Nicolau, who lives in Brazil but accepts a paycheck from the U.S., signed the contract on March 21 and is the first Latin American UFC athlete to take a paycheck in bitcoin.
"Some friends support me and even help me. I have some friends who already know about the Bitcoin world," Nicolau told FOX Business. "[O]ther ones are surprised, and they want to know more. My family has an open mind. … They trust my choices because they know I’m doing it for my future."
The deal was made possible through a payroll service called Bitwage, which has paid more than $150 million in Bitcoin to 150,000 users and 2,000 companies, Bitwage CEO Jonathan Chester, who previously worked for Oracle, told FOX Business at the Bitcoin 2022 conference.
"We're the most compliant solution on the market. You can make sure that its automated, it's compliant, and your workers are being education and pushed in the right direction because we're an extremely conservative organization," Chester said. "You can't trade on our platform. We don't have a wallet, so we can't lose your money. And we only offer top-teir coins that we know are going to last five years or longer, and that is Bitcoin, Ethereum and Stablecoin."
Nicolau says he is "putting everything in Bitcoin" after learning about the world's most popular cryptocurrency a couple of years ago. The moments when Bitcoin "goes down a little bit is an opportunity to put more money into Bitcoin," the UFC fighter said when asked whether he was concerned about the volatility of the cryptocurrency, which was valued at around $42,800 as of Friday afternoon.
"I really believe in Bitcoin," he said. "You see that this is something that is really growing."
In Brazil, he explained, depositing a U.S. paycheck into a Brazilian bank takes too much time, and the fees associated with the process take a chunk out of his paycheck.
"The bank was…stalling me, and it took more than a month to get my money," he said. "Right now, I decided how much I’m going to put into cryptocurrency, how much I’m going to put into United States banks, and how much I’m going to put into Brazilian banks."
He cited a 2021 study from DeVere that found more than a third of Millennials and half of Gen Z would be willing to receive more than half their salary in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.
And it's not just athletes. Bitwage works with retail workers, rideshare drivers, city workers, services companies and more.
"It's not just tech and crypto companies but professional services that are onboarding for this, and one of the reasons is because…it has one of the highest opt-in rates for non-critical benefits, critical benefits being health care and 401k," Chester explained.
Here's how it works, according to Chester: First, Bitwage offers a B2B (business to business) service to integrate Bitcoin "as a post-tax deduction" for employees, similar to the mechanism a business would use for a Roth 401k account, he said. Second, Bitwage offers a B2C (business to consumer) service when you "connect the direct deposit into the payroll system, and you choose…whatever percentage you want to be in Bitcoin or dollars."
Chester said Bitwage has clients in the United States and around the world in countries like Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria.
"2020 was a big inflection point for us. With COVID, there was remote work. You heard of a lot of people like Brazilians and Argentinians and Nigerians are all…coming to our system to get paid for international work. … But also, all the inflation helped us grow our U.S. business, as well, and with cryptocurrency growth, in general," he explained.
People who live in the countries he mentioned see Bitcoin payments "as a lifeline," whereas people in the U.S. see it more as an investment or protection against inflation, Chester said.