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Judging how big Zuffa’s new insurance policy is for fighters

By Zach Arnold | May 10, 2011

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Yesterday, ESPN ran the news on their TV ticker that Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard was postponed from UFC 130 due to both men suffering injuries. However, the much larger news announced yesterday was not covered on ESPN. It was covered in a UFC/Zuffa conference call.

Before we provide introductory quotes from that conference call, check out and read these articles covering the subject matter at hand:

Here is how Lorenzo Fertitta introduced the news yesterday on the conference call:

“The issue of accidental insurance for fighters has been an issue, obviously, for a long time. Of course, fighters have always been and are covered for anything that happens during an event or during a fight. The complexity comes as far as providing insurance for fighters when they’re not in a fight, during their training, during time in-between and it’s unprecedented in the fact that in combat sports this has actually never been done. About three years ago, me & Dana sat down with the rest of our executive and, essentially, came to the decision that we were going to figure out how to do this, no matter what. And after a long, exhausting process of going through insurance companies and trying to be creative to figure out how we could put together a structure that would insure these fighters, we’re finally at a point where we’re happy to be able to announce that starting June 1st all of the fighters that are under contract with Zuffa, which would include all of the fighters on the UFC roster as well as the Strikeforce roster, will be covered under this plan. The coverage will also be available worldwide, so not only will this cover the fighters that live in the United States but will also cover the fighters from no matter where you are, whether it be Brazil, Europe, Asia, Canada, no matter where that be. In addition to that, Zuffa will pay 100% of the premium so this is a complete benefit to our fighters, they don’t have to cover out of pocket for any monthly fees or monthly dues or anything of that nature and the coverage will be up to $50,000 per fighter per year. It will cover everything from physician services, lab tests, emergency room, anesthetics, physical therapy, anything that would involve any type of an accident. So, with that, Dana you want to add anything else?

“And like Lorenzo said, this is a huge deal for us. This is a huge deal for us, this is a big milestone in the company. You know, you always hear me talking about milestones and all the things we’ve accomplished, we’ve been trying to figure this one out since we started the company. To be here today announcing that we can finally cover these fighters… and not just for fights but for training, like Lorenzo said, it’s a big day not only for this company but for combat sports in general. It’s never been done. People have talked about it, people have attempted to do it, it’s never been done and now it finally has and it’s a proud moment for us.”

The fallout

There’s a lot to react to here in regards to this news. I’m sure you have your own opinions and I sure want to hear them. I’ll start off by asking you this question: Is this announcement a big deal, little deal, or no deal at all?

My answer: Solid deal.

(Our friend, Keith Harris, disagrees: “It’s not really that different from what WWE does, except UFC pays for injury insurance, while WWE pays for the medical bills when their wrestlers need surgery.”)

In response to Keith, I would say the following: old-school wrestling fans know how tough it is for wrestlers to get insurance. Three words: Lloyd’s of London. Those policies got discontinued for a reason.

As for yesterday’s Zuffa insurance news, the first thought that crossed my mind is that this is a smart union-busting move by a company that should not want to see a fighter’s association (like Rob Maysey’s MMAFA) crop up. My second thought is that this keeps the pressure off of the organization in regards to the classification status of fighters as independent contractors as opposed to employees. The truth regarding any business ran by the Fertitta family is that unions always play a big part in their decision-making and their corporate bottom-line. Hell, it’s been a big part of the narrative in regards to why MMA hasn’t been legalized in the state of New York. (Ask Robert Joyner about that.)

Speaking of New York (like Eddie Goldman did yesterday), I can’t help but think that a positive benefit from this insurance announcement is that it will indirectly help Zuffa out in terms of PR in the state. No longer can politicians argue that fighters do not have insurance to cover accidents while under contract.

I thought Dana White’s comments were most telling on the conference call. When he was talking about others in the past promising to give fighters health insurance and benefits, that clearly was a shot at the IFL. Remember them? They were going to bring some heft and momentum to the table in regards to financial security for fighters. It didn’t pan out the way it was supposed to (on paper).

Most curious to me regarding this announcement yesterday was how it was done. It was done using a standard, basic conference call where a few people are allowed to call and listen in. You would think that for such a big announcement that there would be a big press conference to discuss what amounts to a major PR triumph. Dana White talked about how Zuffa’s new insurance policy is something that we haven’t seen in the world of combat sports. If that’s the case, why not go full-bore with a media splash? The announcement was done in a pretty low-key manner.

What will be most interesting is to see how other fight promoters react. Will they try to copy what Zuffa is doing here? If so, good. We may find out later on down the road that the insurance policies Zuffa has purchased for their contract fighters is not too expensive or not too fancy. Fine. The bottom is that they have now got the ball rolling here on an important business matter and I would much rather have other promoters try to copy it in some fashion than ignore the precedent being set here.

Topics: Media, MMA, StrikeForce, UFC, Zach Arnold | 9 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

9 Responses to “Judging how big Zuffa’s new insurance policy is for fighters”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    This insurance is a good thing. Fighters will still need to get supplemental insurance on their own, but that will be a lot cheaper.

    The nextfew things the UFC can improve on are:

    1) Minimum Fighter Pay Requirement. I throw out $10,000 minimum per fight because it’s a nice round number, but there does need to be some sort of minimum pay for a fighter in the UFC. Along with that, there needs to be minimum pay for a fighter in a championship fight. Shouldn’t matter what their contract says. If you are fighting for a title, you should be guaranteed a specific amount.

    2) 5 Round fights for a SELECT FEW additional fights that are meaningful enough to warrant them.

    3) Addition of Flyweight Division.

    4) Knees on the ground.

    Overall the sport is going in the RIGHT direction under the leadership of Fertitta and White. Nothing is ever perfect but they are making all of the right moves to progress the sport and also keep the threat of a union down.

    I’m a pro union for the fighters. But if the UFC continues to be fair, there might not be one. But the options should always be there.

    • The Gaijin says:

      This insurance is definitely a good thing, and even if it’s not “the best” insurance yet, it’s a start and will be the ground floor that fighters could push to improve upon in the future. And from Zuffa’s perspective, they have to start somewhere and figure out how a plan like this is going to work and what the wrinkles and hiccups are going to look like.

      But this should remove the stories of a guy like Joe Stevenson needing to go to Mexico for medical care b/c of training injuries.

      I like the idea of a salary floor, but frankly they pay the guys at the bottom end a pretty decent amount given how interchangeable they are. I’d also like to see they “big names” get what they are worth, which will be another factor in drawing elite athletes to the sport. While you want to make sure the guys on the fringes or just getting started that could be your next superstar stay in the sport and are able to train full time and keeps a roof over their head, I don’t want to see an “NBA situation” for the UFC where we have a “bench player” making $45 million over 5/6 years.

      I don’t think there’s much that I need to add what you’ve said on the rest. Unions can be great for fighter rights and bargaining, but if they are going to basically provide the fighters what they would get with a union then the “threat” of unionization is the perfect bargaining chip to keep Zuffa honest with the fighters.

      • edub says:

        Honestly I love both of the minimum pay thoughts. IMO Starting guys off at 10 and 10 would start to have the UFC look a little more at the fighters they bring in. “Instead of just bringing in everyone under the sun with some potential, you know they woul have to be a little higher in quality” that’s how I kind of think the subject should be.

        Also I think the championship fights should be 100 and 100 no matter what the contract says. Maybe more.

    • Chromium says:

      1) Agree, though I’m not sure of the exact number. Maybe $8k + $8k outside of SF Challenger shows and lower SF Prelims.

      2) I think that’s coming quite soon. They wanted to do it for JDS vs. Lesnar but those two had already started training camp.

      3) Would really like to see this but they’re still familiarizing audiences with the Bantamweights and Featherweights (which had existing WEC hierarchies to build on). Even before the StrikeForce merger I was thinking it’d be like 1st quarter of 2012 at the earliest before we saw this. Definitely this needs to happen though.

      4) I assume you mean to the head. That’s not really their call (not sure if you were implying this but still). They can lobby to have it added to the Unified Rules on a state-by-state basis, but first they need to get sanctioned in NY State before even considering this. Would be nice to eventually see though.

      Would add:

      5) Prep StrikeForce like a ThanksGiving turkey preparing to be eaten. Build up the brand, build up the Champions, weed out the people who simply don’t belong there by having them fight each other, and take advantage of the fact that while the UFC’s roster is pretty saturated outside of HW, StrikeForce actually needs more people in some divisions. Meanwhile, trim the fat.

      5a) Now would be the time to sign a guy like Maximo Blanco, while there’s still a place to give him a soft-serve opponent (that being the Challenger’s show) before giving him a huge opponent. Now would also be the time to try and track down some of the few high-level free agents left. Try and get people like Mamed Khalidov, Kazuo Misaki, and Shinya Aoki (if available), etc., and use them to build up StrikeForce.

      5b) Stop using local promotions to fill out SF cards (well, maybe some of the Challenger ones), and find outlets to air the prelims themselves, with full production control. Do the top two prelims on HDNet (with an inserted fight or two from lower on the card if there is time), and air the rest on Facebook. Use your own producers. Use this as a way to help build up prospects and keep fighters active.

      5a) Possibly start a small FW division in StrikeForce as part of the prepping process. This could lead to a superfight down the road. Go after guys like Hatsu Hioki, Bibiano Fernandes, Hiroyuki Takaya, that guy who just beat Hiroyuki Takaya (Robert Peralta), and fill it out a bit from there.

      5b) Develop the women’s divisions and take advantage of the talent out there, which they really are not doing. Add W125 too, as it’d actually be the deepest division if everyone fought at their natural weight class, has generally better fights, and you could attract some top fighters at W115 to come up in weight too. I know not everyone will agree with me on all this, but you have to admit this will at least tighten points of entry for any potential upstart competitor.

      5c) Purely from a business standpoint, they need to try to get the MW title off Jacare, if Anderson Silva doesn’t lose his. They are never going to fight each other because they are both from Team Blackhouse. If they both keep retaining then deal with it later, but for now, make sure to book Jacare in plenty of title fights.

      5d) Sort out the Fedor problem.

      5e) Eat StrikeForce like a scrumptuous Thanksgiving turkey. Absorb it into the UFC, and make a string of Superfights to unify titles. Start running 40+ events a year.

      6) Offer a per-diem for fighters, even if it’s not a huge one. Even a $1,000 a month could make the difference between whether fighters need a day job or not.

      7) Secure a deal to air some shows either on ESPN or a major broadcast network, while retaining full production control. Yes they are a PPV company, but the exposure you could get from running a few major shows on one of those networks is invaluable.

      8: Continue to be a juggernaut. Crack the Japan market so I can tell Zach Arnold he was wrong 😛

      Wow I put way too much time into this.

      Ed. — They still don’t have a strong TV deal in Japan. They can run a spot show or two there, but long-term growth? 0%.

  2. Kelvin Hunt says:

    The insurance deal has to be good…it’s better than what the fighters had before…one storyline that I could see coming from it is this though..

    You know how it’s been said that fighters fought injured just so they can get their injuries fixed? I wonder how fighters will react now that they’ll be insured…meaning…how much more often will they pull out of fights because of injuries now? I’m not advocating that fighters fight injured by any means. However, hopefully they won’t be pulling out of fights every time they get break a nail either.

    • fd says:

      On the other hand, this could actually result in fewer injury pull-outs because fighters will get minor injuries treated promptly, rather than trying to train through them because they can’t afford a doctor’s visit and aggravating them into something that prevents them from fighting.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        I see this as what will end up happening. Fighters will bemore proactive and it will result in less fighters pulling out of fights.

    • Phil says:

      They still need to fight to get paid.

      I’m sure there will be a small increase in pull outs because they can get the injuries fixed without fighting, but that will be made up in the quality. Now if you injure yourself with something minor but can linger around when you don’t have a fight scheduled, you can get that fixed instead of training and fighting hurt to get it fixed.

  3. Keith Harris says:

    Zach, I think the main reason the Lloyd’s of London insurance policies for wrestlers got discontinued was because so many of them conned the system by collecting permanent disability settlements only to later return to the ring in some form or fashion. Bret had to end up suing the company to get his settlement due to them being burnt in the past by his compatriots.

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