The life of an MMA fighter isn't all that sexy, especially if your UFC career is over and you're toiling on the regional circuit.
Bubba McDaniel, the Ultimate Fighter 17 alum, has struggled so much financially lately that he volunteered to go to jail last week because he couldn't afford to pay a ticket he received for riding in a car without a seatbelt.
The Wichita Falls, Texas native spent 24 hours in the slammer and said that was more practical than going to work that day. McDaniel was able to get a credit to pay off the $159 ticket and also received three meals.
"People are like what's wrong with manual labor?" McDaniel said. "Man, I'm doing it. What do you mean what's wrong with it? I just don't make as much as what it would be to sit in jail. That's just the way it was. It was more economical for me to go to jail than it was to work."
McDaniel said he makes on average $60 per day doing siding and mowing lawns. In jail, they give you a $100 credit toward tickets per 24 hours and he actually got a $200 credit for his stay plus meals.
Obviously, this is not what he envisioned when he embarked on an MMA career 10 years ago. McDaniel, 32, made it to the UFC in 2013 after a stint on The Ultimate Fighter 17. Jon Jones selected his former Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA training partner to be on his team.
McDaniel won in the preliminary round of the TUF tournament, but fell to eventual runner-up Uriah Hall in the quarterfinals. At the TUF 17 Finale, he beat Gilbert Smith by third-round submission. McDaniel then lost two in a row, to Brad Tavares and Sean Strickland, and was released by the UFC in March 2014.
Since then, he's fought in Bellator twice, going 1-1. McDaniel, a middleweight, has also taken a heavyweight fight -- for free -- against Ron Fields in Indiana's Extreme Combat Challenge last July and he's coming off a TKO win over Marvin Babe in Oklahoma's Fists of Fury organization in March.
McDaniel (24-9) said he made $5,000 in his last Bellator fight, a loss to Emiliano Sordi last October. But he suffered a herniated disc in that bout and not only could he not fight he wasn't really able to work, either. There was numbness in his hand and plenty of pain in his right side. That's when he started going into the hole financially.
"A lot of fans are talking about, 'Well you made this money, you made that money,'" McDaniel said. "Yeah, I made money at one time, but everybody forgets your manager gets 20 percent, your trainer wherever you're at gets 20 percent. If you have somebody doing your sponsors, they get 20 percent when they get you a sponsor.
"It's not that glamorous. People forget also, there are taxes on all this money, too. Then I've got child support that gets paid. Everything gets paid."
McDaniel was cleared to fight in December and was supposed to be on the Bellator card at Winstar World Casino in Oklahoma in March, but he said Bellator was unaware that he was healthy. Instead, he had to take the Babe fight for $1,500. He still has two more fights on his contract with Bellator and plans on fighting them out.
In the meantime, McDaniel said he has accepted regional fights and gone into training camp, away from work, only for his opponents to pull out or the entire card to fall apart.
"I say, 'You want me to fight this guy, I need a four-week camp for it,'" McDaniel said. "I need to be making at least enough money to make up for the money I left with my job and the money I'm using to go to camp just to break even. I'm still not doing that."
McDaniel has most recently been at Team Takedown with striking coach Steven Wright, but he can't really afford to leave Wichita Falls for Oklahoma and not work. McDaniel originally moved back to his hometown to be closer to his family and two kids. But he said the MMA training there is "subpar."
On Sunday, McDaniel said he accepted his next fight and it's only for $1,000 to show and another $1,000 to win.
"It's horrible money, it really is," he said. "It's a joke. But at the same time, it's $1,000 to put toward my bills."
Even when he was in the UFC, McDaniel said the money wasn't stellar. He fought Tavares on the main card of the second-ever FOX Sports 1 show in 2013 and only got paid $3,200 in sponsorship money.
"It was kind of disheartening," McDaniel said. "It was saddening. Damn, I did all this and thought I'd be taken care of and I was wrong."
That said, McDaniel doesn't have any regrets about the sport, because he doesn't know what would have happened to him if he didn't get into MMA.
"If I hadn't gotten into it at all, I would have probably been that guy that you heard about that went to prison," McDaniel said. "Things like that. That's the road I was on. MMA did save my life. That's another reason why it's so hard to let go. I've been a pro for 10 years now and it's been the thing that's driven me to be a better person, made my life a little easier at times."
McDaniel still wants to take a few more fights, but has considered just retiring since he's basically losing money on MMA right now. If he could have done something different, McDaniel said he would have set himself up better for life after the sport.
"Man, I should have started trying to get into school or something like that along with it," McDaniel said. "I should have started to go, OK what can I do for when I'm done? What happens when I finish with MMA and get my next step together? I never did that. I was so focused on just getting to the UFC, just getting a fight in the UFC, having people know my name. That was my ultimate thing."
McDaniel achieved his dream. He won a fight in the UFC, finishing a man in the Octagon with a slick submission. Very few people in the world will ever experience that sensation.
Now, though, just a little more than a year removed from the big show, McDaniel is facing hard times and making tough decisions like voluntarily going to jail.
"I'd tell a young fighter, fighting is gonna be here," he said. "Make sure fighting is secondary until you have an established career that you can go back to if fighting doesn't happen. Career-ending injuries happen a lot to a lot of different people on many levels.
"Go to school, get an education, have a good job. Something like that. Have work skills that you can fall back on if MMA doesn't work out for you."