NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 13: Lorenzo Fertitta UFC Chairman and President speaks during a press conference to announce commitment to bring UFC to Madison Square Garden and New York State at Madison Square Garden on January 13 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)

UFC To Offer Accident Insurance For Fighter Injury

The UFC's parent company, Zuffa LLC, is announcing the creation of an insurance policy that would cover all UFC fighters for pre-fight injuries whether they occurred in training or not.

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UFC Insurance Plan: Good For Talent Acquisition, Too

The UFC's new accident insurance plan clearly has numerous benefits. It creates a safer training environment. It alleviates some of the drain of fighters' disposable income that would normally go towards medical costs. And it generally gives the UFC the moral high ground in combat sports as it redefines the role and responsibilities of "promoter".

According to Leland Roling, it may also help with talent acquisition:

Zuffa's new insurance policy may change the way in which prospects think about their future, specifically the loved ones they may be helping support or their own well-being. We've heard stories about the struggles of professional fighters in the past. Injuries can wreak havoc on families, putting extreme pressure on fighters to perform, work through injuries in training, and show up to fights less than 100%. Let's not forget the added stress of finding a way to pay for training camps and training partners that were brought in to help you succeed.

While Zuffa's policy may not cover the costs of a training camp, it will alleviate the costs of getting healthy, a substantial cost for fighters, many of which are uninsured. For potential freshmen making their way through the regional ranks, the news should serve as a reminder that the UFC is where they want to be when the offer hits the table. 

Imagine a scenario like that of Chris Weidman. He had talked to Bellator, and he was more than likely sought as a competitor in one of the tournament brackets. The potential was there for him to net $100,000 in four months, get himself out of his parents' basement, and provide for his wife and newborn baby. Ray Longo and Matt Serra urged him to wait for the greener pastures of the UFC, and it worked out in the end. But what if they had not been there to mentor the young wrestler?

In Weidman's situation, many fighters would have signed on the dotted line with Bellator and attempted to earn the rather large sum of money at the end of a four-month roller coaster. But if Weidman had been injured in the lead-up to the first bout, he's broke with a newborn baby and wife in his parents' basement.

It's hard to argue with this. A prospect facing an important decision about where to take his talents is going to be heavily swayed by the opportunity to be insured to this degree. Other promoters are going to have to come out of their pockets just to keep up, which will likely further stratify the sub-UFC level fight promotions.

This also creates something of a barrier to entry for any wayward promotion or investor who cares to ever compete with the UFC. More than signing talent to run a successful operation, you'll have to provide other "amenities" that generally offset the quality of life available to this new middle class of UFC fighters.

This is Zuffa digging their promotional heels in the dirt and taking over the land in a way literally unimaginable a year ago. It'll be curious to see how the MFCs and Bellators of MMA react.

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UFC Insurance Plan: Insuring Fighters After Firefighters

Yesterday's landmark announcement that Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, would be insuring fighters under contract in an accident insurance plan is still reverberating throughout the MMA world. As we analyze what this means for the fighters and the sport more generally, we're beginning to understand what a monumental contribution this is to the lives and well-being of the fighters.

In fact, board-certified physician Matt Pitt explains the why obtaining coverage for professional MMA fighters beyond what is safely assumed to be high risk can be a difficult task in more precise quantitative terms:

Beyond the risk of their job, several factors make MMA fighters almost uniquely disadvantaged in finding health insurance in America.

MMA is a new sport, and there are a vanishingly small number of professional fighters. As a result, the health risk statistics associated with MMA are based on perhaps 2,000 poorly documented work years; for, firefighting the number of work years with which to build statistical models is in the multi-millions.

Is the risk of paralysis one in 100,000 or one in 160,000? Is there a 0.03 per annum risk of biceps tendon rupture or a 0.11 percent risk? Does a fighter go to the emergency room five times in a career or 20? For firefighters -- another profession with high work-related injury risk -- these numbers are known. For mixed martial artists, they are not; that uncertainty represents hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of exposure for an insurer.

Pitt also notes because of this coverage, more Zuffa fighters should be able to afford non-traumatic insurance plans to supplement their existing Zuffa coverage.

The point is this: the extraordinary effort put forth by Zuffa brass to break new ground and make this a reality is an achievement without qualification.

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UFC Insurance Policy Details Emerge: Notes From Today's Conference Call

I was on the conference call today the UFC held to further discuss their ground-breaking insurance coverage of fighters under contract. It appears I'm not allowed to ask questions on UFC conference calls, so I wasn't able to fully explore the issue as much as I would've liked. Still, here are the details:

  • All fighters under contract with Zuffa, LLC - meaning both Strikeforce and UFC fighters - are covered under the existing policy.
  • Details are still somewhat unclear, but this coverage is worldwide. Meaning, fighters who live in U.S. will be covered along with those in Brazil, Canada, Asia, Europe, etc.
  • Zuffa is paying 100% of the premiums. The coverage will be up to $50,000 per fighter per year. This includes coverage of anesthesia, physical therapy, surgeries and anything else related to accidents.
  • Zuffa brass deny this move has anything to do with undercutting the concept of a union. They argue this process has been in motion for three years, long before there were ever monopolistic concerns.
  • Lorenzo Fertitta says this move is coming at a substantial cost to the company. He would not give specific figures.
  • The $50,000 figure was arrived as the original benchmark for live event insurance policy.
  • This policy supplements the existing live event policy. As a simple explanation: if Shane Carwin gets hurt training, he's covered by the new policy. If Shane Carwin does not get hurt in training, but is hurt during a fight, he's covered under the already in place live event policy.
  •  When creating the plan, Zuffa brass stated they didn't want fighters to have to haggle with the insurance companies about what injuries were and weren't training related. Therefore, the plan covers all accidents for all fighters under contract.
  • A fighter does not have to have a fight coming up or scheduled to be covered. As long as they are under contract with Zuffa, they're covered.
  • Zuffa claims by getting insurance companies to look at the costs of insurance for event-related claims. This process reportedly demonstrated to the insurance companies that, generally speaking, the costs of insuring fighters was not nearly as onerous as they had assumed. 
  • Part of the reason why Zuffa is working with Houston Casualty is their high rating. For more on the rating of insurance providers, check out A.M. Best.
  • The insurance policy won't cover problems like the common cold, but would for sprained ankles. The UFC could not state definitively whether something like staph infection would be covered, but they believed it would be.
  • The dental coverage is identical to the larger policy, meaning teeth cleaning is covered, but a chipped tooth as a consequence of training would be.
  • The policy also offers life insurance in the event of catastrophic injury in pre-fight training.
  • The UFC said they had no figures on the number of fighters currently without insurance who are under contract with them.
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UFC To Offer Accident Insurance For Pre-Fight Injury

According to a report by Yahoo! writer Kevin Iole, Zuffa - the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) - is set to offer fighters accident insurance to cover pre-fight injuries. All fighters under contract will be eligible for the coverage and Zuffa has pledged to pay all premium costs.

Fighters who compete in the UFC are independent contractors, not employees, which reportedly makes them ineligible for comprehensive coverage. But fighters who pull out of bouts not only lose purse money, they also face gigantic medical costs. Zuffa is attempting to avoid this hugely problematic scenarios with pre-fight injury coverage that not only accounts for injuries in training, but non-training injuries as well. The policy takes effect June 1.

Here's essentially how it would work:

Fertitta said Zuffa has paid expenses for fighters who suffered training injuries previously, but noted that by getting a carrier – Houston Casualty Insurance Company, an A+ rated carrier by A.M. Best – the new plan will guarantee that all are covered.

The insurance the fighters are being provided is separate and distinct from health care insurance many workers get through their employers, which pays for things like doctor’s visits, hospitalization and prescription drugs. Zuffa is not offering the fighters that type of coverage.

But the accident coverage would have been helpful to former light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz several years ago. He injured his back in a fight and filed a claim under the UFC’s plan. But because Ortiz had done an interview in which he said the injury occurred in training, the insurance carrier denied the claim.

With the policy Zuffa is providing its fighters as of June 1, the injury Ortiz suffered would have been covered. And because it is accident insurance, the plan will cover a fighter if, for example, he slips while walking on ice and sprains an ankle.

"This will cover accidents that occur while a fighter is under contract with us," Zuffa general counsel Lawrence Epstein said. "Those accidents could occur in training or it could also be something like an automobile accident. A fighter could be driving to the grocery store and gets involved in an automobile accident and has an injury. This policy would cover him.

Adam Swift remarks:

Barrier for entry in MMA just got higher. Short of offering employment contracts not sure how you can be more fighter friendly than Zuffa.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

 

I find the gesture of paying 100 percent of the premiums to be an act of generosity without precedent. However, there are still a few questions in play:

1. Do steps like these undercut need for a fighters' union? Typically the formation of a union is where guarantees between labor and management result in health care coverage. Is Zuffa undercutting the need for fighters to band together for mutual gain?

2. Will this have any effect on fighters pulling out of contests to take advantage of the insurance? Without healthcare coverage in the run-up to fights, fighters often carry injuries into the cage so they can be treated by the existing insurance coverage after the fight. Now that they're able to pull out of a fight and still receive care, will we see more withdrawals? The fighters still will not receive their purse money.

3. What are the general costs to Zuffa to launch this coverage?

4. Is it fair to say this amounts to a pay raise for UFC fighters? By cutting out what can often by huge medical expenses, UFC fighters are augmenting the reach of their purse money by not having to carry into future training camps for medical coverage.

5. What would determine "pre-fight"? In other words, are injuries covered the entire time fighters spend between fights or is there a more precise window of coverage that's anchored on fight time?

6. Is there any combat sports promoter who has ever gone this far in trying to provide healthcare coverage for fighters?

More on this story as it develops.

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