a huge signing for Strikeforce.  With Brock Lesnar breaking box office records for the UFC, it looked like Strikeforce might have struck gold with the similarly pedigreed Lashley.  As long as he was half-decent, this guy could be a franchise player.  Lashley won his first fight for the organization against the well travelled Wes Sims and it looked like Strikeforce was doing the right thing by bringing him along slowly.  His next opponent was Griggs who he looked to outweigh by about thirty pounds.

They’re like doppelgangers.  I don’t know which one to shoot!

There are a lot of competitions where Bobby Lashley would easily beat Chad Griggs: Weight lifting.  100 meter dash.  Giving a crap.

You’ll notice that “mixed martial arts contest” is absent from that list.

At first, the fight went as expected.  Lashley manhandled Griggs, tossing him around like he was still working for Vince McMahon.  Getting pushed around so easily by a monster like Lashley would cause most fighters to retreat into survival mode.  Instead, Griggs was content to fire shots from the bottom, eventually aggravating a cut under Lashley’s eye that he’d opened up with an uppercut early in the fight.  There’s an unfortunate stereotype that these ex-pro wrestlers don’t like getting hit, but that might have been a major factor in Lashley’s loss.  He looked shell shocked and a combination of anxiety and frustration caused his already questionable gas tank to empty out fast.  Lashley used his raw strength to achieve full mount position, but he was completely drained and the referee was forced to stand the fighters up.  Let me repeat that: The fight was stood up from the full mount position.  This is the only time I’ve ever seen that happen.

Unable to get the fight to the ground, Lashley could only hold on for dear life as the round ended with Griggs pounding his face with hammer fists.  He stumbled back to the corner with blood in his eyes, looking like he’d botched a bladejob.  The ringside physician refused to let the former ECW Champion continue and just like that, Chad Griggs had pulled off a massive upset.

*****

When: February 12, 2011

Where: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva (East Rutherford, New Jersey)

Odds: Gianpiero Villante (-170) v. Chad Griggs (+140)

Villante was a fast rising prospect out of the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy on Long Island.  While his future was at light heavyweight, he was still expected to handle the unassuming Griggs.  Facing an equally undersized heavyweight was meant to help the young fighter transition to a smaller weight class.

It’s a cliché, but…somebody forgot to tell Chad Griggs.

Gian Villante thought his fake chops were pretty funny, but he was wrong…dead wrong.

I don’t know what Villante’s corner told him because if they had any sort of game plan it went out the window about a minute into the fight.  Villante came out with some solid, technical footwork and good hands.  Griggs came out like a hobo fighting for his dinner.  His manic attack resulted in him eating some hard shots, including a head kick that exploded his ear, but eventually he wore Villante down.  It doesn’t matter how well trained you are, nothing can prepare you for a mutton chopped nightmare throwing hands at you.  As Villante wilted, he had to have been worried that Griggs might kill him before the referee intervened.

*****

And who could forget that time he took out (Valentijn) Overeem!

 

Er…still counts.

*****

You’d be insane to bet on Griggs this Saturday.  He’s smaller, he’s faced weaker competition and the UFC is more invested in his opponent.  Browne is probably three fights away from a title shot and this bout is expected to be victory number one on that path.  My point is this: It’s the same story in every Griggs fight.  He’s too small.  He’s a brawler.  He’s expected to lose.  Going into his UFC debut, all these things are true.  But they were also true on that fateful day in Houston and he’s been overcoming the same odds ever since.