In every sport there are athletes, there are stars, and then there are superstars. The salaries of each respective group often spotlight a range of numbers that is wide and surprising in nature. In no other sport, however, is the gap between athlete and superstar quite as vast, or as unmeasurable, as that of Mixed Martial Arts. In MMA, on any particular night, one set of fighters can be making a thousand dollars and another set making millions.

Fighting is really all about the money

In any given fighting organization, such as the UFC or Bellator, there are fighters that are at the top of their game. These elite few superstars need no introduction and seem to know not only how to fight, but how to promote the fight.

There are also those athletes that fight with everything they have and still seem to struggle to be recognized and live paycheck to paycheck, barely making rent, let alone paying for fight camps. What is the difference between the two, assuming both groups contain athletes that are solid fighters? The answer is marketability. Fighting has less and less to do with who can really fight and more to do with who can promote the fight, and the salaries of the fighters are reflecting just that fact.

There are exceptions to that rule, however, there are fighters like Connor McGregor and Rhonda Rousey who have an incredible level of skill fighting wise. Both of the aforementioned fighters, along with boxing’s Floyd Mayweather, have tremendous amounts of skill, dedication, discipline, hard work, and also the talent that makes them a valuable commodity in their given sports of MMA and boxing.

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However, what makes McGregor, Rousey, and Mayweather even more valuable is their marketability. They are characters that are larger than life and they engage both the die-hard and the casual fans, and also draw in the casual observer. These are the fighters that transcend the sport and have a reach above and beyond the usual target market that subscribes to their given discipline. The ability to bring these additional viewers to fighting, along with the money that comes with the new viewers, is having an increasingly important effect on Fighter’s salaries. A fighter now must not only know how to fight but how to promote their fight. If a fighter is not good on the microphone, not good with social media, and not appealing to the fans, his value as a commodity to his given entity is limited and his or her salary will reflect that.

The face of fighting is changing and fighters are going to have to change with it

Fighting is changing every day. Mixed martial arts especially is in a state of constant evolution and the fights that fans see now are a long way from the ones they saw in UFC 1.

Fighters themselves are evolving physically and mentally, they are tougher, stronger, and more skilled than ever before. In addition, more is known about nutrition and physical well-being and the fight camps that the fighters participate in are better, more advanced, and of course more expensive. Fighters now are rallying for better paydays, not just to pad their pockets or make up for the punishment their bodies take, but to pay for the camps that are necessary to take them to next level of their game. It’s a self-perpetuating circle; more money is needed for better camps to make the fighter better so they can make more money.

Fighting is undergoing a revolution. Both the UFC and Bellator, and throughout the way of MMA, vast differences in fighter’s salaries is causing a change in the sport. Fighters are no longer able to only be good at their craft, they must also be master promoters, able to engage and enthrall the crowd. The ability to pull in the casual spectator, as well as the die-hard fan, has become as important as the ability to fight. The show, the marketing, the promotion of the event and the stirring of drama beforehand has become as important of a weapon as a sharp jab and powerful straight.