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Posted on May 25, 2022
Elite professional BJJ athletes are among the best martial artists in the world, certainly in their sport.
But when it comes to the financial side of being a professional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu artist, you might be wondering “how much money do BJJ athletes make?”
In this article, we’ll dive into this topic with facts and data and investigate exactly how lucrative it is to be a pro BJJ artist.
Let’s check it out!
BJJ athletes can make money from a several sources in relation to competition.
If we are looking strictly at what they make as professional BJJ athletes, meaning income that could not well be obtained without their frequently competing successfully, there are three potential sources:
Generally speaking, the cash victory prizes will be the most lucrative, although very popular athletes might do well with ticket sales if they have enough of a following in a given city – although this is probably not that likely.
Sponsorships often provide gear and perhaps travel expenses and competition registration fees for sponsored athletes, however they typically do little to change an athlete’s actual financial wealth.
In terms of how much BJJ athletes win in tournaments, we can take a look at what Gordon Ryan claimed he was earning in an Instagram post from last fall:
He states that at his current competition victory rate, he expects to earn roughly 200k pre-tax across roughly 10-12 competitions.
He credibly claims to be the highest paid athlete in the sport by far, so we can assume that his competitors of similar level on down make less than that.
Given that competition victory only pays out to a very slim minority of competitors, I would bet that there are a few reasonably paid athletes followed by a steep decline to where competitors earn essentially nothing from competing and not winning, and probably even lose money on travel expenses.
For reference, here are the 2022 cash prize payouts for some of the top BJJ tournaments.
ADCC is among the most well-paying promotions in the business of BJJ competitions. As such, it’s a good benchmark for maximal potential earnings directly from competition.
The ADCC victory prizes are as follows:
Men’s Weight Class Brackets:
Men’s Absolute Bracket:
Women’s Weight Class Brackets:
Best Fighter: $1,400
Best Takedown: $1,400
Fastest Submission: $1,400
Best Fight of Competition: $1,400 (split)
If we look at the prizes for first in absolute and winning a superfight, respectively, it looks like a nice haul for a weekend of competing.
But not so fast…
Let’s remember, competing in the final bracket in ADCC means you had to claw your way through the qualifier brackets earlier in the year.
By the time you have the final ADCC bracket, it’s fully stacked with the most elite grapplers on the planet.
I would hazard to guess that at any given point in time, there are less than a dozen grapplers in each weight class on the planet that even have a shot at being on the podium, much less winning the absolute bracket.
If you aren’t among this elite few, you’ll be lucky to cover your travel costs to go compete.
The IBJJF Worlds is often considered the most prestigious tournament in Gi BJJ.
Often, you end up seeing some of the same people on the podium at IBJJF as you do at ADCC, although the gap between who wins at IBJJF vs ADCC is likely to grow bigger as the no Gi game at the highest level continues to develop.
The IBJJF 2022 payouts for the blackbelt divisions vary depending on how many people register, and are as follows:
Black Belt Adult: all weight classes
Competitors in division – 2-8, payout $5,000.00 USD to champion
Competitors in division – 9-16 – $6,000.00 USD to champion
Competitors in division – 17-32 – $7,000.00 USD to champion
Competitors in division – 33+ – $8,000.00 USD to champion
Black belt adult: open class
Champion – $12,000.00 USD
As you can see, the prospect of making money off competing in IBJJF is slim-to-none, however technically, if you become a champion, you can earn a decent month’s salary.
Few other tournaments boast prize money
Overall, we can assume that top earning competitors earn less than 200k per year off of competition alone.
Truthfully, the vast majority of even highly skilled BJJ athletes probably end up paying more to compete than they will ever win by competing.
When looking at the payouts for the hardest tournaments in BJJ, its easy to wonder how on earth a less-than-Gordon-Ryan-or-Buchecha level professional grappler could support themselves.
The answer is obvious: teaching BJJ classes and seminars, running a BJJ gym, and selling instructionals.
In the same Instagram post, Gordon Ryan points out that by far the most lucrative aspect of BJJ is teaching and sharing knowledge with the world.
A competitor with a name such as Gordon Ryan is going to bring people in to the gym simply to train under him.
The same can be said of other big names such as John Danaher, Andre Galvao, and the Mendes brothers, for example.
Often, the gym fees for training under these big names are far more expensive than the average gym with an average black belt (who still can more money from teaching than is even possible in competition).
In this way, being a successful competitor does have secondary financial benefit aside from whatever the tournament payout happens to be.
In fact, winning a major global BJJ tournament is probably more lucrative due to the reputation boost than it is due to the victory purse.
Furthermore, famously successful BJJ competitors can sell-out seminars because of their name and qualifications.
Teaching a weekend of seminars is far less stressful and much more guaranteed-to-pay-out compared to getting on the podium at ADCC.
On a related note, BJJ instructionals are another way to make income for high level athletes.
The good news for athletes is that once the instructional is made, the sales revenue is moderately passive, minus the standard promotional posts from the athletes.
The bad news is that the instructional space is highly saturated, and bigger names like Danaher, Ryan, Faria, and others are going to sell the majority of instructionals.
Nevertheless, its safe to say that the golden goose of making money as an advanced BJJ competitor is going to be teaching BJJ in some form or another.
Wrapping up this discussion, the final and possibly best way a BJJ professional can make money is by running their own successful gym.
If an instructor or competitor can bring together the leadership, business skills, and networking abilities to grow their own gym, this can be incredibly financially rewarding.
I’d hazard to guess that most BJJ millionaire competitors likely make most of their money via their gym and affiliations.
Additionally, there is an expiration date on a competitor’s career regardless of how good they are, so eventually, even a highly successful competitor will need another source of income.
We’ve discussed the overview of what making money from BJJ can look like for the best-of-the-best.
Perhaps you’re wondering at this point if you can make money in BJJ if you are not an elite grappler.
The answer is a resounding yes. The fact is that most locally renowned black belts with their own gyms in your town probably have never set foot on an ADCC podium.
The great news is that it really does not matter.
Being an amazing coach requires a much more diverse set of skills that one can choose to develop, allowing even sub-par competitors to make amazing coaches with a large following and attendant financial success.
If your goal is to make money through BJJ and you are currently reading this article, your best bet is to get as good at coaching and teaching BJJ, working on your “people skills” and business skills, and grow your reputation as a martial arts instructor and leader in your local community.
According to GlassDoor, the average BJJ instructor makes roughly 60k per year.
However, this probably varies widely based on geographic location and how many classes per week an instructor coaches.
This is the true path to financial success in BJJ, and it is far more available to the ‘average black belt’ compared to making a living through competition alone.
Overall, its safe to say BJJ competition is not a lucrative sport.
Compared to the mega-million dollar salaries of top performers in sports such as basketball or football, Gordon Ryan, who is arguably the best performing athlete in the sport right now, earning possibly 200k is honestly insulting, regardless of your personal opinion on the man.
The good news is there is plenty of money making opportunities in the BJJ space, and having a solid competitor reputation will bolster your ability to make money coaching.
On top of that, the highest earning BJJ athletes will ultimately be the ones who build a successful gym, brand, and affiliation.
Getting paid a few thousand to make the podium at the world’s toughest BJJ tournament just isn’t going to cut it.
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