The subject of ring girls in combat sports makes Khabib Nurmagomedov’s blood boil. The retired ex-UFC lightweight champion calls them “the most useless people in martial arts.” 

Others see them as an indispensable part of fight nights, offering a glamorous distraction to the violence inside the ring. Part of the very fabric of combat sports, they say, and something they’re rightly paid well for. This article explores this decades-old tradition in the MMA context.

What are ring girls? 

All fight fans know what a ring girl is. They’re the statuesque women who saunter around the cage in between rounds with big signs indicating what round it is. Often, they wear revealing clothing. Or not very much at all.

Ring girls apparently first appeared in Ring Magazine in 1965. Boxing promoters it seems were so taken with the image of a Las Vegas model holding a sign at a fight that they quickly introduced the ring girl tradition into their events. The concept took off and ring girls have now found themselves a cherished position ringside at fight leagues around the world.

Famous UFC ring girls 

Some of these ladies, like the UFC’s legendary Arianny Celeste, are more famous than most fighters. And certainly more savvy too, having parlayed their ring struts into hugely lucrative social media followings.

Having worked as an Octagon Girl since 2006, Celeste has amassed an audience of almost 4 million Twitter and Instagram followers through her relentless posting. She also hosts a television show and has started two businesses.

Celeste was involved in a rather public spat in 2015 with Ronda Rousey, who took issue with how much more ring girls like Celeste were apparently getting than fighters. Rousey at the time was the biggest name in the UFC and one of its most highly paid athletes. 

“I’m sorry, but she wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for the fighters. She wouldn’t. You think her walking in circles around the two guys or two girls out there fighting for their lives is worth more? Think she works harder than they do?”

Ronda Rousey, speaking to MMAjunkie Radio

This all begs the question…

How much do UFC ring girls make?

Ring girls make $1,000 per event, which rises to $5,000 for pay-per-view events, according to SportsEkz. That gives them a range in annual earnings of between $20,000 and $50,000. That’s certainly comparable to lower-ranked UFC fighters, who earn base salaries of around $12,000 per fight, and assuming 3-4 fights a year.

Arianny Celeste stands out in the ring-girl sorority with annual earnings at one point nearing $1 million, thanks to her business deals and partnerships. Celeste has in past robustly defended her income, citing the amount of work that goes into her various obligations both inside and outside the UFC.

“I think people don’t realize how much work it is. Not only are you walking around in a bathing suit where people are critiquing you for that, but try having a camera in your face and showing your personality and being a host of a TV show … It’s not as easy as it looks.”

Arianny Celeste speaking to MMAjunkie Radio, 2015

They are likely very valid points. Someone just needs to convince Khabib.

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.