When I only had 2 years of amateur fighting experience, people would constantly ask me: “When are you going to turn pro?” I had won a couple of amateur championships by this point. I suppose people started to see me as a “talented” and “promising” athlete. As flattered as I was by these questions, I had no aspirations of turning professional at the time. I’m not saying that I wasn’t physically capable of doing so, but I had, and still do have a life goal of becoming an all-time great fighter.
Before turning professional, I had over 50 fights with exactly 8 years of amateur experience. Throughout my amateur career, I have won 20 championships including 5 World titles, in various styles such as K-1, Muay Thai and MMA. In addition, I also competed in multiple weight classes ranging from 154lbs up to 180lbs. You can imagine that I heard the question of when I was going to turn pro, more times than I can remember. But I could tell you that the best thing that happened to me since turning professional, is not having to hear that question anymore.
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That may sound impressive to a lot of people but compared to the amateur careers of a lot of all-time greats, particularly in boxing; that isn’t all that special. Even if you go back as far as the days of Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep. Those guys had over a hundred amateur fights before even turning professional. Even top fighters in boxing today, such as Vasyl Lomachenko and Gennady Golovkin have almost 400 amateur fights each.
Muay Thai fighters from Thailand have over a hundred fights by the time they’re in their 20’s, because Thailand doesn’t have an amateur circuit. You can start fighting professionally, even if you’re young enough to be in elementary school, usually for the sake of helping feed your village.
The point of an amateur career is to appropriate the necessary experience to fulfill one’s goals, once they turn professional. If you’re anything like me, and you have massive goals of being remembered amongst the greats in your respective combat sport; then you should invest a lot in developing yourself as an established amateur fighter.
Because of the recent outbreak of MMA in the past decade, it has disillusioned many fighters into believing that they don’t need extensive amateur careers to become successful fighters, and that they can make quick life changing money by making it on the big stage in the UFC.
Mixed Martial Arts is the only sport where it’s common to have relatively low experience and have a relatively few amount of fights and reach the top of the food-chain. It’s very rare to see MMA champions, especially UFC champions with over 30 fights. Examples would be Francis Ngannou, TJ Dillashaw, Ronda Rousey, Connor McGregor etc. Because Mixed Martial Arts is so new, and people haven’t dedicated themselves to the sport as long as a lot of athletes have to boxing; you don’t have many long reigning champions. Stipe Miocic has the record for the most heavyweight title defenses in UFC history, with only three fights.
Despite that 2017 was the most financial successful year of the company thus far; the average salary of a fighter that competes in the UFC is $36,000 a year. I’ll go into more detail as to how fighters are paid at the end of the article, but if you’re that dedicated to making it big as a fighter, don’t quit your day job just yet.
I’ve had fighters that didn’t have any kind of noteworthy amateur careers, say that they want to jump to the professional ranks, because they want to fight better competition. Lies! There’s plenty of excellent fighters at the highest level of amateurs, that would easily crush your dreams of ever wanting to turn pro. People like that just want to fight professionally, just so they can say that they fight professionally. But they never make it very far.
You’re only as good as the opponents you plan on defeating. A lot of amateurs like to take a bunch of easy fights, they have a pretty record and then turn Pro just to repeat the same thing. If you’re only fighting and defeating fighters who are considered garbage, then you too, are also garbage. You aren’t special unless you beat people who are special.
I would like to close out with how expensive it is to turn Pro for most athletes in the United States. A lot of State Athletic Commissions require you to get physicals, blood work, EKGs, eye exams, urinalysis, and CT scans. This could cost you around $600, even with medical insurance.
There’s a lot to be considered here, such as the promotion the fighter is competing for, and what they can negotiate in a contract. I’m not going to get into too much detail, but to give an example:
The average/beginner pro boxer typically makes $1500-2000, for a 4-round fight, win or lose. If the boxer is fighting for $2000, they’re usually not going home with $2000. Uncle Sam gets 33% (not including expenses or deductions), the manager takes another 33%, the trainer gets 10% off the top. So, the fighter typically ends up taking home $600.
For an average / beginner MMA fighter, they typically pay $400-600 to fight, and an extra $400-600 if they win. And promotions usually provide a pay scale based off of how many tickets they sell. Regardless of how good they are. For example, a promotion offers a fighter $1,000 to show up, and an extra $1,000 to win, granted they can sell over 60 tickets. The same rules for taxes, training and management fees can also apply for MMA. The pay for kickboxers and Thai fighters is usually worse.
The moral of the story is, if you’re planning on competing professionally; you’re going to have to commit vigorously to achieve any type of success. Take advantage of your amateur career to build the necessary experience to full-fill your long-term goals as an amateur and professional. If you would like to learn more about the fight game, I have a book coming out later this year called Brime-Time: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Successful Fighter. It will be a comprehensive novel that will explain how fighters can become successful in and out of the ring, whether they’re amateurs or professionals.
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