Should there be a fighter’s union?
April 27, 2011
In a recent interview with ESPN, Randy Couture voiced his concern for fighters to receive health benefits. These comments raised the issue of whether there is a need for a fighter’s union. While Couture is against a union, he endorsed the need for fighters to receive some type of medical coverage.
Couture isn’t interested in spearheading a war for fighters’ rights, but he said there are issues that absolutely need to be addressed. His hope is that Zuffa and the fighters will come together with open minds before a war is the only option left.
Couture points out health insurance when not competing and the need for a pension as two issues he would like to see addressed to take care of fighters. However, Couture does not think unions are always beneficial. He points to the recent NFL labor issues as an example.
The Score disagrees with Couture’s comments:
The disagreement I have with Couture is that he believes that, without any leverage, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta will bow to the fighters command and do this. Why would Zuffa invest millions of dollars into fighter safety away from the cage when there is no pressing need to do so? The last line of Couture’s interview says it perfectly “There’s got to be a way to come together and meet on ground that everyone can live with.” This is why Unions exist, so that two parties can come together, on equal footing, and negotiate a common ground.
Whether it’s Couture’s political ideology or the fact that his retirement is imminent and needs to be in the good graces of hte UFC so he can receive a Chuck Liddell-like position in the UFC, Couture believes that Zuffa and fighters would come together to address concerns. While I do not believe there will be a Norma Rae moment in the UFC or Strikeforce, it begs the question of the need for insurance coverage for fighters. Its not clear whether Couture actually thinks that Zuffa and fighters would actually sit down and talk about these issues…let alone think that the discussion would be amicable. Bear in mind, Couture and Zuffa have been involved in litigation. Perhaps Couture is painting a rosy picture on this issue as he fades into retirement.
While there is speculation that some fighters are covered by Zuffa in their contracts, others are not. For an up and coming fighter at the bottom rung of the card, it would be hard to request in their contract a clause for insurance. The fighter market is so competitive that if a fighter is injured, its easy to find someone to replace the injured fighter. There have been instances of fighters going into fights with known injuries but doing it because they need the money to feed their family.
There are distressing stories out there about fighters not being covered by insurance. Former TUF welterweight winner Joe Stevenson had to go to Mexico for x-rays due to the fact that he could not afford it in the U.S. This was after Stevenson had won the six-figure contract as the TUF winner. Then there is the gruesome injury (don’t click on the link if you have a weak stomach) suffered by Corey Hill in 2008. Dana White indicated that the UFC paid for Hill’s medical treatment and rehabilitation. Even though Hill’s medical bills were paid, Hill still had financial problems. Obviously breaking a leg when your profession is being a fighter hurts you financially. One may argue that the individual should be held accountable for their financial fate. But, most fighters give up other careers to focus on their dream of fighting in the Octagon.
For the UFC’s part, it has conducted seminars for its athletes to educate them on the need for coverage. If nothing else, this can provide the necessary information on what is and what is not covered in terms of health insurance coverage. Then, it would be up to the individual fighter to determine whether to purchase insurance.
With no health or disability insurance offered by Zuffa, fighters are left to make the decision on whether to purchase it themselves or roll the dice and hope that they are not seriously injured. Certainly, insurance premiums would be high considering the nature of the work.
Although it would be prudent for an agent or manager to persuade their fighter to purchase insurance, it would be up to the fighter. With all the other expenses in training for a fight, paying for insurance might seem excessive at the time.
Zuffa could provide some sort of fund that would pay for health and/or long-term disability coverage for fighters suffering injuries while under contract with the UFC. But, a foreseeable result of something like this would be lowering fight purses and fight bonuses. Essentially, if money is taken from Zuffa, it would likely find another area to recoup the money.
Moreover, this could lead to the potential for lawsuits if a fighter is denied coverage.Then there is the logistic question of which fighters are covered and if there should be a threshhold of fights an individual must compete in to be covered.
During a web chat in leading up to UFC Fight Night in Seattle Dana White was asked about whether fighters should unionize, Dana White responded that it was up to the fighters. Despite being a neutral answer during the web chat, it’s probable that he would oppose fighter’s unionizing. In fact, he would probably hold a personal vendetta against those attempting to unionize. If you thought denying a media credential was bad, think of what Zuffa would do to fighters attempting to create a union.