With her dominating performance in the octagon and expanding career in entertainment, Ronda Rousey is undoubtedly transforming the sport of mixed martial arts. But let's get real — the dollars aren't speaking to the woman's worth. The money Rousey makes pales in comparison to her male peers' earnings, and her quick ascent to become UFC's most bankable star is only making the wage gap in MMA even more pathetically apparent.
For her July 2014 fight at UFC 175 against Alexis Davis, Rousey earned a reported $120,000 — $60,000 of which was her win bonus. While a six-figure payday sounds pretty cushy, just compare that to Chris Weidman's payout. Weidman, who shared UFC 175's main card with Rousey that night, earned $450,000 for his win against Lyoto Machida. Despite losing by unanimous decision, Machida himself earned more than Rousey and banked a cool $200,000 just for showing up.
Rousey's winnings from her Saturday fight against Brazilian striker Bethe Correia weren't disclosed, but Rousey did pocket a $50,000 "Performance of the Night" bonus, which was by UFC President Dana White during the post-fight news conference. White also said this fight was on trend to break previous pay-per-view records so it's be safe to say Rousey likely improved on her single-fight earnings. I wouldn't be surprised if she earned $200,000 for this bout.
Sure, you can argue that the real money is in sponsorships, and if you believe White, Rousey has no trouble bumping up her pay grade. In an interview with Fox Sports, White said Rousey earns $3 million a year in sponsorships alone. Rousey also earns a hefty penny in other undisclosed bonuses, percentages of the number of pay-per-views sold, and other payments. In February, Los Angeles Times reporter Lance Pugmire tweeted Rousey's pay-per-view cut for her Cat Zingano match would boost her fight earnings past $1 million.
But let's take the corporate element out of the equation because sponsorships are largely based on an athlete's popularity, rather than his or her skill. You could argue the two generally go hand-in-hand: Would "King James" still score multimillion dollar Nike and McDonald's contracts if he didn't perform? Probably not. But just look at Tiger Woods, whose recent poor performance hardly puts a dent in his multimillions in endorsements. And on the flip side, Floyd Mayweather's undefeated record speaks to his self-christening as the "greatest ever," yet companies avoid backing him given his controversial history of, you know, domestic violence and racist and homophobic rants.
The gender wage gap is real in the world of MMA, and it's important for a fighter to be paid his or her worth. What does it say if Rousey isn't compensated appropriately for her skill let alone her value to her employer?
And Rousey is very valuable to UFC. In the last year, her clout as a money-making machine has skyrocketed, and her roles in films like Entourage and Furious Seven only further secures her place among mainstream audiences. With every fight she wins, Rousey isn't just boosting her own visibility; she's bringing along the once shadowy underground sport of MMA.
Lucky for UFC, it's positioned itself to fully enjoy her growing success. There are plenty MMA organizations in the United States and abroad — Bellator, PrideFC, and Strikeforce are all solid — but UFC is the largest and probably the most recognizable promo company in America. Signing Rousey as its first female fighter in 2012 helped solidify its position as a viable sports org capable of commanding serious eyeballs. UFC also proved it was capable of scoring massive deals with big-name sponsors after securing a $70-million deal with Reebok for its fighters' uniforms.
UFC, with Rousey's help, is poised to deliver must-watch fights as big as the hyped Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao match. Mayweather reportedly earned $200 million while the Philippines' national treasure was set to earn $100 million for participating. The big question is if Rousey's profile continues to grow, will she earn what she's due?
During her ESPYs acceptance speech for Best Female Athlete, Rousey spoke out about possibly going head-to-head with Mayweather. That kind of ultimate fight would surely garner big paydays for both fighters — and do I dare say more than the Mayweather-Pacquiao match? While a male-female fight probably won't happen anytime soon, at the rate Rousey is dominating female fighters, that day might come sooner than you think. And that'll be the real test of whether UFC and other fighting organizations are ready to offer equal pay. Because if a man and woman are good enough to fight each other, then they certainly are good enough to earn the same purse.
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