Top 15 MMA Fighters Who Were Broke When They Started Their Careers

One of the most beautiful aspects of sports in general is that anyone from any background can participate and excel in almost every sport. It does not matter if you are rich or if you are poor, but all that matters is whether or not you have practiced a lot and have become better than most of your competition. We have seen in every professional league examples of athletes who grew up in tough situations and overcome these situations to excel at their sport. Mixed martial arts have proven to be a gateway for athletes from all different backgrounds.

A select few fighters gave up everything in life to concentrate on fighting, and they have done so in hopes of making it into MMA associations such as the UFC and Bellator. The payouts especially in the UFC can be very rewarding. There are also bonuses awarded to fighters who have performance of the night honors or fight of the night honors. These payouts make all the hard work that these fighters who came from rough backgrounds worth it, and these generous payouts can help some fighters with getting their families out of the rough situations that they were brought up in.

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16 Mark Hunt

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Mark Hunt endured an extremely traumatic childhood when growing up in New Zealand, and he was put through a lot of stress as a kid. He was an unfortunate product of child abuse at a young age. His older sister was raped by his father until she was 18, and Hunt was hit with various household items growing up. These actions in the home led to Hunt being a bully and fighting the streets of New Zealand. Hunt began his fighting career as a kick boxer, and then turned to PRIDE fighting championships to take his anger out. His first UFC fight came in September of 2010. Hunt has a mediocre record, but has been a fan favorite. He just recently took on Brock Lesner at UFC 200, and most likely hauled in a big payday. Hunt has come a long way since being abused as a child in New Zealand.

15 Ian McCall

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Ian McCall got a lot of practice fighting growing up in California. He was a member of a gang called the Lords of South County and regularly got into fights while participating in this gang. McCall and his fellow gang members would gang fight a person until the person was beat up to the point where they couldn't stand. Many members of the gang were charged with crimes, but McCall avoided being charged. McCall started fighting in the WEC, and then he eventually joined the UFC. McCall faced Demetrius Johnson in the first flyweight bout in the UFC’s history, and he fought closely with Johnson who has been the flyweight champion of the UFC since the division has been in place in the UFC. McCall almost overdosed on drugs in 2012, but has made a full recovery and is committed to being a good father to his daughter and progressing as a fighter.

14 Jeremy Stephens

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Stephens’s parents split up when he was eight years old, and this caused a lot of chaos to ensue early on in his life. He switched schools frequently and bounced around different apartments while living with his mom. After living in apartments, Stephens lived in a shelter, and even spent time living out of his mother’s car when times got really hard. Stephen’s moved in with his dad when he started the fifth grade, and his grandfather introduced him to mixed martial arts. He started fighting when he was 16 as an amateur. He excelled early, and he eventually made it all the way to the UFC, making his debut at UFC 71 in May of 2007. He lost, but he went on to win his next fight at UFC 76. Stephens has now been in the UFC for nine years, and no longer takes shelter out of a car.

13 Jacare Souza

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Souza hails from Brazil, and did not have the greatest upbringing as a child. When he was 15 years old he saw a close friend of his murdered and was forced to move in with his brother after this unfortunate and traumatic event. He did not start practicing martial arts until later in his teenage years. His nickname Jacare is the Portuguese translation of alligator, and when he fights he is extremely vicious. Souza has enjoyed a lot of success as a fighter, and in 2013 he signed a five-fight deal with the UFC. His last fight came against Vitor Belfort at UFC 198, and he was victorious against him. He was awarded a bonus for a winning performance of the night at UFC 198. Souza went through a really tough upbringing, but his love of martial arts at the age of 17 turned his life around.

12 Tyron Woodley

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Tyron Woodley came from a large family, and he has 12 siblings in total. His father left him early on in his life so his mother was some one that Tyron greatly appreciated and looked up to as a youngster. He spent high school on the honor roll every semester, and attended the University of Missouri in hopes of making there wrestling team better. Woodley got into mixed martial arts post college, with his sights set on a potential career as a mixed martial artist. He was one of the final cuts for the show The Ultimate Fighter, and joined Strikeforce shortly after this set back. He made a lot of noise in Strikeforce, and he would make his UFC debut at UFC 156. He has enjoyed success in the UFC, only losing once since he joined the organization, and will fight Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 for the welterweight championship.

11 Tito Ortiz

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Tito Ortiz grew up in California, and did not have the greatest of parents to model his life after. Both of his parents were heroin addicts. Seeing his parents on drugs most likely led to Ortiz acting out as a child, and he experimented with drugs such as cocaine and PCP at an early age. Ortiz also was sent to juvenile hall as a teenager. Wrestling was a great escape for him because he was dominant in the sport, but at 18 he started using meth. He was convinced by an old wrestling coach to wrestle in college. His wrestling success led to his desire to become a professional fighter. He had a decade long successful run in the UFC starting in 1997, and still fights in Bellator. He has gone from an unstable home to owning his own management company, and making a lot of money in the process.

10 Ken Shamrock

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Ken Shamrock grew up in an impoverished neighborhood close to Atlanta, Georgia. He got into a lot of fights growing up, and did not fit in whereever he went. Team sports allowed Shamrock to control his anger and not fight as much on the streets. Fighting on the streets got Shamrock in trouble, and during the late eighties and early nineties he got in legal trouble for fighting. He would get in fights when he worked as a bouncer. This started to become costly because he would always have to pay some kind of fine.

When he discovered mixed martial arts he figured he could fight without getting fined, and he could actually make a profit instead of paying fines. He was one of the first fighters elected into the UFC Hall of Fame and also spent time with the WWE of professional wrestling. He is currently a part-time fighter with Bellator.

9 Junior Dos Santos

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Dos Santos was poor growing up in Brazil with only a single mother to look after him. He had to start working at an early age, and this deterred him from getting in contact with martial arts. He discovered the martial art of jiu-jitsu at 21. At that age, he would begin his professional fighting career, and he quickly made a name for himself on the lower circuts. He debuted in the UFC in 2008, and won the knockout of the year award for 2008 in his first fight at UFC 90. By 2011, Dos Santos was the UFC heavyweight champion, and he easily obtained that title in 64 seconds against Cain Velasquez. By the age of 27 he was the heavyweight champion of the UFC, and although he lost that title, he is still a top contender in the heavyweight division. He no longer has to endure a tough lifestyle.

8 Glover Teixeira

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Glover had a tough life as a youngster, and mixed martial arts gave Teixeira an opportunity and outlet to escape the life of minimal salary. He grew up in Brazil, where martial arts are wildly popular, and held a couple odd jobs to pay for his training. Before he was a professional fighter he was a farmer. He also spent some time as a lumber jack as well, and I’m sure he does not miss working outside in the brutal heat of Brazil doing yard work and farming for various individuals. He has been extremely successful throughout his career in the UFC. Teixeira started his career with two wins and two losses, but since then he has won 23 times and only loss twice. He is the number three ranked light heavy weight in the UFC, has paid his dues and has come a long way from chopping wood in Brazil.

7 Rampage Jackson

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Rampage Jackson began selling drugs at an early age just to make enough money to get by. His father was a drug addict who left his life when was 10 years old, and Jackson took out his frustration on the streets, as he was known to get into a fair share of scuffles. He did not begin high school until he was 17, and immediately began to wrestle. Jackson started wrestling in college but was expelled for fighting with a teammate. His professional fighting career began in 2001. He endured a large amount of success fighting in the PRIDE Fighting Championships, and started fighting in the UFC in 2006. In 2007, Jackson shocked the MMA world by upsetting the legendary Chuck Liddell to win the light heavyweight title. Rampage Jackson now fights for Bellator. He has made a lot of money during his career, and no longer has to sell drugs just to get by.

6 Ronda Rousey

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Ronda Rousey's life was turned upside down when at the age of eight, her father Ron committed suicide. From there, her mother was left to raise Ronda and her sisters by herself. Rousey spent much of her teen years dedicated to judo. Her judo career culminated with a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing games. She spent several years tring to make ends meet, as all her time dedicated to judo wasn't paying any bills. She's reflected in her autobiography how she had to sleep in her car when she was at her lowest.

She eventually began to pursue her MMA career at 22 when she realized she didn't want to spend her life living paycheck to paycheck in a conventional line of work. She made her debut as an amateur in 2010 and in six years, she has become not just the biggest female star the sport has ever seen, but one of the biggest stars of all time. She's even transcended MMA, landing herself roles in movies and gracing magazine covers. Let's just say she never has to worry about sleeping in her car again.


4 Eddie Alvarez

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Eddie Alvarez came from an extremely rough neighborhood within the city of Philadelphia. He was raised in Kensington, which is known as a section of Philadelphia with a large amount of violent crimes, and it is hard not to get sucked into the criminal lifestyle when coming through this section of Philadelphia. Kensington is also well known for its narcotics problem. Alvarez was determined to make it out of Kensington, and boxing and mixed martial arts provided an avenue into the spotlight. Alvarez’s first fight came only eight months after he started training in mixed martial arts.

On July 7, 2016, Alvarez won the lightweight championship belt after just his fourth fight in the UFC. It only took Alvarez three minutes and 49 seconds to TKO his opponent Rafael Dos Anjos. Alvarez has achieved financial success and moved his family out of Kensington, and into the much less crime ridden northeast Philadelphia.

3 Conor McGregor

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Before Conor McGregor was a household name, he could be found in houses fixing toilets and other plumbing issues throughout his native country of Ireland. McGregor spent a year as a plumber before he gave up the craft to pursue the art of fighting, as he was sick and tired of doing something he didn't love. He burst onto the fighting scene, and was beginning to become a crowd favorite, and his knockout ability allowed him the chance to accumulate unforeseen amounts of wealth. During his last fight in which he was defeated by Nate Diaz via submission, McGregor earned an astounding one million dollars.

It is safe to say that McGregor is enjoying his new found riches. He is financially satisfied, but he is more anxious to get revenge at UFC 202 against Nate Diaz, and in the process haul another huge payday. Either way, McGregor is now UFC's most popular fighter, and his bank account is looking good because of it.

2 Anderson Silva

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Anderson Silva had an extremely rough upbringing in Brazil. He was a product of a poverty stricken family, and did not even have a mother and father to look after him for the majority of his childhood. Silva’s aunt and uncle were forced to look after him and four others on a police officer’s salary, a job that wasn't able to help the family all that much. Silva did not have the money to get formal martial arts training at a young age, and jiu-jitsu was seen as a martial art of elite families in Brazil. Silva was determined to make an honest living as a fighter, so he did everything he could to make it happen.

The UFC arguably has never seen a more dominant fighter in its history, and Silva held on to the middleweight championship for nearly seven years. He can now provide much more than a police officer’s salary for his family.

1 Jose Aldo

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Jose spent his early years in Manaus, Brazil getting beat up on the streets. This triggered his desire to become a fighter, and he began practicing the martial art of capoeira to help his habit of brawling. He tried out jiu-jitsu and became very fond of the martial art. He left Manaus for Rio de Janeiro to pursue a career in fighting, and all that he brought with him were clothes. He started doing mixed martial arts fights in Brazil, then he joined WEC, and when WEC merged with the UFC he became the inaugural UFC featherweight champion in 2011. He held onto that belt until his loss to Conor McGregor in December of 2015, which was his first professional loss in over 10 years. Aldo was extremely poor growing up, but he has become a rich man due to his fighting success. Aldo made $400,000 in his loss to McGregor.

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