When Felice Herrig was recovering from a pair of knee surgeries that kept her sidelined for the better part of two years, she knew money was going to become an issue.
Because fighters are only paid when they fight, the 37-year-old veteran understood that time off was going to cost her financially, even though she’s been smart with the money she’s made over the course of her career.
It was during the layoff that Herrig decided to explore another route to help supplement her income.
Like many fighters have done in recent years, Herrig started her own OnlyFans page — an adult-oriented subscription based website where fans pay fees for access to photos and videos — and that allowed her the freedom to rest, recover, and rehabilitate her surgically repaired knee rather than rush back to compete again when she wasn’t actually ready.
“It’s very unfortunate to do anything out of desperation, and I feel like that’s what a lot of fighters would do for so long,” Herrig explained on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “That’s why you do see fighters coming back from an injury [too soon].
“I probably would have come back a lot sooner from my injury if it wasn’t for OnlyFans, because I would have had to. I probably wouldn’t have been ready, and I was at least ready for this fight. Now with OnlyFans, I get paid weekly and I’m not struggling to get paid, and I can take care of my body the way a professional athlete needs to take care of their body.”
Herrig joined fighters like Bec Rawlings, who raved about her ability to earn money through OnlyFans when she was stuck in Australia in the middle of the pandemic with no feasible way to make income from her fight career.
The money Herrig made from her page not only allowed her the time to recover from her knee injury, but it also gave her the freedom to decide when or if she would compete again.
“I make ridiculous money on OnlyFans,” Herrig revealed. “Then again, it’s because it’s how hard I’ve worked to build a name and a brand and image, but it’s also nice because it allowed me to work on the recovery that I needed to do. Getting massages like twice a week. I haven’t talked about this extensively.
“OnlyFans made it where I’m not desperate to fight again. I actually make more money from that than I ever made in fighting — and I make good money fighting. But when you break it down to the fact that you only get paid when you fight, it does make things stressful on you when you’re not getting paid to sit on the sidelines, when you’re not being helped out.”
While Herrig praises the UFC for opening the Performance Institute in Las Vegas, where fighters have open access to physical therapy, free meals, and training support without any additional cost to them, she doesn’t live there and never had plans to relocate from her home in Illinois.
“We’re professional athletes, but you only get paid when you fight and you’ve got to make that money spread out, and unless you live in Vegas and you get to go to the [Performance institute] every day, you’re not really treated like a professional athlete,” Herrig said.
“Imagine going to the P.I. and getting all my free meals and all my free supplements and getting my body worked on every single day and getting to work with their strength and conditioning coaches. That’s all stuff I have to pay for here on my own, because I don’t live in Vegas.”
The UFC does offer an insurance program for fighters that covers major needs like surgery for an injury suffered in a training camp, but Herrig says there are still costs that fall back on the fighters, especially if you’re looking to go above and beyond during rehabilitation.
“Even with the recovery stuff, it’s like, OK, it’s great, so for the first year after knee surgery medical expenses were covered, but at the same time the physical therapist, I’m just going to say it, in Illinois suck,” Herrig said. “The guy that I found out was good was a chiropractor, that’s paying out of my pocket. The massage therapist is paying out of my pocket.
“Everything else is being paid to make sure that my body feels good, it’s being paid out of my pocket and I wouldn’t have been able to afford that. How can you afford it when you’re not getting paid? You get paid to fight and that money has to carry you for how long?”
Herrig made it clear that none of this is meant to sound like she’s biting the hand that fed her during an eight-year career spent in the UFC, because she still praises the organization and appreciates all the time she spent there.
Herrig has no regrets about her MMA career, although the toll it took on her body finally reached a point to where she had to start looking elsewhere for new opportunities.
“I fought in the UFC for eight years, so I could 100-percent cut it in the UFC, in MMA,” Herrig said. “It’s just, do I want to do that to my body anymore? Twenty years in the sport does take a toll on you.
“I feel like fighting has done so much to my body over the years to make me almost miserable all the time. I realized I’m happy again. I have good energy again. I haven’t slept good in like 10 years. Sleep was always an issue and now it’s not an issue anymore.”
Just a month after retiring from MMA, Herrig inked a new deal to join the roster at BKFC, where she will transition to the world of bare-knuckle fighting.
Even before she signed her contract, Herrig was confident that she would be competing again sooner rather than later, but now she’s just doing it for herself, because that’s what she wants to do.
“I don’t feel like my career’s over by any means,” Herrig said. “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, the opportunities are going to dry up.’ I feel like I’ve made great connections throughout the sport, throughout the industry. I have a lot of people in the sport that I love and that love me.
“I have things to look forward to. It’s like nature. Nature doesn’t try to grow, it just grows. A flower doesn’t try to bloom, it just blooms. Sometimes patience and stillness are where growth come from and where opportunities come from.”