UFC Referees – How Much Money Do They Make?

The UFC is the world’s biggest MMA organization. The UFC brings together the best fighters from around the globe who compete in a range of martial arts techniques and disciplines. In the UFC, there are different titles according to the weight classes. The different weight classes of men are in lbs. and are as follows:

  • Flyweight (125 lbs.)
  • Featherweight (145 lbs.)
  • Bantamweight (135 lbs.)
  • Lightweight (155 lbs.)
  • Middleweight (185 lbs.)
  • Welterweight (170 lbs.)
  • Heavyweight (above 206 lbs.)
  • Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.)

Usually, a typical UFC fight is made up of three rounds each of five minutes. However, some fights are prolonged to five rounds each of five minutes. A referee can stop a fight if a fighter is knocked out or irrationally defending himself. Every staff member in a UFC match earns a handsome amount of money, but the referees of every fight make a lot as they play an important role in ensuring that the winner wins fairly. 

In MMA, there are many notable referees, with Herb Dean and John McCarthy being two of the most well-known. These referees are frequently seen refereeing at major pay-per-view tournaments, typically refereeing three or four fights in a single night. So if you are having questions about how much the referees of the UFC make on every fight or every event, then you have come to the right place. In this article, you will get to know everything that is to know about the earnings of UFC referees. 

Also read: UFC Weight Divisions – Explained

Earning of UFC Referees

A UFC referee earns around $500 per match normally. Referees can usually make $2,000 for high-profile fights, such as John McCarthy’s $1,900 for Aldo vs. McGregor. Referees are more likely to earn $300 each fight because they can referee multiple fights in a single night. In this way, John made almost $44K in 2017 on average.

However, referee income or how much they can make in a year is determined by various circumstances. After going over several sources and payouts, we will estimate the pay of a UFC referee in this article. Also, you might be thinking that a UFC referee gets paid by the UFC organization, which is not the truth. The State Athletic Commission usually sets the salary of an MMA referee and the UFC referee. Then the UFC pays a fee to the commission to hire their officials. The referees receive a part of the money.

Also read: Longest UFC Winning Streaks

Official Payouts

Various websites claim to have referral payout sources. However, because most of these sites don’t really link to or even disclose their sources, we would treat them with caution. Despite this, we were able to locate official payouts for one UFC event, UFC 194. 

The official payoff for Jose Aldo vs Conor McGregor was $1,900, according to an MMA Junkie and referee John McCarthy himself. Big John and Herb Dean each got $1,900, with Herb Dean refereeing the Middleweight Championship match between Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman. 

UFC 194 was one of the biggest events in UFC history. I’m sure you somehow know that, but just in case you didn’t, it was a big event. The major highlight was a heavily hyped unification fight between Aldo and McGregor. 

However, the $19k for UFC 194 was probably the biggest payout up until that time. It somehow gives us an insight into what the average payment for a referee is. Big John debated on Big John’s salary for UFC 194 in an episode of one of his podcasts. Big John himself admits that the income isn’t great and that he largely does it for the love of the game. Big John said in the same interview that he is paid between $100-$400 for amateur matches. We can assume that this is the bottom limit for UFC referee salary, implying that the majority is between $400 and $1,900.

According to John McCarthy, the state that sanctioned the match has an impact on referee pay:

Nevada reimburses for a championship fight better than any state reimburses any official, so that $1,900 is the max you’re going to see. Nevada, thank you very much. It’s very generous of you to give us that much money. I appreciate it”.

Aside from the podcast of Big John, we came upon a website with some statistics on MMA referee earnings. However, the piece is poorly written, lacks citations, and appears ambiguous and fuzzy overall. I wouldn’t trust their figures because they seem random, but they are there if you want to look at them.

I’d also like to point out that a referee’s salary normally rises with the size of the event and the amount of media coverage it receives. MMA is still a relatively new and emerging sport, attracting a large number of new fans each year. This continual increase in viewing will almost certainly result in higher payouts for all participants, including referees. I also believe that a referee’s salary is exactly proportional to how long he has been a referee and how famous he is.

Also read: Best Boxers in UFC Right Now

Estimation of the Payout of MMA Referees

Let’s calculate the pay of a well-known referee like John McCarthy. In order to do so, I went to a Tapology Page that details all of John McCarthy’s matches up until the end of 2017. 

Big John served as a referee for three different organizations in 2017, including the UFC, the Russian promotion ACB, and the Bellator. Due to their lower viewership, Bellator and ACB presumably pay referees less than the UFC. Therefore that’s something I’ll remember when determining John’s pay.

I should also mention that the UFC is home to two additional organizations, which are as follows. 

  • Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS) 
  • The Ultimate Fighter Series (TUF)

Also, guess what, John was a referee in both organizations due to his popularity as a referee. The thing that matters is that there is no such knowledge about the payouts of these organizations, and either they give more pay than the UFC or less. So we’ll skip them from average pay. 

Finally, I’m not certain if the referees are compensated per event or each fight. I’m going to presume it’s per fight, but keep in mind that this might exaggerate their actual pay if they’re paid per event.

Given that John stated that amateur matches pay anything from $100-$400, I’m assuming that the least a pro contest will pay a referee is $400. I’m going to assume that this is the total of all of the fights he referees, so this is a cautious estimate.

John McCarthy refereed almost 122 fights in 2017, including forty five UFC fights, forty seven ACB fights, and thirty Bellator fights. In 2017, John McCarthy made an estimated amount of $48,800 as a referee, considering an average of $400 per fight.

In fact, this estimate is based on a number of assumptions, which you should take into account. It has been confirmed by these assumptions that a referee can get an average of $400 on each fight. Also, you must be wondering why we are only discussing John McCarthy. Well, John McCarthy is one of the prominent referees in the UFC. If he is somehow getting $400 per fight, then all the other less known referees will be getting less than him, almost between $100 and $400. 

Although John stated in one of his shows that some commission normally pays for a hotel, travel is covered if they have to fly by air, and if they have to drive and go by road, you must pay for your transportation expenses. 

Also read: Has Anyone Ever Died in the UFC?

Earning of A Boxing Referee

It has been said that boxing referees earn more than a UFC referee. It was also confirmed on the John McCarthy podcast. He addressed Kenny Bayless’s pay for refereeing a match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Although, it was an eagerly awaited boxing match. 

According to the reports, Kenny was paid $25K to referee that fight. There are various reasons that tell us why boxing pays out much more than mixed martial arts. For one thing, boxing is a much more popular game in general. It has been there for centuries, and lots of people all across the world watch it. The UFC, on the other hand, has only been established since 1993 and is continuously increasing in popularity.

There is a variation in revenue generation caused by differences in popularity. Since boxing contests normally generate more money than a UFC event, the fighters, referees, and judges are paid more. 

It’s worth noting that, while the State Athletic Commission picks and compensates referees for mixed martial arts events, the promoter picks and gives the salary to the referee in boxing. I’m not sure if this has a major effect on the pay of a referee, but I’m sure a promoter would pay a lot of money to ensure that a terrible referee’s call doesn’t ruin their event.

Furthermore, it usually depends on the quality of the referee in question and the scale of the event they are assigned to. 

Also read: How Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

Conclusion

To put it in a nutshell, MMA referees will receive an average of $400 to $500 every match. Referees will be paid more for heavily hyped events, which are up to $2,000 per fight. Depending on a low average of around $400 and assuming that a referee officiates roughly 120 fights per year, a referee for MMA can expect to earn about $48,000 per year. This is determined by a variety of criteria, including the event’s size, the referee’s popularity, and the state in which the fight takes place.

So that’s all about the earnings of the UFC referees, the MMA referees, and the boxing referees. If you’re looking to be a referee in the UFC fights, it is a good profession. You will find a good living out of it. The boxing referees earn much more, up to $25K from all of them, which is far more than a UFC referee gets by refereeing a heavily hyped fight ($19K). If you still have some questions about the earnings of a UFC referee, then feel free to leave a comment below. We will try our best to solve your queries. 

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