The existence of UFC locker-room bonuses is probably the worst-kept secret in MMA. Everyone knows that fighters are generally compensated over and above their contracted purse rate, especially if they have put in a particularly remarkable performance.
However while the existence of these bonus payments is well known, their value is not. Fighters generally do not reveal how much they are worth, although Randy Couture did give some numbers out back in 2007 when he was in dispute with Zuffa.
“There are different factors into why guys will get a discretionary bonus. There’s never these deals made where it’s like, ‘OK, this what we’re going to pay you on the contract, but then we’ll cut you a discretionary bonus of this,’” UFC president Dana White explained to a group of reporters following this week’s UFC 130 pre-fight press conference (transcribed by MMA Junkie).
“First of all, sometimes an event becomes bigger than we anticipated it to be. Sometimes there’s more money involved than we budgeted or thought could happen. What do we do? We share with them. We’re not going to go, ‘Hey, listen. That’s your deal, buddy. You signed that deal. I don’t care how big this event was,’ even though that’s our right to do so.
“When you go in and you sign up fighters, and you do these things, and you go out and put on the promotion, 100 percent of the risk is on us, 100 percent of the risk. We go out and do all the marketing, do all the stuff. But if the thing becomes big, and it takes off, why would we not share with them and give them a piece of it?
“The other reason a guy might get a bonus is because me and Lorenzo are sick, insane fight fans, and we might be sitting there in our chairs, and when we jump up out of our seat and start screaming, ‘Holy s–t!’ we’re writing that dude a check, no matter what. There have been many cases where the show didn’t do what we thought they were going to do, but we felt that he deserved that extra money.
“It happens a lot. It happens every event we do. Not to mention on top of that, we set a bonus number that night for the best fight, the best knockout and the best submission. And you can be a guy that gets that and ends up getting another one, too, just because everything went great, and we thought you deserve it.”
White said that people are desperate to know how much the discretionary bonuses are worth and that “it drives them crazy. It kills them. It’s all they want to know. It’s crazy how bad they want to know it” but claims the fighters don’t reveal amounts “because they don’t want you to know, and they don’t want anyone else to know, either.”
“We’ve become accustomed to it with professional athletes because in all of the other big sports, it’s out there. You think they want it out there? It drives them – nuts. But that’s the way these guys like it, and I don’t blame them one bit. But man, it kills the media. They want to know [about] that money so bad,” he added.
Fighter reticence on the subject is notable, but Couture let the cat – or at least, a cat – out of the bag several years ago when he was trying to get out of his contracts with Zuffa so he could go and fight Fedor Emelianenko.
In a press conference he called at the time, Couture revealed that he had been paid a discretionary bonus of $500,000 for beating Tim Sylvia at UFC –. He also claimed Matt Hughes had earned a seven-figure bonus for re-upping with Zuffa at the end of a contract.
Couture’s third revelation concerned points on pay per view sales. A few fighters in the UFC – Couture, Lesnar and Rampage Jackson among them – get paid a bonus based on pay per view sales. According to Couture, the scale is an escalator system and goes:
100,000 – 175,000 buys – $1 per buy
175,000 – 300,000 buys – $1.50 per buys
300,000 – 330,000 buys – $2 per buy
330,000 – plus buys – $3 per buy
Of course, that was several years ago and the UFC is now even bigger than it was at the time. The scale could have increased in value, or thresholds could have been lowered. Either way, its still an interesting insight into the kind of money that popular ‘household name’ fighters can earn in the UFC.