By now you’ve heard the big news: the folks at Zuffa will now be offering up accidental insurance to all fighters on their roster, which includes everyone from their UFC stars to the lowliest Strikeforce prelim scrub who usually gets paid in t-shirts and stationary. Luke Thomas has the details, but the salient points include the $50,000 per year coverage, the fact that Zuffa is paying all premiums, and coverage applies to injuries in training (even when a fighter doesn’t have a fight coming up) as well as injuries incurred in just plain old accidents. It’s huge and it’s momentous – and for reasons beyond the obvious “Fighter X can now get that mole removed and Fighter Y can finally get treatment for his chronic gout”. Consider this:
It takes the legs out from under the fighters’ union movement. For years the words “labor union” have been bandied about as a remedy for perceived ills in the working conditions of fighters, and Zuffa’s complete dominance of the marketplace – which was reasserted with their recent purchase of Strikeforce – has only fueled the fires. Are the contracts that bind pugilistic laborers too restrictive and unfair? Is Zuffa’s aggressive acquisition of personal image rights akin to intimidating strong-arm tactics? Can the locker rooms at the MGM Grand be considered a sweatshop? If these were the questions that pervaded, they’re forgotten, forgotten in the face of this mighty paid-healthcare concession. Who wants to bother with a fighters’ union now?
It gives Zuffa an insane amount of bargaining power with fighters. Think about it: why would anyone want to leave the warm embrace of covered doctor visits and medical checkups for a rival organization that offers maybe just a short stack of cash but nothing more? What incentive is there for someone to want to sign with Bellator or Shark Fights or Tachi Palace Fights? Employment as a Zuffa fighter now guarantees protections heretofore unseen in the world of sanctioned beatdowns and bloodshed. Why would anyone want to fight elsewhere?
It raises the bar for other organizations. As if Zuffa’s remaining competition (and that word is used very loosely) didn’t have it rough already, now they have to contend with the idea that no matter what kind of money they offer, it won’t outshine what those folks with the Octagon are bringing to the table. Which begs the question: how soon until other MMA promotions start offering medical and dental plans?
It fosters ridiculous goodwill with everyone. As the main beneficiaries of Zuffa’s insurance coverage, of course fighters love it. But so too do fans, as it proves yet again that Dana White and company ultimately have the best interests of fighters at heart. And to outsiders looking in – like regulators, legislators and mainstream media – it can only be interpreted as the exact opposite of the stereotype “greedy promoter is greedy”.
It’s indicative of something greater. Last month I had a conversation with a high-level Zuffa insider, and he mentioned something that seems very telling right now. He spoke of his bosses’ drive and ambition, and how they’re always aiming higher. It’s not enough to just crush the competition in mixed martial arts; the folks running the UFC won’t rest until they’re competing with – and kicking the ass of – major league sports. Well, now that the UFC has stamped out every other big MMA organization, the Powers That Be might see this as the time their dominant fighting league starts vying for a share of the pie baseball, basketball, football and hockey have been dining on. And what would strengthen the concept of a viable sports league more than acting like a viable sports league? New Jersey-based manager and trainer Mike Constantino summed it up nicely. He said, “It is a major step in the right direction for the UFC… to be recognized by the athletes as a major organization like the MLB, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL.” Amen to that.