Since the additional bans on T-shirt sponsors, the issue of fighters' pay has increasingly been brought up. Fighter pay has been a hot button issue since the UFC acquired PRIDE FC in 2007 with many people claiming that fighter pay is not up to par.
Unfortunately no one has access to fighters' individual contracts. Luckily though there was a very public court battle with the one of the UFC's biggest stars over this very issue. Using the publicly available data and utilizing several assumptions, we can estimate fighter pay for main event fighters. It should be noted that these assumptions are very broad—they are difficult to do because of the ever changing pay scale and very individual. However, there are several key factors that are similar across many fighters.
Assumption No. 1: The longer you are in the promotion, the more you get paid
This assumption is easiest to demonstrate with Lyoto Machida since he has had so many fights in the UFC and is also not a winner of The Ultimate Fighter. All numbers are in thousands and are represented as pay to show/win bonus.
UFC 67 vs. Sam Hoger (w) - $18/$18
UFC 70 vs. David Heath (w) - $20/$20
UFC 76 vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura (w) - $25/$25
UFC 79 vs. Sokoudjou (w) - $30/$30
UFC 84 vs. Tito Ortiz (w) - $50/$50
UFC 94 vs. Thiago Silva (w) - $60/$60
UFC 98 vs. Rashad Evans (w) - $70/$70
Lyota Machida is undefeated in the UFC, what happens when we pick a fighter who has lost in the UFC?
Ultimate Fight Night vs. Ivan Salaverry (August 2005, W) - $10/$10
UFC 58 vs. Joe Doerksen (w) - $15/$15
UFC Fight Night vs. Dean Lister (Jan 2007, W) - $22/$22
UFC 73 vs. Anderson Silva (L) - $24/$24
UFC 81 vs. Jeremy Horn (w) - $26/$26
UFC 85 vs. Thales Leites (L) - --/--
UFC 88 vs. Martin Kampmann (w) - $28/$28
UFC 95 vs. Wilson Gouveia (w) - --/--
Again, even though Marquart has two losses, his salary still increased after both losses. These advances in pay can also be reflective of a changing UFC environment. Fighter pay is getting better, albiet slowly. Even if fighters lose.
Assumption No. 2: Contracts have a champion clause
It seems to be public knowledge that the UFC has a champions clause for fighters who win the belt. Generally, this would mean that a fighter's contract gets extended indefinitely as long as they hold the belt. I would argue that each fighter also has another clause that guarantees better pay.
UFC 88 vs. Chuck Liddell (w) - $60/$60
UFC 92 vs. Forest Griffin (w) - $65/$65
UFC 98 vs. Lyoto Machida (first fight as champion, L) - $200/$200
UFC 67 vs. Marvin Eastman (w) - $85/$85
UFC 71 vs. Chuck Liddell (w) - $112/$112
UFC 75 vs. Dan Henderson (first fight as champion, W) - --/--
UFC 86 vs. Forrest Griffin (L) $225/$225
UFC 73 vs. Heath Herring (w) - $100/$100
UFC 81 vs. Tim Sylvia (w) - $100/$100
UFC 92 vs. Frank Mir (first fight as champion, L) - $250/$250
Assumption No. 3: Champions get a cut of the pay-per-view revenue
This assumption is quite broad, and I'm sure there are many fighters who are not champions, who get cuts of the pay-per-view revenue (see Chuck Liddell). For simplicity sake, we will assume that all champions get a cut of the pay-per-view revenue on their very next fight since they obviously were not champions when they won the belt. If we make this assumption, it is no longer a question of if they get a cut of the PPV, but rather how much. Since this factor is not in the disclosed fighters purses, we can only use the precedent set forth by Randy Couture.
In the publicly available court documents, Randy Couture was payed $787,500 in PPV revenue for UFC 68. Since UFC 68 did approximately 485,000 buys, Couture's cut of the PPV is 4.0%. This will be the baseline for all UFC champions who defend their belt.
Forrest Griffin loses to Rashad Evans - $1.8 million
Quinton Jackson loses to Forrest Griffin - $0.972 million
Rashad Evans loses to Lyoto Machida - $1.143 million
Big Nog loses to Frank Mir - $1.8 million
Georges St. Pierre defeats Jon Fitch - $1.125 million
Georges St. Pierre defeats BJ Penn - $1.44 million
A quick word about fighter pay. The official purses that are disclosed by the UFC show serious discrepancies, and fans have every right to question the UFC's pay scale. Disclosed fighter purses and the court documents from Randy Couture's court case are the only available public data where we can guess how much a fighter in the UFC is paid. Winners are paid more, and champions are paid even more.
While Nate Marquardt's purses seem small, they do not reflect bonuses, sponsorships, endorsements, payments for being a sparring partner, other pay from the UFC, royalties for use of his image, etc.
Ultimately all you can do is make your own assumptions about fighter pay, but if the UFC's other payouts are similar in size to purses, it's safe to assume the UFC does not pay their fighters very well, unless you are a champion.