Well, for elite fighters it fundamentally comes down to the structure of the organizations within the two sports. In MMA and most other combat sports, everything is centralized. This means there is a league of fighters who can only fight the people in that league. For MMA, this structure has actually proven to be successful on many levels. However, Boxing is quite the opposite, it is essentially a free market. This means anyone can fight anyone providing they make the correct deal.
Both of these businesses have their advantages and disadvantages but this discrepancy is essentially the reason that boxers have the potential to make more than MMA fighters. Think of MMA organizations as independent businesses that are simply trying to put on a show, like the WWE. The only difference is that the fights are genuine.
Boxing predominantly works through agreements between promoters for two fighters to fight. This means the fighters from different promotional companies can fight each other. They need this functionality because the promotional companies aren’t fighting leagues, they have nothing to do with belts or championships. The championship belts are issued by various boxing organizations and anyone from any promotional company can fight for the title.
Boxing Business Structure
In boxing, there are various organizations that sanction championship bouts. But it’s important to not mistake them for promotional companies. They act as the trophy in boxing which is the ultimate goal, they also have quite a lot of power in the boxing game. For instance, they issue mandatory challengers for the champion and strip fighters of their titles. Listed below are the five organizations that sanction boxing championships:
- WBC (World Boxing Council)
- WBA (World Boxing Association)
- WBO (World Boxing Organisation)
- IBF (International Boxing Federations)
- IBO (International Boxing Organisation)
These are the companies that act as a league, however, they don’t have any fighters contractually signed to them. This means that all fighters are free to fight for whichever belt they want and they can hold all the world titles in a single weight division at once. This is known as the unification of the belts. All the companies also have their own rankings of fighters as they do champions.
The promotional companies are in charge of the logistics and technology behind these events. The promotional companies will organize everything from the PPV system to the arena where the event is hosted. However, since elite boxers are often signed to different promotional companies, this often leads to co-promotion. This means that two promoters will work together in order to put on an event. They are very similar to managers except they also deal with the technical side of things like PPV and live gates. Since the promotional companies handle so many of the elements behind a boxing event, the fighters have to pay their promoters a percentage of their purse.
How Boxers Can Make Money
Boxers usually make their money from several different sources. The first and largest portion of their income will come from PPV sales. This is of course if they are elite fighters with a large following who are able to have PPV events. Fighters who are less well-known will often be paid a flat fee for their fights. PPV or PayPerView is essentially what the name suggests. It’s a system where you have to pay in order to watch the fight live. It typically costs $20-100 to watch a live PPV event.
The second source of income for fighters will be the money from the live gate which is the people that are actually in attendance in the arena. These tickets typically cost more than the PPV and many stadiums hold 15-20 thousand people. Most tickets are around $100-200 but the better seats will cost a lot more. In fact, the most for the Mayweather vs Pacquaio fight cost an astonishing $141,000.
Lastly, many boxers have sponsors from which they make money. The fighters endorse a brand or product and are paid in return. This can be anything from social media posts to having the brand’s logo stitched into the fighter’s shorts.
MMA Business Structure
In MMA the business structure is very different compared to boxing. Boxing basically has promoters and organizations. In MMA, this is all compiled into one entity that simply operates like any other business. This simplicity and structure have some real advantages and disadvantages. Firstly, fights are easier to make as there are fewer moving pieces. This is because all the fighters are signed to a fighting league, like the UFC for example. This purely comes down to the fact that two different promotional companies aren’t forced to work with each other. Hence why its easier to make matches in Mixed Martial Arts.
However, in recent times MMA fighters have expressed their frustration with fighter pay. Since the promotion and league are unified, a larger percentage of revenue goes to the company. This is because they have control over their fighters and they have more inherent value. Many MMA organizations act as a pedestal for fighters to showcase their skills. To conclude, this business model is more well-structured and exciting. However, it often means that elite MMA fighters won’t make as much as elite boxers.
How MMA Fighters Can Make Money
Like Boxers, elite MMA fighters will make the majority of their income from PPV. The more valued you are to the company, the more you will get paid. This means that the fighters who are surrounded by the most hype and generate the most interest are paid the most. For instance, in 2021, Conor McGregor generated over 1.8 Million PPV buys from his trilogy with Dustin Poirier. This led to him reportedly being paid $23,011,000 from the UFC.
Some MMA companies will often use bonuses as an incentive for their fighters. This means if a fighter chokes or knocks out their opponent, they are paid more. This motivates many fighters to push harder and thus create more exciting fights.
MMA fighters often have sponsors they can make money from. This works by the fighters getting paid a fee for promoting products or services on their clothing or social media. Some companies will also offer affiliate programs for athletes that allow them to generate income from commissions.
Average Income For Boxers vs MMA Fighters
At an elite level boxers simply make more than MMA fighters. However, on average the income levels are much closer. Truthfully, the vast majority of fighters will never reach the spotlight where they can make millions of dollars. On average boxers and MMA fighters, both make around $35-40,000. These numbers vary but in all likelihood are very close. These are the fighters that fight on the undercards and at small events. They often get paid a flat fee to simply show up and fight.
To conclude, on average boxers don’t actually make more than MMA fighters despite the business structure of the two sports being so different. It’s only at the pinnacle of the sport where boxers have the advantage, they generally have more freedom in their careers and can therefore earn more money if they put themselves in the right position. For example, Floyd Mayweather Jr managed to make upwards of $100 Million Dollars on two occasions.