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The Rags to Riches Stories of Some of the Biggest MMA Stars

Few if any professions are gold mines when it comes to getting paid. What many people realize that no matter how skilled you are there are at least a million others that are bound to vie for the same opportunities that are presented on any given day. When it comes to fighting, there are literally thousands who train, sweat, and bleed for the chance to step into the spotlight and earn a massive payday. Far too often those who shed each other’s blood and break the bones of their opponents do so for pennies on the dollar as they just barely eke out a living for themselves and their families.

For MMA stars it is a harsh landscape filled with brutal truths that many individuals come to realize quickly as they voluntarily step forward to receive their beating. Even being at the top of their game doesn’t assure success, as hard work, sacrifices that few will ever know about, and pain on a level that might astound most people are all that is guaranteed. Yet for the lucky few that ascend the difficult peak towards success, there is hope. Those few out of thousands that achieve the golden ticket and can look forward to cashing in on their skills are often those who have little, if anything, to really lose. So with that being said, here are a few individuals who rose from virtually nothing to being the top contenders in MMA.

Connor McGregor

McGregor has been a fighter for longer than he’s been with the UFC, and for many years has backed up his often colorful and outgoing personality with his work inside the ring. At one point however he was still living at home with his parents and was almost penniless despite a successful fighting career. The fierce competitor was at one time thinking of hanging up his gloves and becoming a plumber, but thankfully a call from the UFC changed his fortunes for the better. Since then he has burst onto the scene and made his name a well-known commodity that has fans buzzing and even chanting his name as he makes his way to the ring.

He’s gained just as many detractors as fans as he has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind, but McGregor is one of the true success stories in the world of MMA. With his fierce fighting skills and brutal demeanor he has established himself as one of the more valuable fighters on the roster. The mere fact that he can be a bit mouthy at times is usually seen as a marketing ploy to add a little fuel to his fights and create a better promotional appearance as the next in line usually will look to take down the self-styled Irish warrior.

Ronda Rousey

Fans either love her or hate her, but no matter what, she is a fixture of UFC and MMA and is likely going to remain for as long as her legend exists. Rousey was already an accomplished fighter before making her way onto the MMA scene, having already won an Olympic medal in Beijing. At that time she was still an unknown, as she’d given up Judo in order to gain part time employment just to make ends meet. Unfortunately even that wasn’t enough as after a while she was relegated to living in her car. Once she decided to give MMA a try however, the sky became a limit she was seemingly designed to reach.

From that point on she was an instant star as her background allowed her to take the UFC by storm, encouraging Dana White to add in a Woman’s Division that Rousey soon conquered and held onto for an impressive number of wins. Even after losing her title to Holly Holm in stunning fashion, Rousey is still a well-known and respected name among MMA stars. Along with her endorsement deals, movie roles, and various other appearances, “Rowdy” Rousey is not likely to fade out anytime soon.

Jose Aldo

Jose Aldo is one of the few who can truly claim that he had almost nothing growing up. In fact he had to rely on the kindness of others to actually learn the martial arts while still seeking to find shelter and food to keep himself capable of functioning from day to day. His early days at the gym included sleeping at the facility and eating just once per day in order to save the money he needed to train. Now some might think this sounds more like a dramatic enactment of many fighters, but Aldo is the real deal when it comes to rising from literally nothing to being one of the top names in all of MMA.

He came into the UFC on fire and managed to secure an impressive number of wins that catapulted him from an extraordinary fighter to a well-paid gladiator that could demand an exorbitant salary that only the top spots were afforded. Despite his quick loss to Connor McGregor, Aldo has earned his spot as one of the more impressive fighters in the MMA world, and has reaped the benefits of his hard work and tireless sacrifice.

Miesha Tate

Believe it or not, Miesha Tate gave up medical school to become an MMA star. From the early going it wasn’t easy as she and her boyfriend were forced to live in a trailer near their gym to make up for the cost of training. It was a constant fight to live scenario as they made do with the earnings from each fight, meager as they were in the beginning. During her rise in MMA the Women’s Division was still a lesser known commodity that hadn’t yet gained the interest of fans or the decision-makers responsible for its eventual rise. In short, Tate was ahead of her time when she entered the ring, but was bound and determined to show that she had what it took to compete.

Among her many bouts Tate has been noted to be one of many contenders who has met the famed Ronda Rousey during her career, but her loss to Rousey was seen as a significant bump both to her reputation as well as her earnings. Since then however she has become the bantamweight champion at least once and has earned an increase in reputation and pay.

Anderson Silva

Can you see Anderson Silva, one of the greatest fighters ever to grace the MMA world, as a McDonalds employee? Not to put down the McDonald’s franchise, but thankfully Silva was able to escape such a fate when he found his way into an MMA career. Having grown up poor, Silva actually did work at the golden arches for a time until he discovered the much more active world of MMA. Unfortunately he almost went back to his old profession when he became disillusioned with the sport for a while. Despite his impressive stats at that point he was almost with hope until Antonio Nogueira recognized his talent and took him under his wing for a time.

Not long after that he was signed by the UFC, and from then on his average winnings made him an overnight millionaire, leading him to fame, glory, and endorsement deals that have kept him from ever having to wear a nametag or hairnet again.


The glory of earning that golden paycheck is, for fighters, a continual struggle that doesn’t end well for some, but can become a very real probability for others. Considering what has to be sacrificed however, and how much pain and endurance are required to reach that level, it’s not much of a wonder why the burnout rate for MMA fighters is as high as it is. In order to be the best you have to be willing to give up almost everything if you want to get anything.

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Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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