Fight for Fairness: Why UFC fighters should get health benefits

Owen McDaniels

Ever since the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was founded in 1993, it has become one of the fastest growing and most entertaining fighting organizations in the world. The UFC is also quite diverse, consisting of many different types of fighting all combined together from boxing, wrestling, karate and even jujitsu. The versatility of the UFC allows all types of fighters to enter, expanding the brand by the day. One question still remains unanswered since the growth of the UFC: why don’t UFC fighters receive healthcare coverage from the organization?

UFC athletes devote themselves and their physical health to compete in the vicious sport. Once a fighter is ready to fight, after months of rough training and steps in the octagon, there is no turning back. UFC fighters acquire many life-changing injuries during a fight. The most common injury in the UFC is, to no surprise, to the head and face. 

From 2016-2018, there was a 77.8 percent chance fighters would suffer a fracture in the face, deep wounds in the face or a concussion, according to the Mixed Martial Arts Channel. In 2021, 145 out of 409 men’s UFC fights ended with a fighter losing consciousness for a short period of time, also known as a knockout, according to USA Today Sports. Plus, these injuries can lead to other long term health problems. 

Illustration by Owen McDaniels

Thus, the controversy the UFC has been dodging for years is healthcare for fighters.  Unlike most professional sports, the UFC does not provide healthcare for fighters. For instance, the National Football League (NFL) offers a variety of health benefits for their athletes including high-quality medical insurance, critical illness insurance, accident insurance and dental insurance. So, it’s no surprise the UFC has been getting backlash about healthcare for their fighters when other big sports organizations have all these benefits. 

The reason that UFC fighters don’t have healthcare is because they are signed to the UFC as an independent contractor rather than an employee. This allows the UFC to take away benefits like health care and retirement benefits under state and federal law. 

Dana White, for example, has been the UFC president since 2001 and has been persistent in this perspective since taking over the company. White said in an interview on GQ Sports that “[A change in fighter pay is] never gonna happen while I’m here, believe me, these guys get paid what they’re supposed to get paid. They eat what they kill. They get a percentage of the pay-per-view (PPV) buys and the money is spread out amongst all the fighters.” However, for fighters, the base pay is $12,000 to show up and an additional $12,000 if the fighter wins. There are multiple problems with how much these fighters are getting paid. 

In 2021, average healthcare in the U.S. was $12,914 per person. With the pay being so low, do the fighters really get paid enough to cover all their medical needs?  The answer is no. With the base pay being what it is, when fighters step out of the octagon in serious pain after their match but can’t financially pay for their injuries, they are forced to fight again to make more money to cover the injuries they receive.

If the UFC really cares about their fighters’ health and wellbeing, they could pursue many different angles to help fighters get better access to healthcare. They could simply increase the prices of tickets and PPV buys as well as increase prices of items in the venue to allow for more revenue for the company, which they could give to fighters or use that money to pay for the 570 fighters’ healthcare. When you and your friends come across UFC fighting while channel surfing, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made by the individuals portrayed on the screen for your entertainment. Furthermore, examine ways in which you can hold the UFC responsible for promoting positive transformation within the sport. If the UFC fails to take action and offer its athletes the necessary benefits, the UFC world will be filled with the shattered health of its fighters.