The Richest MMA Fighters Prove The Pain Was Worth The Gain

Athletes | 3/19/20

The biggest purses in professional combat sports are provided to boxers. Headlining pugilists like Floyd Mayweather can pull down close to $100 million for just one fight. MMA purses don’t quite approach that number, but they’re getting there.

The biggest stars in mixed martial arts can raise their fee through being great fighters, and by a few other means as well. Brock Lesnar was a WWE star. Quinton Jackson is in movies. Matt Hughes hosts an outdoor living show. Below are the top earners in the sport of MMA.

Frank Shamrock – $8 Million

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Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic
Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

Frank Shamrock is one of the sport’s oldest and most accomplished competitors. He began his career all the way back in 1994, scoring a victory over another MMA legend in Bas Rutten.

He was also one of the first stars of the UFC. He became the promotions first light heavyweight champion in 1997 by defeating Kevin Jackson in Japan. Over his career, he won 23 fights, lost 10, drew twice and made around $8 million.

Chael Sonnen – $9 Million

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Chael Sonnen is one of the more controversial fighters on this list. His career has been dogged by accusations of doping and steroid use. He’s failed multiple steroid tests including one in June of 2014.

When he’s been in the ring, though, he’s been a star for whatever promotion he’s fighting for. Sonnen has a career record of 31-17-1 and he’s scored victories over fighters like Mischael Bisping, Wanderlai Silva, Rampage Jackson, and Paulo Filho.

Chuck Liddell – $13 Million

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

While the UFC of the late 1990s had a fine cult following, the promotion really began to become prominent during the early part of the 2000s. One of the biggest stars of the UFC boom was Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell.

Liddell, who went 21-9 over his career was a main figure of the light heavyweight decision. He participated in multiple blockbuster fights. He beat Randy Couture to win the belt, then defended it against Tito Ortiz before losing to Quinton Jackson.

Randy Couture – $17 Million

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Randy Couture was one of the first major stars of the UFC. He didn’t begin fighting professionally until 1997 when he was 34-years-old. Prior to MMA, he had been an Olympic-level freestyle wrestler.

Those wrestling skills really paid off for him once he became a mixed martial artist. Couture spent a fair amount of his UFC career with gold around his waist. The “Nature Boy” had significant runs as both the heavyweight and light heavyweight champion.

BJ Penn – $20 Million

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Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Hawaiian-born BJ Penn has fought in more matches than almost any other UFC fighter. And he’s also proven that there’s some real money to be made when you have a long career. Penn has raked in an estimated $20 million during his career.

The fighter won the light heavyweight championship with a win over Joe Stevenson in January of 2008. Penn also took home the welterweight champion in January of 2004 by defeating Matt Hughes.

Fedor Emilianenko – $16.5 Million

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Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images
Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images

Fedor Emelianenko had a very long and successful MMA career. The heavyweight began fighting professionally in 2000 and is still active today. He won multiple championships while fighting for the Pride Promotion.

While Emelianenko has made plenty of money over the course of his 46 fights, he’s also made money in other ways. The multi-time champ also makes a fair amount of money helping to promote fights for M-1 Global, a promotion operating out of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Tito Ortiz – $15 Million

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Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Tito Ortiz came into the UFC in 1997 at just 22 years of age. He was in the perfect spot to have a long and financially successful fighting career.

The grappler initially won the light heavyweight championship in 2000 by defeating MMA legend Wanderlei Silva. He would stay in the champion picture throughout the length of his career. Ortiz has also made money by creating his own fashion brand and a number of company endorsement deals.

Khabib Nurmagomedov – $9 Million

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Khabib Nurmagomedov sometimes seems more like a movie character than a real-life mixed martial artist. There is video of the Russian-born fighter wrestling against bears when he was just a pre-teen.

The UFC’s lightweight champion has taken on and defeated all comers. He holds a record of 28-0. His best-known rivalry in the sport has come against Ireland’s Conor McGregor. After months of controversial build-up, Nurmagomedov defeated McGregor via a neck crank submission move in October of 2018.

Junior Dos Santos – $10 Million

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Junior dos Santos, who began his martial arts training in capoeira, began practicing jujitsu at age 21. By age 22, he became a professional fighter. And the Brazilian was quite successful right away.

Dos Santos has one UFC Heavyweight Title reign and has won Fight of the Night on 3 occasions and was awarded the Knockout of the Night honors 3 times as well. The popular fighter is still active today and had his most recent bout against Curtis Blaydes in January of 2020.

Frank Mir – $9 Million

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It’s not easy to compete time and time again in the UFC’s loaded heavyweight division. Las Vegas-born fighter Frank Mir has done it more than anyone. And he has picked up a ton of honors along the way.

Mir has won the promotions heavyweight championship belt twice with wins over Tim Sylvia and Antonion Rogrigo Nogueira. The grappler, who missed nearly 19 months of time due to a 2004 motorcycle accident was also the promotion’s Comeback Fighter of the Year.

Jon Jones – $10 Million

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Steve Marcus/Getty Images
Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Jon Jones took a different path than his brothers, Chandler and Arthur, who both play in the NFL. Jon chose a career in MMA which has proven to be a smart move as he has been practically unbeatable.

The fighter currently has a career record of 26-1. The one loss on his record, against Matt Hamill, was a disqualification for using downward elbow strikes. Jones has also had trouble with drugs and alcohol which has resulted in multiple suspensions from the sport.

Matt Hughes – $8 Million

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Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Matt Hughes had to work his way up to success in the UFC. He didn’t start with the promotion until he had his 19th professional fight. In his second UFC fight, he won the welterweight title and successfully defended the belt in five consecutive matches.

Hughes has also found financial success since his career has ended. The grappler wrote a best-selling book in 2008. In 2011, he became one of the hosts of the Outdoor Channel show Trophy Hunters TV.

Conor McGregor – $12 Million

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Steve Marcus/Getty Images
Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Conor McGregor is one of those rare fighters that can earn as much money with his mouth as he can with his fists. And he can fight in multiple styles as evidenced by his high profile boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.

After experiencing plenty of championship success in the UFC, he ran into a major buzzsaw who went by the name of Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Irishman got his career back on track with a January of 2020 victory over Donald Cerrone.

Rashad Evans – $8.5 Million

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Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Rashad Evans was a near-perfect prospect for mixed martial arts. He was a standout wrestler at Michigan State before beginning his training with MMA legend Dan Severn. He made his way into the UFC via the Ultimate Fighter reality show.

Nicknamed Sugar, Evans took on a number of the best fighters in the UFC. He defeated such luminaries as Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, and Tito Ortiz. Evans was named to the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019.

Brock Lesnar – $15 Million

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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Not too many fighters enter the UFC already being a household name. Some might have earned some recognition via The Ultimate Fighter, but Brock Lesnar was something different entirely. His career in the WWE had already made him world-famous.

It looked for a while like he would be a dominant force in the sport. He scored wins over big names like Randy Couture, Frank Mir, and Heath Herring. He then dropped fights to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem before heading back to pro-wrestling.

Quinton Jackson – $12 Million

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Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images
Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images

Not only was Quinton Jackson one of the best fighters in MMA history, but he also had one of the best nicknames. Rampage fought at the top of the card for much of his career and raked in plenty of cash.

During his career, Jackson scored wins over fighters like Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, and Lyoto Machida. His build and persona also served him well in a second career. In 2010 Rampage starred as B.A. Baracus in the movie adaptation of The A-Team.

Anderson Silva – $18 Million

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Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Everyone knows that the number one sport in the country of Brazil is soccer. But over the last few years, MMA has become wildly popular in the area as well. That’s thanks to fighters like Wanderlei and Anderson Silva.

Anderson, also nicknamed Spiderman Silva, is considered by many to be the greatest pound for pound fighter in the history of the sport. On the way to compiling his 34-10 career record, the Brazilian took out grapplers like Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, and Forrest Griffin.

Georges St. Pierre – $25 Million

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Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

At this moment in time, Georges St. Pierre has made more money than any other fighter in the history of the UFC. Of course, someone will eventually pass him, but it is a major accomplishment for the French Canadian.

The fighter, nicknamed Rush, was 26-2 over the course of his career and regularly wore the UFC welterweight championship belt into the ring.St. Pierre has also appeared in movies, playing Batroc in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Wanderlei Silva – $14 Million

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Luiz Pires Dias/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Luiz Pires Dias/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Wanderlei Silva grew up in Brazil doing a little bit of everything. He practiced muy thai and kickboxing. The grappler also took part in bare-knuckle boxing fights. His experience in a variety of fighting styles has served him well in MMA.

Silva has primarily fought in US-based UFC as well as the Japan-based Pride promotion. And he’s done very well for himself with a career record of 35-14 and a career purse of $16 million.

Ronda Rousey – $9 Million

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There have been some MMA prospects who were just perfect for the sport, but no female mixed martial artist was ever better suited than Ronda Rousey. An Olympic medalist in Judo, Rousey began her professional career in 2011.

She was seemingly unbeatable and began her professional career 12-0 and held the bantamweight championship belt. She was shocked by Holly Holm in 2015 and lost again to Amanda Nunes in 2016. Rousey then left the sport to join Vince McMahon’s WWE.