Who Earns More: UFC Stars or Football Players?

They’re both athletes in peak physical condition who command significant media attention and even more eye-popping amounts of monetary income. But which one earns more? Given that football and UFC are two of the most popular sporting disciplines from a fan’s perspective, we decided to compare them both below.

It must be acknowledged prior to digging into the numbers that the vastly different natures of the sports do make it difficult to achieve a comprehensive comparison of the two. Football is a team game which takes place on a weekly (or biweekly) basis, with each match lasting 90 minutes or more. By contrast, UFC bouts take place far more sporadically and generally do not last anywhere near as long, but still demand that participants are in peak physical condition. Those caveats aside, here’s a closer look at the numbers.


Analysis conducted earlier revealed that Conor McGregor was the highest-paid sports star in the world in 2021 based on per-minute earnings. However, it should be stressed that the aforementioned research only counted the three minutes he entered the UFC octagon against Dustin Poirer, discounting their rematch six months later.

Nonetheless, McGregor took home just under $26 million for his troubles – and he actually lost that bout, taking a knockout blow in the third minute! That meant that according to those calculations, McGregor earned in excess of $8 million for every minute he spent in the octagon. By contrast, football’s best-paid star Lionel Messi is believed to earn around $1.25 million per week at PSG, but his time on the pitch is far longer. Even discounting training time for both men, Messi’s per-minute salary pales in comparison to McGregor’s.

Ringing endorsements

Of course, the base salary is just one part of a sports star’s earning power and both McGregor and Messi (as well as other big names of football, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar) actually earn much of their income from endorsements and sponsorships. That’s especially true of McGregor, who is rumored to have pocketed a cool $158 million in 2021 from his endorsements. His own-brand whiskey, Proper No. 12, is responsible for the lion’s share of that figure.

Messi is no slowpoke when it comes to sponsorship deals, either. He has a lifetime agreement in place with sportswear brand Adidas, while he also endorses the products of Budweiser, Lay’s and Pepsi, among others. Cumulatively, that adds up to an estimated $33 million. Each year Clearly, that’s no small chunk of change – but it is over four times less than ‘Notorious’.

The bigger picture

Of course, comparing the two highest-paid stars in each sport only tells a small part of the story when it comes to football and UFC earnings. Anyone who has ever placed a bet on the latter, for example, will know that the best UFC odds are not to be found through the favorites, but by sniffing out up-and-coming stars who can upset their more illustrious opponents.

While McGregor might make eye-watering sums in a matter of minutes, the average salary of a UFC fighter is far lower. Of course, the same is true in the world of football, but not to quite the same extent, since there are many more high-earning football players than there are UFC stars. In that context, there’s much more money in football, and therefore more footballers are, on the whole, paid more than UFC fighters… but there are exceptions to every rule, as McGregor proves.

As mentioned above, any comparison of footballer’s and UFC fighter’s wages was always going to be an imperfect one – but let’s call this a score-draw in terms of salaries earned.

A huge fan of MMA since the 'Dark Ages' of the UFC, I pride myself on keeping up-to-date on all news and developments surrounding the sport. I've watched it grow from shunned spectacle to the lofty position it enjoys now, and it's been a great ride!