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Can You Afford the Fight Life? SciFighting Looks at the Expenses Fighters Face

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Success in the sport of MMA is heavily dependent on one’s ability to work hard, focus and perform under pressure. One of the biggest factors that is often overlooked, however, is the capacity to finance the journey.

SciFighting.com takes a realistic look at the high cost of fighting professionally at all levels. Every fighter’s situation is different, but this is typical run down of expenses.

Gym Fees

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The cost of gym membership may be $30 or so for a 24 Hour Fitness, but most MMA training facilities are going to be significantly more. General membership at a UFC gym is about $50 and is nearly $100 for ultimate members, which permits members to attend group classes.

Other chain gyms such as Gracie Barra can be between $100-$200 monthly and this only includes Jiu Jitsu training. The general range for membership at a non-chain MMA school ranges between $50-$100 monthly. None of these fees include personal training, which can easily be $60-$120 an hour for a quality trainer, and there is no professional fighter who is going to get away with training only one or two hours a week. One option for membership is that some facilities will allow the fighter to train in exchange for them teaching classes, but this is not always the case.

Depending on the fighter’s training regimen, costs for training facilities and personnel could easily exceed $800 for a beginning fighter and $2000 a month at the higher levels. A beginner, training at the start of their professional career, is still very likely to break a grand unless they have friends in all the right places.

Equipment

Clothes get stinky, wraps get stinky, gloves get stinky, shin pads get stinky and eventually things fall apart . . . but before that they will probably get stinky.

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Fighters training for multiple hours a day are going to put heavy wear and tear on all of their training gear and for sanitation, if not safety reasons, it is going to need to be replaced frequently. A good pair of MMA gloves is going to run about $75 minimum, another $100 for sparring gloves, $80 for shin guards, $75 for head gear, anywhere from $20-$100 for a mouth guard, not to mention clothing, knee or ankle braces, wraps, and the various types of hitting and kicking pads needed to beat the heck out of.

Medicals 

Every sanctioning board has different requirements for medical clearance. Some states require little more than an annual physical, eye exam, EKG and bloodwork every six months. Others require an MRI, chest radiographs, bloodwork every 30 days and a urinalysis.

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For basic bloodwork alone including tests for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, without the help of insurance, the cost is approximately $140 and routine physical exams can be around $130. Many insurance providers will not cover these medical services, as they are considered elective. Many physicians do not recommend annual exams for patients under the age of 30 unless they have an ongoing medical issue. Most MRIs are going to cost an excess of $1200 according to Newchoicehealth.com.

In the majority of cases, a fight promotion will not cover these expenses. The UFC does offer insurance for it’s fighters on contract, but coverage for fighters in other promotions will be dependent on coverage from their “day job” or “Obama care” (if in the U.S.) for their health insurance to pick up some of the tab. Former UFC fighter Jacob Volkmann stated that the insurance plan offered by the UFC has a $1500 deductible per injury.

Travel Expenses

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Travel expenses vary by promotion but most are willing to cover costs for transportation and hotel accommodations for the fighter and one coach. How many professional fighters travel with only one coach? Only the really, really poor ones. Having a coach pay their own expenses is just bad etiquette, so this is probably going to put the fighter out another one or two tickets and rooms.

Visas may also be necessary for travel abroad and these fees can be $500 a person as is the case in Brazil, a frequented spot for fights outside of the U.S.

Car rentals are not always covered and if the competition venue and training facilities are not near the hotel fighters are going to have a hard time getting around without a vehicle. This could cost between $50-$80 a day.

Sponsors

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Sponsorship is all over the board with how much that income could mean to a fighter. The level of fighter is going to make a big difference. A brand new fighter may be lucky to land $500 from the local tattoo shop, while top fighters in the UFC could be looking at numbers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars with big sponsors like Burger King or Nike.

One kink in the plan for some fighters who have made the big show (UFC) is that they may find that the UFC sponsorship tax to be a deterrent to potential sponsors. There is no exact number, but the most common figure is $50,000 per year to the UFC in order to sponsor a fighter. This takes a significant portion of a sponsor’s budget out of the fighter’s pocket.

Taxes

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Income from fighting is indeed taxable, not only in the fighter’s home country, but abroad as well. The foreign country could take over 20 percent of the purse before the fighter even sees the check.

In some cases, such as that of boxer Manny Pacquiao, taxes can become a big issue if not addressed. At the end of 2013 Pacquiao was facing over $18 million owed to the IRS for fights that the Filipino national participated in on U.S. soil between 2006 and 2010.

Fight Winnings

A common scenario for first time fighters on small to medium size promotions may looks something like this:

  • The purse= $500
  • The professional MMA license fee= $140 (automatically deducted from check)
  • Manager Cut of 20%= $100
  • Remainder for fighter= $260

A fighter making their UFC debut is likely to have a starting purse between $5,000 – $10,000 with additional incentives to win. Individual contracts vary to include additions such as pay per view and gate percentages as well as bonuses.

These are two examples of realistic situations, but there are countless promotions in between.

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Georges St. Pierre has been noted as the UFC’s most well paid fighter. A fight night for the champ who is now on an indefinite hiatus from the sport may include something along the lines of a $200,000 guarantee, $200,000 win bonus, $100,000 potential ‘Fight Night’ bonuses, plus literally millions in pay per view buys. Along with these fight night payouts GSP also has multi-year sponsorship deals with Under Armour, Hayabusa and NOS energy drink. He has released a book and will be making his movie debut later this year, and those figures are just the disclosed ones reported by the UFC, not to mention ‘locker room’ bonuses whose totals are up to the discretion of the UFC.

In comparison, boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. received a guaranteed purse of $41.5 million for his fight against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez last year.

If you are an up and coming fighter or a seasoned professional looking to take it to the next level, don’t let the numbers stop your climb to the top, just be aware the financial challenges that may arise.  Keep in mind that these expense estimations are based on a general majority of competitors along with public records of high profile fight purses. The main card title shot may not come overnight, but with hard work, determination and a good financial mind it can obtained.

 

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