How Much Do Professional BJJ Fighters Make?

November 27, 2023
Natural talent, a little bit of autism, tireless work ethic, and distinctive branding are integral for aspiring professional jiu-jitsu athletes. 

Ever wondered if the mats could be your office?  

Getting paid to do what you love is the dream, but how much do professional jiu-jitsu competitors actually make?

Can You Make a Living Off BJJ?

The short answer is yes, you can make a living off Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but like any endeavor in life, you need to commit to reap the benefits fully. Regarding financial earnings, it's worth noting that only the top echelon of competitive BJJ athletes, approximately the upper 5%, make substantial income from tournament prizes.

Competing at a high level typically means attending tournaments both nationally and internationally, which can add up in terms of airfare, accommodation, and daily expenses. These travel costs, along with entry fees for competitions, which can range from modest to significant, must be factored into your financial planning as a professional BJJ athlete. Consequently, most professional practitioners must supplement their earnings through BJJ-related work such as teaching and instructing.

Membership fees for BJJ classes average around $100 per month in the US, with more renowned academies often charging higher fees. Additionally, investing in essential gear like gis, which ranges from $150 to $300, and mouthguards for about $15, constitute significant one-time purchases.

Injuries, while not uncommon, pose another challenge to consider when assessing BJJ as a full-time profession. Sprained joints, strained muscles, and fractured bones occur with some frequency, and although BJJ is safer compared to other martial arts, it isn’t impervious to accidents. Ensuring proper management and adequate recovery time is essential to maintaining consistency and minimizing the long-term impacts of injuries.

Moreover, achieving success in this discipline requires an extraordinary level of commitment. Consistently improving and maintaining skills necessitates training at least 2-3x per day, studying off the mats, and doing all of the minor things an athlete needs to do to succeed like proper nutrition and recovery.

Different Income Streams for BJJ Fighters

There are multiple sources of income available, including prize money, sponsorships, teaching, and merchandise sales. If you're serious about grappling professionally it's very important you diversify your sources of income.

Competitions

Competing in professional BJJ tournaments offers opportunities to earn money through cash prizes. For major competitions, first-place winners receive anywhere between $4k and $10k, depending on the event. Elite competitors can make over $40k annually, while an average fighter may earn just a few hundred dollars yearly from these events.

Here are the payouts for some of the larger professional jiu-jitsu tournaments:

ADCC (every 2 years)

  • Mens: $10,000, $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000 to the top four in every bracket.
  • Womens: $6,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 to the top four in every bracket.
  • Absolute: $40,000, $10,000, $5,000 and $1,000 to the top four.

IBJJF World Championships

  • A victory in your division will earn you $4,000 as a minimum, $5,000 if there is 9-16 competitors, $6,000 if there is 17-32 competitors and $7,000 for 33 or more. This applies to both men and women's divisions.
  • $10,000 for the winner of the absolute division.

Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Tour

  • $1,500, $1,000 and $500 for the top three in every bracket. Same for men and women's divisions.
  • 9-16 competitors then the prizes move to $2,500, $2,500 and $1,000.
  • 17-32 competitors then the prizes move to $3,000, $2,000 and $1,500 with the addition of a $500 prize for fourth place.
  • 33 or more competitors then the prizes are $4,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000.

Teaching Jiu-Jitsu

Income in BJJ often starts at the instructor level, with opportunities arising as early as the purple belt rank, especially in smaller gyms. However, financial compensation for teaching classes can be surprisingly low. Some instructors receive as little as $25 per class, with some gyms offering free membership instead of monetary payment. The true financial stability in teaching comes from owning and operating your own gym, which allows for greater income potential and control.

Private Lessons

Private lessons provide a significant income stream for BJJ practitioners, with rates varying based on rank and reputation. While a purple belt might charge around $50 per session, higher-ranked practitioners can command rates of $1,000 or more. The amount a gym takes from these sessions can vary, influencing the net income for the instructor.

Seminars

Conducting seminars is a common way for BJJ athletes to earn income. Initially, flat rates are common, but as one's reputation grows, profit-sharing models become more lucrative. Experienced practitioners can earn substantial amounts from seminars, with earnings potentially reaching tens of thousands of dollars for a single event.

Online Platforms and Instructionals

Digital platforms offer significant earning potential. Subscription services like Patreon require continuous content creation to maintain and grow subscriber bases. Instructional videos, especially on platforms like BJJ Fanatics, can be highly profitable. Successful instructionals typically address common challenges in BJJ, presenting solutions in an accessible and engaging manner.

Superfights

Participation in superfights offers varying financial rewards, largely dependent on the fighter's ability to draw viewers and subscribers. Fame, social media presence, and the ability to engage an audience significantly affect potential earnings from these events.

Sponsorships

Sponsorships are influenced by an athlete's social media following and content creation skills. Athletes who effectively promote brands through engaging content can secure more lucrative sponsorship deals. Typically sponsorship deals start with free gear and some competition registrations are paid for by the sponsor. Generally speaking, only the highest level athletes get a monthly or yearly payout.

Online Learning Platforms

Maintaining a presence on online learning platforms, where fans can subscribe to receive exclusive content, is another way to generate income. Consistency and value in the content are key to retaining subscribers.

Franchise Opportunities

Beyond individual earnings, the BJJ industry also offers opportunities through owning large school networks or tournament organizations. These avenues can lead to significant wealth, as seen in the success of organizations like Gracie Barra and 10th Planet.

Merchandise

Lastly, merchandise sales, such as selling online instructional and branded items, offer a potentially stable, passive income. A fighter can realistically earn upwards of $500 per month from these ventures. Creating high-quality instructional materials and leveraging your brand helps build a loyal customer base.

Factors that Affect Income Potential

Your income as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioner may be influenced by several key factors:

Skill Level and Ranking: Earnings increase substantially with higher skill levels and rankings. Elite competitors, especially black belt world champions, have the potential to earn over $200,000 per year from competition winnings, seminars and sponsorships. Transitioning to operating an academy or affiliation will solidify your long-term financial success in the BJJ world.

Geographic Location: Operating your gym or BJJ school in an area with a large BJJ community will attract more students, consequently boosting your revenue stream. Additionally, setting up shop in a commercial area with limited local competition allows you to charge higher membership fees.

Marketing and Personal Branding: Cultivating an influential personal brand through social media and appearances at events will increase your income streams by attracting sponsorships, endorsements, and seminar attendees. For instance, world champion Mackenzie Dern has successfully secured sponsorships by leveraging her competition achievements.

Networking and Connections: Establishing relationships within the BJJ community opens doors to collaboration opportunities and invitations to participate in seminars, further enhancing your financial prospects.

Expenses: Keep in mind that operating in the world of BJJ involves substantial expenses for equipment, training, competing, and recovering from injuries. These expenditures can limit your profit potential in a sport with relatively limited mainstream appeal and spectator income.

Successful BJJ Fighters

Gordon Ryan is a prime example of a highly accomplished BJJ fighter. As a professional grappler, Ryan not only dominates with his extraordinary skills, but also generates considerable income from various sources. For instance, Ryan earns through participating in major tournaments and Who's Number One events which offer decent prize money.

Apart from prize money, online instructionals contribute substantially to his earnings, with estimates reaching $1.6 million monthly. Lucrative sponsorships, affiliations, and social media further amplify his income. Having an enigmatic personality, he attracts record-breaking sponsorship deals such as a $100k deal for ADCC 2022.

Notable grapplers, namely Nicky Rod and Craig Jones, also emulate this impressive BJJ athlete's career trajectory. Besides prize money, they also profit greatly from selling online instructional on BJJ Fanatics. Rod distinguishes himself further in the market by embracing his persona through limited edition "Blackbelt Slayer" merchandise sales as well as his new beef jerky line, Carne Jerky. Jones capitalizes on his talents with best-selling instructional DVDs and collaborations with Kit Dale, expanding his reach and revenue. They also own B-Team which no doubt contributes to their income stream.

Natural talent, a little bit of autism, tireless work ethic, and distinctive branding are integral for aspiring professional jiu-jitsu athletes.

Challenges and Realities of Making Money in BJJ

Generally, BJJ fighters make between $4,000 and $40,000 annually, while only top-tier competitors attain higher incomes. This martial art generates less revenue compared to other combat sports like boxing and MMA. Consequently, winning prestigious tournaments like ADCC or IBJJF usually provides prizes ranging from $4,000 to $10,000.

Diversifying income sources becomes crucial for professional BJJ fighters due to inconsistent earnings. As a fighter, teaching seminars, selling instructional materials, operating a gym, or giving private lessons are opportunities to supplement income. These endeavors, however, tend to rely heavily on your reputation and local interest in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, causing fluctuations in income.

At the amateur level, financial prospects diminish, with sparse prize money available for regional or hobbyist competitions. Choosing this path, you face the challenge of self-funding training and expenses for tournaments while balancing a regular job. This situation often culminates in financial instability and tense work-life equilibrium.

BJJ fighters grapple with adverse impacts on their well-being as a result of insufficient awareness of the sport. Struggling to cover basic living expenses and enduring financial stress transform passionate athletes into overwhelmed individuals. This state of affairs, combined with the arduous training routine, fosters burnout, loss of motivation, and a susceptibility to ultimately leave the sport.

Tips for Boosting Income as a BJJ Fighter

Harnessing your jiu-jitsu skills and transforming them into digital products, such as instructional videos, can generate supplemental revenue. Sharing your expertise in this manner can result in ongoing income, allowing you to focus on your other pursuits.

Developing a strong personal brand can be advantageous to Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes. Cultivating a robust social media presence and associating your name with success in BJJ circles will drive sales of your digital products, merchandise, and seminars. Engaging with fans online proactively and posting regular content will assist in attracting more followers—your potential customers.

Diversifying your streams of fiscal benefits is vital. Depending exclusively on BJJ, competitions for earnings can be precarious. Incorporating sponsorships, seminars, and affiliations with gyms into your financial strategy creates stability and opportunities for growth.

Strategically reinvesting in your own development can yield substantial dividends.

Collaborating with fellow BJJ practitioners and industry experts can facilitate synergy and mutual success. By producing instructionals together, you can tap into each other's unique experiences and market reach, expanding your clienteles collectively.

Accomplishments in your primary activities, such as participating in high-level BJJ competitions like the ADCC World Championships, are likely to attract sponsorships and affiliate arrangements. Moreover, prominent social media presence, well-received instructionals, and steady success on the mats can compound your earnings from diverse avenues.

Bear in mind that cultivating a sense of balance in your pursuit of success is crucial. In the dynamic world of BJJ, serenity and intensity coexist, and recognizing this fluidity is essential to maintaining your passion and dedication to your athletic career.