When Ronda Rousey last competed in the UFC back in 2016, she was one of the sport’s highest-paid fighters.
Back then, Rousey was neck and neck with Conor McGregor as one of the most profitable athletes on the UFC roster, and they were both compensated as such. With base salary and pay-per-view bonuses, Rousey was a multi-millionaire, although exact figures were not released.
After exiting the UFC following her last loss, Rousey transitioned to professional wrestling where she inked a lucrative deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). While details of her contract were never made public, Rousey was rumored as the highest paid women’s performer, earning more than $1 million per year.
That gives the ex-champ a unique perspective on the pay rates paid by both companies, which she addressed during a recent appearance on Steve-O’s podcast “Wild Ride.”
“I think it comes with the age of the sport,” Rousey said when asked about the wages paid in UFC or WWE. “The older the sport is, the more the athletes can really can start to come together and fight for what they think they deserve as a unified front. The WWE being older, they definitely have developmental programs where they bring people into live and train by the [Performance Center] in Orlando. They get a salary and they get unlimited access to doctors and physical therapists and all these different things, as an Olympian I would have been so happy to have something like that.
“UFC originally didn’t have anything like that. They started moving toward like, ‘OK, we’re getting some kind of medical insurance,’ cause it used to be like, ‘OK, you’re only going to be covered for injuries up to 60 days [after] the fight,’ and then ‘OK, we’re going to get some kind of medical insurance.’”
While some MMA fighters stand to make more money than the average pro wrestler, they are only paid when they compete. Rousey sees this as one area where WWE trumps the UFC, because performers there are paid a regular salary versus only receiving money two or three times per year for most fighters.
“WWE’s even better, because everyone’s on salary,” Rousey said. “It’s not like you show up for a fight, you get paid, you show up for a fight, you get paid. They’re treated like employees. They actually are on a salary, it’s much more secure. If people get injured and they can’t perform months and months and months on end, they can actually continue to pay them and pay for their medical treatment and make sure they’re taking care of.
“They do their best not to leave people high and dry. They really invest in talent and spend time building and developing them. As soon as they hire people, they’re on salary right away, which is very, very different from having these lumps of prize money.”
Rousey also addressed the perceived pay gap between the top UFC fighters and the biggest boxers, who routinely earn five or 10 times as much in disclosed salary for a major pay-per-view broadcast.
While the biggest names in boxing can earn a lot of money, Rousey says the pay disparity with lower ranked athletes is massive, especially when compared to the UFC.
“In boxing, the top guys get an incredible amount of money, but the bottom guys in boxing make way, way less than the bottom guys in the UFC,” Rousey said. “If you’re trying to develop a boxer regularly, you’re probably going to have to build their record to 20 and something and your manager’s probably going to be like $200,000 in the hole with a fighter that’s 20-0 at that point.
“In the UFC, it’s a lot nicer to be in that lower tier than it is to be a boxer, but at the top tier in boxing, those guys are making an incredible amount of money, because they are promoting as well. They are co-promoting their part of the promotion itself.”
Long term, Rousey says the answer for athletes in the UFC, WWE and boxing would probably be working to unionize like other major sports. Unfortunately, she sees that as an uphill battle when compared to the NFL or Major League Baseball, who both have a strong union presence.
“Football, basketball, these guys, the whole team can come together and be like, ‘Us as a team, we’re not going to do this unless they as the team owners do this,’” Rousey said. “It’s much easier for them to come together to make those demands, whereas in like the individual sports like boxing, UFC and WWE, even though it’s sports entertainment, but still, it’s individual.
“It’s much easier to divide people and much harder for them to unite together, because people at the top are very well taken care of. I think it’s harder for them to kind of unionize and make sure everybody else is looked after and gets a majority share in the profits at the end of the day. I think it’s a constantly evolving situation everyday.”
In an ideal situation, Rousey would like to see unions get involved in long term solutions for pay and security for MMA fighters, boxers and professional wrestlers alike.
“What I would like to see from all three – which is kind of like some wishful thinking that I don’t think will ever happen – is similar to SAG (Screen Actors Guild) or something like that,” Rousey explained. “Whereas if you put a certain amount of time in, you are entitled to a pension. I would love to see pensions for boxers and MMA fighters and professional wrestlers. I don’t know if we’re going to get there, but that’s what the NBA and NFL and f*cking baseball and hockey all have.
“That would be my ultimate dream goal for all three of the individual big players.”