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Zuffa Lands Out-of-Competition Accident Insurance For UFC & Strikeforce Fighters (Update III)

From the land of awesome news comes word from Yahoo! Sports’ Kevin Iole that the Zuffa, parent company of the UFC and Strikeforce, has landed accident insurance coverage for all of its ~350 contracted fighters. It’s commonly known that UFC covers a fighter’s medical bills through an insurance policy if they are injured during a fight, but until now, fighters were on their own if they sustained any out-of-competition injuries in training or elsewhere. With this new policy, that has changed.

“We looked at this as a necessity for the sport and something that needed to happen,” Fertitta said. “We have talked about this for a long time and we have always had the same position when asked how fighters could have insurance outside of the fights. Like we said, it’s tough enough to get insurance just as a business, in and of itself, with how expensive it is.

“When you go to an underwriter and say, ‘Hey, we potentially want to insure 400 ultimate fighters,’ they pretty much close the door on you pretty quickly. We didn’t just give up, given the responses we were getting and the answers we were getting from a lot of these carriers. We continued on and it has been a 24-to-36-month process we have been going through to do it. We were adamant we were going to find a way to put this together.”

The good news is they did. Houston Casualty Insurance Company, an A+ rated carrier by A.M. Best, will provide the coverage. The even better news is that Zuffa will pay 100% of the premiums.

It’s important to note however, that this is not the traditional health insurance that you would get through your employer as the fighters are considered independent contractors and not employees. If a fighter gets sick and has to go the hospital and take prescription drugs for two months, he is still on his own to cover those costs. But, if he breaks a bone in training or even gets in a car accident like Shane del Rosario just did, the accident insurance will cover his medical bills. Zuffa’s lead attorney Lawrence Epstein explains:

“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.

“It’s not a policy you would typically see in an employer-employee relationship. It’s more akin to an auto insurance scenario, where any acute injury is going to be covered. Training injuries, a guy falls down the stairs, an automobile accident, those would be covered, but it wouldn’t be something like the flu or some disease or illness. It would only cover accident-related injuries.”

Really the only downside I can see with this is an uptick in the number of fighters withdrawing from fights with injuries. Most fighters enter the Octagon already hurt, but sometimes a fighter will have an injury that they probably shouldn’t fight with, but they do anyways because they need the paycheck and can’t afford the medical bills without it. With this new insurance, their bills will at least be covered, which I’m sure will result in many fighters thinking twice about whether or not it’s really worth the additional risk. Of course, looking at it from the perspective of the fighters, that’s not a downside at all.

As generous as this move is, it may not be completely altruistic. The talk for a fighter’s union has picked considerably since Zuffa purchased Strikeforce. Whether they’ll admit it publicly or not, it’s not something Zuffa wants to deal with, and providing out-of-competition to fighters eliminates one of the major arguments for fighters to unionize. Intentional or not, it’s puts Zuffa even farther out in front of what could potentially be a major issue down the road.

The new policy goes into effect on June 1. It’s unclear if this policy will extend to Strikeforce fighters as well, but there is a conference call today so that question will likely be answered by the end of the day. I’ll update this post with additional information after the call.

Update: The official announcement clarifies that all Strikeforce fighters will receive the coverage as well.

Update: Each fighter will receive $50,000 in annual coverage and won’t have to pay anything out of pocket. UFC attorney Lawrence Epstein wasn’t entirely sure if fight related illnesses such as staph infections will be covered or not.

Update: It’s all cheers for the new insurance program around the MMA community today. Here’s a few comments from industry professionals and fighters on the news.

Malki Kawa, Jon Jones’ manager:

“I think it’s good news for fighters. It allows them to deal with whatever issues they have as far as training. In the past, the UFC has been good at taking care of them at events. Now, they have peace of mind that they can train full-time and they know they’re covered. That financial strain of, ‘What if something happens’ up until fight time is lessened.”

Frank Trigg, who unfortunately won’t get to benefit from the program:

“During fight night, we’ve always had that protection. It’s the eight, 10, 12 weeks before that you always have the problem with. You get hit in the eye and get stitches, you have to pay for it out of pocket. So it’s good, I’m glad it came along.”

Mark Hominick:

“That’s huge for everybody. And the training camp, I don’t know how many fights I’ve went in there fighting through an injury. Maybe it’s a fight where I should have stepped back and took my time to heal, but sometimes…you do this as a living and you do need to make ends meet sometimes.”

Dana White:

“This is a big milestone in the company. 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 on the phone announcing that we can finally cover these fighters … it’s a big day. Not only for this company, but for all of combat sports in general. It’s never been done. It’s a proud moment for us.”

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