With the UFC skyrocketing in popularity, the UFC referees have also become very popular, a part of the brand itself, and their salaries have also increased. You might be wondering, how much do UFC Refs actually make?
UFC referees are paid per fight, and the salaries vary from $250 to $2500. Newcomers and low-level UFC refs earn $250–500, or between $15–20,000 per year. Experienced refs with strong reputations earn $2500 per match. They are eligible to earn a $10,000 bonus for PPV shows, which means close to $400,000 annually.
Stay with us to find out who the highest-paid referees are and how the UFC referees’ salaries compare with their colleagues from boxing.
How Much Do UFC Referees Make?
Entry-level and less experienced refs earn as low as $250–500 per match, while high-level ones cash out $2,500 and may also get a pay-per-view bonus of $10,000 for the most important events.
Each UFC event includes between 12 and 14 matches on average, with four refs per event. Each referee gets to do 3–4 matches on average, but this varies as newcomers might get one assignment while experienced get more.
If each ref does 4 fights, this means the entry-level referees earn around $1–2,000 per event while high-level refs cash out $10,000, plus they may get another $10,000 as a PPV bonus, $20,000 in total.
|Level||Salary (per fight)||PPV Bonus||Annual Earnings|
The crucial thing to note is — UFC referees are not employed or paid by the UFC. They are chosen and employed by the Athletic Commission. So the paychecks they receive are from the Commission, which is partnered with the UFC.
Also, the UFC referees are paid per fight and their salary is not standardized. The referee Big John McCarthy said the salary might vary between the US states, with the Nevada State Athletic Commission being the highest-paying one. The salary is also based on various factors you will learn in the next section of this article.
What is The UFC Referee Salary Based On?
The UFC salary varies between low-mid and high-level referees. As in any other sport or industry, experience and reliability are the two most important salary factors. The same is in the UFC.
Low-level referees usually get to do around 1–2 fights per event. In most cases, the Athletic Commission assigns them to low-level UFC shows such as “Fights Nights,” “Contender Series,” or “Ultimate Fighter.”
They represent a good development platform for both fighters and referees, as the pressure is much lower. Although they get just a couple of hundred for each bout, the experience, exposure, and time they get inside the octagon matters for these refs more than money.
Mid-level referees usually do main card shows in low-mid-level UFC events. They might also appear on the PPV preliminary cards before the experienced referees take over.
These are already established refs focused on working their way to the top and are paid up to $1,000–1500 for their services. Their biggest tests usually come when they are assigned to do co-main and main events on Fight Night shows. This is where they are stepping into the “big league.”
High-level referees are the most reliable ones who have been in the game for a long time and have seen and experienced it all. They can stay calm under pressure, deal with complex situations, and know all the tricks fighters use.
And above all, they are the best when it comes to protecting fighters’ health. That’s why these referees are paid up to $20,000 per event and can earn as much as $400,000 per year.
On top of that, most famous referees use their popularity to launch a brand. They also do many seminars, have private schools where people can learn how to referee fights and obtain a license, etc.
Who Determines the UFC Referee Salaries?
The UFC referee’s salary is determined by the Athletic Commission, not the UFC. In fact, apart from refereeing the fights under the UFC banner and inside their octagon, the referees do not have much else to do with the UFC as a company.
Their salaries, which fights they are assigned to do, and which shows they are doing all this is determined by the Athletic Commission.
The UFC has nothing to do with how much the refs are earning. Nor are they allowed to influence their decisions or decide which ref is going to do which fight.
The UFC is cooperating with the state Commissions and may express their feelings and give suggestions related to refereeing during the meetings. But they can’t directly make changes.
Or, the UFC officials may put pressure on the commission through their powerful media platform. You can often hear Dana White ranting about referees or judges after some bad calls. And this may have an impact on the referee’s career.
Who Is The Highest-Paid UFC Referee?
Herb Dean is known as the highest-paid UFC referee. According to available sources, Dean gets $2,500 per fight and another $10,000 bonus for the UFC events aired in a pay-per-view format. His annual income is around $500,000, and his net worth is over $2.5 million.
This is not a big surprise considering Dean has been refereeing at the highest level for over two decades. He is often praised as the most reliable referee who rarely makes mistakes. Or, as Joe Rogan once said, “Herb Dean is the golden standard of MMA refereeing.”
Dean also has an interesting background as he is a former MMA fighter with a record of 2–4. Inside the cage, he always looks calm, focused, and in control. This is especially seen during the complex situations he has to deal with, where the experience comes into play.
He also rarely makes any mistakes related to stoppages, which is why he is doing so many PPV main events. Whenever there is a big fight, you know Dean will be the third person inside the octagon.
UFC Referee Salary vs. Other MMA Organizations
On paper, UFC referees are the best in the MMA industry and are paid more than referees in most other promotions. However, UFC refs are primarily MMA referees, which means they also work for other promotions.
You can spot UFC refs working for Bellator, for example, or any other promotion worldwide. For instance, they are doing European Cage Warriors and KSW shows. They have the legal right to do so, as MMA referees are not under contract with any promotion. The Athletic Commissions employ them.
However, many MMA promotions worldwide, especially in the east, have their own rules. Most of these promotions have not adopted the Unified Rules of MMA, which means they have their own referees and judges. Since their rules are different, they need referees familiar with these rules.
It is not clear how much they pay these referees. Still, some testimonies say they are paid quite well—even more than entry and mid-level UFC referees, for example.
But it is not uncommon to see UFC refs doing these shows. Some of these promotions are ONE FC, RIZIN FF, M-1 Global, and many others. Herb Dean used to travel to Russia all the time to referee M-1 Global, for instance.
MMA vs. Boxing Referees Salaries
Boxing referees are paid more than UFC referees regarding important events. In boxing, the highest-paid refs get up to $5,000 per match and $25,000 fight fees for PPV main event fights. Top UFC refs get $2,500 and an additional $10,000 for PPV fight fees, twice as less as their colleagues from boxing.
However, their yearly salary is roughly the same, ranging from $350,000 to $500,000.
The main reason for such a big difference in paychecks is that high-profile boxing events generate more money than MMA. Thus, it is normal for boxing referees and any other members involved in such big events to earn bigger paychecks.
However, the salary is roughly the same in both sports regarding less experienced refs. Both in MMA and Boxing, low-level refs get between $300–500 per match on average. Mid-level refs earn up to $1,000 or more, depending on the show they are doing.
|Level||Boxing||MMA||PPV Bonus Boxing||PPV Bonus MMA||Annual Earnings|
Overall, the only major difference between boxing and MMA referees is when it comes to high-level shows. Boxing, in general, generates more money, so their referees are paid more. The boxing ref will get around $5,000 per match, and the bonus can go as high as $25,000, which is how much Kenny Bayless got for the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather bout.
You won’t hear MMA fans complaining much about how much the UFC referees make and whether they are paid well enough, as the focus is always on the fighters. But the role of the referee is important as MMA is a dangerous sport, and they are responsible for the fighters’ health inside the cage.
Though some famous referees are doing well, earning close to half a million annually, most other referees do not enjoy such privilege. In fact, most of them also have full-time jobs because what they earn in the UFC is not enough to cover living costs. But with the sport rising so fast globally, we might expect an increase in payment, which all of them surely deserve.