There are hundred thousand dollar purses (also known as handbags), and then there are boxing purses. In the case of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Paquaqi fight, this purse was reportedly worth up to $500 million.
In case you’re unaware, a “purse” is just another name for “prize money.” As per this very old ESPN blog post, the term “purse” may stem from the literal olde timey drawstring purses that were hung on the stakes planted in the ground to hold up the ropes (the ropes that form the shape of a square but are, for some reason, referred to as a ring).
Confused yet? Sweet. Let’s get started with the FAQ.
Where do the hundreds of millions of dollars for a boxing purse come from in the first place?
According to a report in CNBC, nearly 70 percent of the money in the case of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight came from fans shelling out for a pay-per-view of the bout. “Pay-per-view purchases will account for the biggest piece of the estimated sales,” reported CNBC. “With a suggested price of about $90, and the potential for 3 million or more buys, pay-per-view could generate $300 million.”
Based on a different report from the New York Times, ticket sales make up another $70 million, with international broadcasts rounding out the rest of the purse.
That’s a shit ton of money. Who gets to keep it?
William Trillo, co-founder of acclaimed boxing blog Pound4Pound, tells me that the purse is split between the two fighters, but that the fighter with the bigger draw gets a bigger piece of the pie. “In the  Canelo vs. Golovkin fight, it was a 55/45 split because Canelo has the bigger fan base,” says Trillo. To that end, in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, the split was 60/40, with Mayweather taking home 60 percent of the total purse. “The split between both fighters is decided after the purse bid (an initial step in arranging a fight) when the managers of both fighters negotiate how much each fighter is going to be paid,” explains Trillo.
So does each fighter then get to take home his entire percentage of the split?
Bless you, my dear, sweet, innocent child. No, it’s not even close: In fact, it could be argued that the U.S. government is the biggest winner of a boxing match. “The good news for Mayweather and Pacquiao is that there’s no income tax in the state of Nevada,” reports CNN. “The bad news is that the federal income tax rate will be 39.6 percent on their prize winnings.”
So… 60 percent of $500 million, minus another 40 percent in taxes after that, is still $180 million. Which doesn’t sound like such a bad payday, no?
Ah, but the fun doesn’t stop there. “If the guy has a manager or advisor, that guy will make about 20 to 25 percent of what the fighter makes from the fight,” says Trillo. “The promoter will make another 20 to 25 percent off the fighter’s side of the purse.” Boom, another half gone!
Of course, that doesn’t even include the trainers, who are likely going to get about 15 percent of the fighter’s purse, and the cut men (the guys who help seal cuts on a boxer’s pulverized face) who are going to get a flat fee, or somewhere along the lines of 2 percent. “Also factor in six to eight weeks of training camp, the daily rate of two sparring partners, food, travel, hotel costs and tickets for family members, which are usually paid for by the fighter,” explains Trillo.
Yikes. But, y’know, these guys are still going to take home several millions of dollars.
Well, yes, but that’s only true when we’re talking about major fighters whose boxing matches appear on HBO or pay-per-view. As for the rest of the boxing world, well, those fighters are pretty much getting screwed by those percentages, says Trillo. “I’ve seen fighters get handed their check after a fight that’s relatively big, and they look like a kid expecting a big giant toy under the Christmas tree, and instead, they get a lump of coal.”
To Trillo’s point, while singular fighters like Mayweather, Canelo and Pacquiao make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the average salary for a professional boxer is, “$35,584 per year, in a range that runs from $22,000 at the low end to $37,000 at the high end,” reports Chron. “I’ve seen a fighter’s mom or girlfriend sowing a vendor’s patch on a fighter’s shorts just before a fight to make an extra $50,” Trillo tells me.
Furthermore, while contract negotiations for the top boxers make sure every expense and percentage of the purse is accounted for, Trillo says that in a lot of cases, for lower level professional boxers, the contract doesn’t stipulate which chunk of cash the managers’, trainers’ or promoters’ percentage is going to be pulled from. “If a fighter’s purse is a million dollars, his trainer is going to make 15 percent of the purse,” says Trillo. “Now, is the fighter supposed to pay 15 percent of a million, or 15 percent of what he’s actually making?” According to Trillo, that’s just an example of the sort of thing that isn’t always clear in lower-level fighters’ contracts, and is a prime example of how they could get hosed.
This is why success stories like Mayweather, Pacquiao and MMA fighter Conor McGregor are exceptions to the purse rule. Most fighters, according to Trillo, barely make enough money to live — and certainly won’t be buying their girlfriends that expensive purse any time soon.