Getting by as a professional boxer is a struggle, one that hinges on building a reputation. Salaries vary widely -- from less than $1,000 for a fight to millions of dollars per fight -- and the fact is, it's an extreme rarity to break into even the midlevel salary range. The risks of professional boxing don't end when the fight is over; pro fighters contend with uncertainty, a non-uniform pay scale and a lack of security benefits such as pensions or retirement plans.
Local fighters without huge followings or impressive records generally see low purses. For instance, in 2011 Lonnie Smith – who had an 11-2 record at the time – made only $800 to fight Jose Gomez for ESPN 2 Friday Night Fights. Early in their careers, fighters can expect about $1,000 to $4,000 per fight, or from $5,000 to $10,000 per fight in the midrange. Most boxers have only about four fights per year, so the salaries here are not staggering. Based on a sampling of salaries from across the country, job search website Simply Hired estimates the average salary of a working professional boxer at $32,000 per year as of 2011.
The salary of a pro boxer skyrockets when he reaches high-end venues, such as fights featured on premium cable. For instance, Mike Jones and Jesus Soto Karass each received $75,000 for their match on HBO World Championship Boxing in February 2011; on the same card, Nonito Donaire received $250,000. At the highest end, world champion fighter and then-BWAA Fighter of the Year Manny Pacquiao earned $40 million in 2008. In 1990, James “Buster” Douglas defended his heavyweight title against Evander Holyfield for a price of about $20 million. As a fighter becomes more famous, the number of fights per year usually goes down as each matchup requires more planning, training and promotion.
Though it's virtually impossible to pin down a dollar amount average for benefits, pro fighters do receive numerous perks. From the smallest match to the biggest, most matches come with bonuses for the victor. At the high end, boxers may earn extra income from sponsorships, endorsements and licensing fees. In some cases, a fighter may receive a percentage of ticket sales or income generated from pay-per-view events.
The salary of a professional boxer varies greatly on experience, reputation, venue and location. Taxes, insurance, travel expenses, equipment expenses, training costs and – at the high end – staff salaries drain income. Boxers get paid only for competing, not training. Training is an investment and a risk; an injury in training can lead to big financial losses if a fighter has to pull out of a contract. Negotiations have a big impact on pro fighter pay. For example, in March of 2011, Ricardo Mayorga got paid only $50,000 while his opponent, Miguel Cotto, received $1 million for a pay-per-view fight; rumor has it that Mayorga, however, negotiated a percentage of the pay-per-view sales while Cotto did not.