To lend the words from the infamous speech Dana White delivered in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, “do you wanna be a fighter?” If your answer is yes, the next step is to figure out how to become a professional MMA fighter, and we are here to help you.
To become an MMA fighter, you must go through a progression of skill, mindset, and experience to first learn the basics of the main aspects of MMA fighting, then start with some amateur fights, and finally enter the professional ranks.
This simple path can take many forms and turns, but as a frame, it remains the same. Let’s dive in a bit more into each step and try to answer some commonly asked questions about the professional fight game.
The road to becoming a professional MMA fighter is a long and thorny one that may take many twists and turns, but we will build the overall framework of how this usually works.
Find A Reputable Gym And Start Training
Before you plan to make a professional career, you need to start training and see how it goes. Regardless of whether you have prior martial experience, once you transition or start MMA, you need a dedicated MMA gym. Depending on where you live, this may be a hard choice between gyms or a challenging task just to find any gym.
In the second case, the solution is easy, go to the nearest possible gym and hope it’s a decent one. If you have a choice, you should first research the coach’s background and credentials.
If possible, go and watch a training session. The trainer and training partner’s quality is paramount to your success in MMA, so choose wisely where you spend your training time.
Once you have a couple of years of MMA training and, preferably, a few more other martial arts experience, it’s time to test your resolve in a competition.
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There are frequent amateur competitions in most places, either in a tournament format like amateur boxing or professional events, but with amateur fighters and rulesets. These matches will be the time when you find out if fighting is for you or not. Not everyone is cut out to be a professional fighter, and that is OK.
The decision on when to become a pro is delicate and strictly individual. Some people are inclined towards the sport and need fewer amateur fights, while others need to build more confidence. Some successful fighters went pro at 18, and others did it at 28 or even later.
It all boils down to personal circumstances. But if you are considering this step, you should discuss this with your coaches and family, not make a decision based on an article on the internet.
How Much Does An MMA Fighter Make Per Year?
MMA is organized into different promotions, and fighters are usually contracted to fight only for the organization they are signed with.
Within the larger organizations, there is a significant disparity in pay between fighters on the main card and those on the prelims. Typically, the fees are scaled, with the main event fighters taking the lion’s share.
Stars like Connor McGregor, Kabib Nurmagomedov, Israel Adesanya, Charles Oliveira, and the rest of the top fighters make millions for a fight. But they are the exception. According to The Sports Daily, the average UFC fighter made around $160,000 in 2021. This sum is not bad, but it does not tell the whole story.
Almost 20% of the fighters earned less than $25,000 for a whole year, and only 42% earned six figures in 2021. These, however, are the official reported salaries, performance bonuses, and official sponsor money. Other sponsor payments and pay-per-view shares remain undisclosed, and they can bump the sum quite a bit.
The lower tier of fighters in the UFC makes between $10,000 and $30,000 per fight. The next tier is the middle tier, with salaries ranging between $80,000 and $250,000. Champions and fighters with massive fan bases (like Nate Diaz or Jorge Masvidal, for example) can earn $500,000 all to way up to a few million dollars.
How Much Does A Beginner MMA Fighter Make Per Year?
As a beginner MMA fighter, you are fighting in amateur fights, and in your first fights, you may not get paid at all. But usually, amateur fighters are paid $200-600 for their troubles. Amateur MMA is not a career but a way to gain experience and test yourself.
Once you turn pro in the minor leagues, the pay is around $600-1000 + another $600-1000 as a win bonus. Some places offer more money if you guarantee you can sell a set number of tickets.
It depends on what you consider the starting point. Almost all pro MMA fighters started with another sport and, at some point, decided to transition into MMA.
Once you start MMA, even if you have some fighting background like wrestling or boxing, it’s reasonable to wait 2 or 3 years to adapt to the specifics of MMA and then have some amateur matches. In another 2 to 3 years, you may be ready to turn pro, which is a fast road to the professional ranks.
Keep in mind that these timeframes are very malleable. Every fighter has a different tempo of learning and gaining confidence. Then it matters at what age you started.
A world champion in amateur kickboxing or BJJ who has competed for 7 or 8 years in his sport does not need another 8 years to become a pro in MMA. He has the mindset and physical conditioning for high-level competition and just needs to learn new skills and adjust his existing ones.
How Many Amateur MMA Fights Do You Need To Turn Pro?
MMA is probably the only combat sport where an extensive amateur career is not required to become pro. The sport is relatively young, and the pro scene has outpaced the amateurs.
Unlike boxing, where you can spend your whole career as an amateur and fight at the Olympics and World Championships, in MMA, most fighters fight 10 to 20 amateur fights just to gain the experience needed to fight as a pro.
Many current prospects started directly with MMA without any prior martial arts experience. A good age to start with MMA is around 13–16 years old. Starting even earlier is also very fine, but getting hit in the head as a kid is not good for brain development.
Most of the MMA legends started earlier but in another martial art. Khabib Nurmagomedov started wrestling at 9, and George St. Pierre began training in karate at age 7. On the other hand, there are successful fighters that started their MMA training in their 20s and entered the UFC in their 30s.
Is Becoming A Pro MMA Fighter Worth It?
The answer to this question lies only in your soul. Most people spend their lives trying to avoid fighting at any cost, while fighters willingly choose it as a profession. So, your heart and soul must be in it first and foremost. The sport is grueling, dangerous, and underpaid.
Very few people reach the heights where glory, fame, and money lie. Getting inside the cage is one of the best ways to truly learn what you are made of.
After a few amateur matches (or in the first minute of the first match), you will be able to answer if this is what you want to do. And the good news is that with the rapid growth in the popularity of MMA, the money, benefits, and respect earned in MMA are also constantly growing, so fighting might very well be worth it in the material sense as well.