I first wrote about this topic in a guest post I did last year, The Next Great American Champion, but it’s still very relevant today.
It’s not easy to make it in Jiu Jitsu. But it’s definitely getting easier.
When I was coming up the ranks. I never thought that I would be doing Jiu Jitsu as a career. It was just a hobby that I was really passionate about. However, I still went to school and worked while I trained. I didn’t have dreams of opening an academy or being an instructor.
But I think the generation coming up now is different. They will want to make Jiu Jitsu their livelihood and they will have more access to money making opportunities.
As a high level competitor today you have a few options to support yourself.
Work (full or part-time)
Be independently wealthy
How much potential earning power you have will depend on a number of factors. Like which tournaments you’ve won, your social media, your personality, your business sense.
You could be one of the greatest grapplers in the world but if no one knows who you are. It will be very hard to promote yourself for seminars, instructor positions, and super fights.
The very best competitors in Jiu Jitsu might make some where in the low six figures. Not including those with academies or large associations. But this is only for the top 1%. Everyone else is left fighting for scraps and trying to carve out a niche for themselves.
I believe teaching Jiu Jitsu is a good long term career plan and running your own academy is a great investment.
But what about young athletes who aren’t established yet and have many years of competitions ahead of themselves?
Running an academy and being an active competitors isn’t easy. Let alone trying to become the very best in the world in order to make a decent living.
Comparably, a middle tier professional fighter in the UFC or Bellator has the potential to earn as much as or more than the very best Jiu Jitsu athletes, with more exposure and a lot more name recognition.
While a top tier black belt competitor ranked in the IBJJF, world’s or Pans medalist might have to scrape by with a lot less.
I’m not advocating that all Jiu Jitsu competitors should move on to mixed martial arts. It needs to be something that you’re passionate about.
However, I am saying that if you decide to pursue mma and happen to do well. The sky’s the limit. Just look at figures like Conor Mcgregor or Ronda Rousey. They were able to transcend their sport into mainstream popularity, wealth, and unlimited opportunities.
I can’t say the same thing about Jiu Jitsu. You could win the world championship and the open class, and still be broke.
Recall Jacare Souza and his transition from Jiu Jitsu to mma after breaking his arm in a match against Roger Gracie. Of course he won, but afterwards there was no reward outside of a hard fought victory. At least in mma they will cover your doctor bill.
Even the success and popularity of Jiu Jitsu is often contributed to the rise of mma.
While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is growing every year, it’s growth is nowhere near what MMA has experienced during a similar time frame.
It’s important to note that the optimal years for Jiu Jitsu athletes are the same as those of MMA fighters.
I think many Jiu Jitsu athletes get to the point where they consider making the transition to mixed martial arts often due to financial reasons. If you’ve reached a high level in Jiu Jitsu but don’t see a way of supporting yourself. MMA is one way to utilize your developed skill set to make a living.
MMA has a lot to offer athletes that is just not currently present in the sport of Jiu Jitsu namely:
Millions of people potentially knowing who you are
Ability to make a great living, even millions of dollars
Exposure to branch out into other fields like acting
Status as a professional athlete
Lucrative sponsorships with well known companies
There have already been many top competitors and world champions that have made the move to MMA and been successful. Being a Jiu Jitsu athlete, it’s inspiring when I seen guys that I used to compete against in tournaments making it to the most prestigious MMA events and making 5-6 figures per fight. I can see why a lot of competitors make the move from Jiu Jitsu to MMA.
If you love the lifestyle of training all the time and want to monetize you martial art and athletic skills then you really only have one option.
Jiu Jitsu Athletes that transitioned to MMA
I could keep going but this list is only going to keep getting longer, especially as MMA continues to grow and be able to offer Jiu Jitsu athletes access to more resources, sponsorships, and paydays.
I predict that a lot of up and coming athletes will use the greater popularity and potential earning power of mma in order to fund their lives and martial arts academies.
And while there are more and more resources being put into Jiu Jitsu competitions like the IBJJF Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi World Pro, and their best of the season awards.
Only the very best competitors in the world will win. Compared to an mma fight where both athletes walk away with something. Things are slowly changing as our industry moves towards more superfight for high level competitors. But the prizes still pale in comparison.
A good example of this would be my old rival Benny Dariush. He was able to use his success in the UFC to start his own academy. While I’m sure he would have a great career in Jiu Jitsu. If he were to do the same thing doing only Jiu Jitsu. It might take a greater time commitment and effort to achieve similar.
And just because you pursue MMA doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your Jiu Jitsu. There are many fighters that still manage to compete in many of the biggest grappling events. But at a certain level you will have to decide which path to dedicate yourself too.