The salary gap between male and female athletes has generated much discussion and controversy across the sporting world in recent years. These days, the spotlight has turned more and more to what professional leagues are doing about it. The AllStar examines the issue from the mixed martial arts perspective. 

UFC President Dana White once famously declared that women would never fight in the Octagon. It’s a statement that he later readily backed away from as stars like Ronda Rousey emerged. More women began to headline pay-per-view events and gathered their own legions of fans.

Women in the UFC

Rousey was instrumental in overseeing the rise in women’s MMA. She featured in the first ever UFC women’s main event by defending her bantamweight title against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in February 2013. 

Rousey first garnered international attention when she became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo (bronze at the 2008 Summer Olympics). She moved soon after to a record-setting MMA career that included six successful title defences in the UFC. Such was her impact on the sport that Sports Illustrated described her in 2015 as “the world’s most dominant athlete.”

Earlier that year, just a couple months before SI published that article, Rousey commented favorably on how much she earned as a UFC fighter. That’s perhaps not surprising, considering she headlined every UFC event she was involved in. All of them were pay-per-view events, which can offer main event fighters like Rousey a percentage of all sold PPVs.

The best female UFC fighter

Rousey’s last two UFC fights ended in losses and she moved to professional wrestling with the WWE. Her last MMA loss came at the hands of Amanda Nunes, though the reported $3 million Rousey got for that fight would have softened the defeat somewhat.

Nunes has since built her own legacy as a legend in the UFC women’s competition. She is the first and only UFC fighter to defend two titles while actively holding them. Along with Rousey, Nunes is considered among the highest earners in the women’s competition.

How much do female MMA fighters make?

Nunes pocketed an estimated $1.6 million for defeating Megan Anderson in UFC 259, including PPV and sponsorship bonuses, according to MMASalaries.com. By comparison, Anderson took home $130,000. Israel Adesanya and Jan Blachowicz collectively earned about $3.3 million for their men’s main event, a win to Blachowicz.

Dana White has actively championed the pay scales for women in the UFC. Whatever the sport, if women are “bringing in the money,” then “they should get paid,” he said in 2019. It’s a similar message to Rousey’s four years earlier.

What does that look like today? At UFC 265, the two men in the main event earned a collective base salary of $650,000. The top women’s card garnered $120,000 between them. UFC 264 saw Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor earn a collective $6.5 million in base. The top two ladies pocketed less than $100,000.

Granted, Nunes didn’t feature in those events (she was scratched from 265 after testing positive for Covid). And the UFC pay scale rewards seniority. Lots of caveats attached to these anecdotes. It certainly is worth a discussion. Especially when it comes to how much female MMA fighters make.

Darren is the editorial director of The AllStar and a retired championship-winning point guard who dropped dimes and broke ankles in recreational leagues across the Asia Pacific. A former APAC markets and banking editor with Bloomberg News, Darren has written about the NBA and UFC. Personal sporting highlight: Being courtside under the backboard (and a little to the left) when Vince Carter did THAT DUNK on Frederic Weis at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.