2012 was a huge year for the advancement of mixed martial arts and particularly the UFC into the national spotlight as a major sport. While it’s still likely a couple years away from being up there with the NFL, MLB and NBA, the UFC has grown in ways that could have never been imagined during its early days.
While the fighters on UFC 1 seemed to be fighting for a ham sandwich, the big name fighters in the UFC today are now earning six or even seven figure paychecks for a single fight.
What’s amazing is that these fighters all earn more than what their reported pay is. Whether it’s undisclosed bonuses, sponsorships, merchandising or countless other forms of revenue building, the top fighters in the UFC are in serious baller status and will only earn more going forward.
So who are the company’s biggest (reported) earners? I’m glad you asked! Here are the top-10 highest paid UFC fighters according to the company’s official, reported payout.
UFC on FOX 4 vs. Brandon Vera: $170,000 to show + $70,000 win bonus
UFC on FOX 5 vs. Alexander Gustafsson: $175,000 to show
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua remained one of the UFC’s highest paid fighters in 2012 with his $170k and $175k base pays. Rua also earned himself a $70k win bonus when he defeated Brandon Vera in one of the more surprisingly entertaining and competitive bouts of 2012.
UFC 154 vs. Carlos Condit: $200,000 to show + $200,000 win bonus + $70,000 Fight of the Night bonus
He spent the majority of the year on the sidelines with an ACL injury but like the NFL’s Adrian Peterson, Georges St-Pierre may have been better after the surgery than he ever was prior to it.
St-Pierre made an impressive comeback when he battled interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 154.
Although he did not dominate the fight in the same way that he had some others prior, GSP showed the kind of accuracy in striking and takedowns that earned him “Fight of the Night” and make him one of the highest paid mixed martial artists in the world.
UFC 153 vs. Dave Herman: $250,000 to show + $150,000 win bonus + 70,000 Submission of the Night bonus
One of the most legendary fighters in the history of MMA, Antonio “Big Nog” Rodrigo Nogueira continued to prove why even at 36 years old, he remains one of the best in the sport when he submitted Dave Herman at UFC 153.
Herman spent the entire buildup to the event downplaying the effectiveness of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in MMA, but Nogueira shut him up when he secured an armbar that forced the American to tap out to a jiu-jitsu technique late in the second round of their bout.
The victory earned Nogueira a nice win bonus and a $70k “submission of the night” bonus as well, making him one of the top-10 highest paid fighters in 2012 despite only fighting once all year.
UFC 148 vs. Chael Sonnen: $200,000 to show + $75,000 Knockout of the Night Bonus
UFC 153 vs. Stephan Bonnar: $200,000 to show
Many believe that he’s the greatest fighter of all time, and Anderson Silva continued to prove his dominance in 2012 with two knockout victories.
Silva got things started at UFC 148 when he won what might be the most important fight of his career against Chael Sonnen. The grudge match earned national media attention, as Sonnen spent many months berating him after their previous fight (which Silva also won).
At UFC 153, the champion moved up to 205 pounds to save an event that was in serious jeopardy of being cancelled when he fought former The Ultimate Fighter runner-up Stephan Bonnar.
Although the fight didn’t make sense from a rankings standpoint, it was an entertaining contest and Silva finished him with a beautiful string of strikes both to the body and head.
Given his celebrity in the sport, it’s surprising that Silva was not higher on this list, though we do have to remember that his reported salary is likely only a fraction of what he actually makes throughout the year.
UFC 142 vs. Anthony Johnson: $275,000 to show + $4,000 from Anthony Johnson’s purse
UFC 152 vs. Jon Jones: $275,000 to show
Checking in at No. 6 on the list is a bit of a surprise.
Vitor Belfort fell victim to a devastating knockout from Anderson Silva in 2011 but was actually able to out-earn “The Spider” in terms of reported salary for his two fights in 2012.
Belfort defeated Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at UFC 142 despite Johnson missing weight by a significant amount. With that victory, he also took a small portion of Johnson’s fight purse, bumping his $275k per fight deal up to $279k that night.
He moved up to 205 pounds to challenge UFC champion Jon Jones at UFC 152. The Brazilian was a major underdog going into the bout but nearly pulled off an unbelievable armbar finish in the first round of the contest.
He would later get submitted by Jones in the fourth round, but still made a nice $275k paycheck.
UFC 149 vs. Tim Boetsch: $300,000 to show
UFC on FX 6 vs. Rousimar Palhares: $300,000 to show
The most surprising name on the list of top-paid fighters for 2012 has to be former Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard.
Lombard earned a massive $300k payday for each of his first two fights as a member of the UFC roster despite an incredibly disappointing performance in his first fight for the promotion against Tim Boetsch at UFC 149.
He did bounce back recently, however, when he defeated Rousimar Palhares by first-round knockout at UFC on FX 6. The victory reminded fans that Lombard is a serious contender for Anderson Silva’s crown and he should be one of the fighters to watch in 2013.
UFC 146 vs. Frank Mir: $200,000
UFC 155 vs. Cain Velasquez: $400,000
It’s good to be a champion.
Junior dos Santos fought twice in 2012, earning a cool $600k in reported salary for his dominating victory over Frank Mir at UFC 146 and subsequent loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 155.
Dos Santos’ pay doubled from his first title defense to his second and it will be interesting to see what his reported number is for his first fight in 2013 now that he is no longer holding the UFC heavyweight title.
UFC on FOX 2 vs. Chael Sonnen: $275,000
UFC 152 vs. Brian Stann: $275,000 to show + $150,000 win bonus
The biggest European star in the history of the UFC has to be Michael Bisping and, rightfully, he is paid like it.
“The Count” earned $700k in reported fight purses in 2012, including a nice $150k win bonus for his victory over Brian Stann at UFC 152.
Bisping will battle Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 7 on Jan. 19 in a bout which could earn him a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
UFC 145 vs. Jon Jones: $300,000 to show
UFC on FOX 2 vs. Phil Davis: $225,000 to show + $185,000 win bonus
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans had a chance to earn back his title when he battled Jon Jones at UFC 145. Although he fell short of that goal, the $300k he earned had to ease the sting a little bit.
Evans would then go on to earn a $410k total payday for his defeat of up-and-coming light heavyweight wrestler Phil Davis at UFC on FOX 2. The win solidified Evans as a top contender at 205 pounds.
He may not be the top light heavyweight in the world at the moment, but it’s hard to deny that Rashad Evans is one of the most talented fighters on the UFC roster.
Not only that, but his talents go far beyond the cage as he has now become a regular analyst on UFC television as he breaks down a fighter’s perspective on important bouts.
UFC 145 vs. Rashad Evans: $400,000 to show
UFC 152 vs. Vitor Belfort: $400,000 to show + $65,000 (submission of the night)
The best-paid fighter of 2012 was unquestionably 25-year-old UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones.
Jones ran away with the title of best-paid due to the injury that held welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre on the sidelines for most of the year. He out-earned the next-closest fighter by a reported $165k in his two fights.
Jones remains dominant at 205 pounds with his only loss coming via disqualification in a bout he was controlling. With the division practically cleared out, many believe that his biggest challenge actually sits in an eventual showdown with Anderson Silva or perhaps a move up to the heavyweight division.
Either way, Jones will continue to pull in huge lumps of cash so long as he is delivering the highlight-reel finishes he has become known for in the Octagon.