Sometimes it seems like our favorite MMA fighters fight once in a blue moon. A lot of people have been wondering how often do these fighters so I decided to make a research and answer that question in an article.
How many times a year do MMA fighters fight? That depends on several factors. The most important one is the rank of the fighters. Fighters who are at the top of the division usually fight 1-2 times a year. Lower ranked fighters (top 15 or unranked) or fighters in lesser promotions may fight up to 6 times a year in order to climb the rankings, become more popular and make more money.
There are some rare fighters who can fight every other month but that’s only for a certain period of time. Examples for such fighters are the UFC’s Donald Cerrone and Alistar Overeem.
Some amateur MMA fighters also fight every other month (and even more often sometimes) so they can get enough experience in a short period of time and then turn pro.
There are several more factors that determine how busy MMA fighters are. I talk about them in detail in the rest of the article so if you are interested, continue reading.
The less popular you are as an MMA fighter, the less money you make. If you aren’t famous, people won’t buy tickets to watch you fight and won’t buy PPVs. So the promotion won’t make much money of you and therefore won’t pay you that much. That’s why unpopular fighters need to fight more often – to make enough money.
UFC title contenders may make $100,000 – $500,000 in a title fight even if they lose while some champion may get more than a million per fight.
With that kind of money, they can take a lot of time off before fighting again.
But the rest 90% of MMA fighters don’t even get close to six figures per fight. In the UFC, average (not popular) fighters usually get $20,000 to show up for the fight and another $20,000 if they win (plus more if they get a bonus for the fight) but that’s not the case with fighters in lesser promotions. In some small promotions, there are fighters that make less than $2,000 per fight even when they win.
That’s the lower end and it’s not common among experienced fighters but still, most unpopular fighters are forced to fight often to make enough money for survival.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the higher the level is the less often fighters fight. But that’s only because of the money. Sometimes is just because there are fewer people at the top of the division there’s nobody to fight at the moment so fighters just wait for an opportunity.
For example, if you are a top 50 fighter you have plenty of people to fight with. But if you are in the top 5 that’s not the case – you have only 4 more people to fight with. 2 of them may have a fight scheduled next month, 1 can be injured and the other one might just be fought. So your only option is to wait.
Of course, you can fight with plenty of people outside the top 5. The problem is that’s not going to get you a title shot or make you a good amount of money since the lower the rank of a fighter is the less popular he/she is.
That’s why fighters are always trying to arrange a fight with someone higher or around the same spot in the rankings as them.
You may notice that champions fight less often than the other fighters: 1 – 1,5 times a year on average. But that’s because when you are champion your fights are much harder.
Championship fights are 5 rounds 5 minutes each. That’s 2 rounds more than regular fights. So MMA champions need more time to get in shape for their fights compared to non-champions and also they need more time to recover after the fights. A usual training camp of a champion is around 2,5-4 months of hard training depending on their opponent. That’s a lot of stress for the body so they need a lot of time to recover.
Now there are some crazy examples like the former Flyweight champions Demetrious Johnson who fought every 3 months but those are exceptions. Most champions rarely fight more than 1 time a year.
Another reason why they don’t fight often and why they have long training camps is that they want to study their opponents.
When you’re a champ you have a target on your back. Everybody watches your fights, analyzes your style and thinks of ways they can beat you.
But you might not be familiar with the styles of some of the contenders because the top 5 of some division always changes and it’s hard to keep up.
Contenders on the other hand or fighters who are trying to get in the top 10 or top 5 have much easier fights in terms of preparation.
Their fights are 3 rounds of 5 minutes (15 mins total) so such fighters are able to fight 3 – 4 times a year so they can beat enough top guys and challenge the champion.
That, of course, depends on their motivation and their ability to recover quickly from the hard training. That’s why a lot of them fight 2 times a year while others can do it up to 5 times a year.
Age is another important factor when it comes to determine the number of fights in a year.
Some fighters fight only once per year because they are the end of their careers. They can’t train as hard or recover as quickly as when they were younger. They also can’t cut weight as efficiently as the young fighters. That’s why they fight less often.
35 is considered the age when you are out of your prime. Many fighters say that they are going to retire once they turn that age. Now there are some extreme cases, for instance, Dan Henderson whose last fight was at age 46 but we notice decline in most fighters at the age of 35-37.
Lack of motivation is another common problem. The older the fighters get the less motivated they are. It’s really hard to train like a beast for several months, then cut tons of weight and then fight with another trained athlete.
That may not be such a big deal for a young, hungry fighter but for someone in their mid to late 30s, that’s not particularly their desired activity.
A nasty injury can get you out of the game for 6 – 10 months or even years. Fighters such as Dominick Cruz and Cain Velasques haven’t fought for years because of their series of injuries.
The most common ones in MMA are ACL and shoulder injuries. They often require surgery and in a lot of cases, fighters are never the same after that.
After surgery the fighter needs a couple of months to recover (that period can be longer if the injury was severe). And this reduces the times an MMA fighter can fight per year dramatically.
Beginner MMA fighters use amateur just to get some experience before becoming professionals. Since amateur fights are unpaid, everybody who is serious about their MMA career wants to finish with them as soon as possible and start making money.
Most competitors have 5 – 10 amateur fights before their first pro fight. And they do those fights usually for less than a year, fighting every other month and sometimes even more often.