UFC Star Joe Stevenson Has No Health Insurance, Must Travel to Mexico for X Rays

MMA Junkie reports that UFC veteran Joe Stevenson doesn't have health insurance and had to travel to Tijuana to get X rays:

Stevenson is just one of many fighters who doesn't have health insurance and meets his health needs by hook or by crook while often relying on a network of friends and sympathetic professionals to receive medical care.

...

The former lightweight contender once had health insurance through his wife, Maia, but lost it when she stopped working after giving birth to their second son. At one point, he applied for health insurance and listed his occupation as "Fighter." He said the premium he was quoted was more than $500 a month.

And before that, an overconfident Stevenson thought he simply wouldn't need coverage and could avoid injury.

"I'm going to have to take full blame for that," Stevenson joked.

Stevenson now is working with a new accountant who's going to help him set up a corporation. He can use it to gain easier access to health insurance. He'll also consult with his manager on whether surgery is necessary.

Whenever I post about fighter issues a number of commenters accuse me of "feeling sorry" for the fighters. No. This is a purely selfish thing. If we, as fans, want the very best fighters in the UFC and we want them fighting their best, some kind of fighter's health insurance program would be ideal.

In a world where Dana White takes some part of his share of the fan's money and blows as much as $500,000 in one night gambling, there is a way to insure the top fighters. In fact, if Dana were to take one night's gambling losses he could likely insure about 100 UFC fighters for a year.

More after the break.

It's clear from the story that the lack of health insurance is causing Joe Stevenson to conclude he doesn't need surgery. It's financially driven health care decisions like this that cause the early end of too many careers.

Case in point, long-time welterweight contender Karo Parisyan. In 2005 the 23 year old Parisyan injured himself training for a UFC 56 title shot with Matt Hughes. He had to drop out of that fight. More significantly he never got the necessary surgery to repair his torn tendons. The lingering injury altered his fighting style, transforming him from an aggressive go for broke submission artist into one who had to fight for decisions because he frequently wasn't in shape to risk going for a finish.

Even more devastatingly Karo apparently developed a dependency on pain killers that ultimately got him cross wise with the athletic commissions and contributed to the anxiety problems (including the anxiety of failing another drug test no doubt) that drove him from the UFC at the ripe old age of 28.

That's exactly when an athlete like Karo should be entering his physical prime. Instead he's a used up wreck, chewed up and cast off by the biggest promotion in the sport. How many young judokas saw Karo Parisyan deliver performances like his 2006 war with Diego Sanchez -- a fight that fans and the UFC declared the 8th best UFC fight of all time -- and considered a career in MMA only to find out more about Karo's career and decide against it?

Health insurance for UFC level fighters -- and I'm not even talking about guys who go 0-2 or 1-3 and get cut -- like Joe Stevenson, guys who have starred on the reality show and fought more than a dozen time for the promotion should be a no brainer. The UFC clearly has the profit margin to afford it.

Frankly the fighters ought to be smart enough and organized enough to set up a fighter's association that could get more affordable insurance. But this isn't the era for worker organizing. We live in an age when the regulators are tilted in the direction of the big money and companies like Wal Mart and Whole Foods have perfected a dizzying array of union busting tactics. Tactics that Station Casinos, the company that made the Fertitta family fortune that bought and built the UFC, practices assiduously.

The UFC really has three choices:

  • Continue to chew up and spit out talented young fighters like Karo and Joe Stevenson -- both of whom have an excellent chance of being used up wrecks by age 30 and just hope that better options for talented athletes don't dry up their talent pool. The UFC has very successfully modeled it's business on the WWE, but I don't recommend they follow them all the way down the tubes. So many WWE wrestlers have died early, pointless deaths that it has seriously impacted the WWE's ability to recruit new talent;
  • Invest in an insurance program for its fighters. This will more than pay for itself in positive PR, fighter retention, longer careers, fewer cancelled fights and easier recruiting of top athletes; or
  • Allow/encourage the organization of a fighter's association (not even a union) that will be able to form an insurance pool to cover qualifying fighters in an affordable manner. The MMAFA is a small step in that direction. I don't know enough about it to endorse it, but at least someone is trying to start one up.
I know that many, if not most, MMA fans don't care about the health and well being of the fighters, but as fans of the sport who want to continue to see better and better athletes getting involved, we owe it to ourselves to support efforts to get top professionals like Joe Stevenson easier access to affordable health care.

I'm not even going to mention that fighters in Canada, Japan, Holland, England and Germany don't even have to sweat this issue, putting American fighters and promoters at a costly competitive disadvantage.

But I will point out that yes, had Joe Stevenson been smarter he could have gotten insurance earlier. But personally, I want young MMA fighters like Stevenson focusing on learning the very complex game of human chess that is MMA, not focusing on complicated business matters. Let's make it easy on the fighters to stay healthy and they'll make it easy for us to enjoy a great, world class sport.
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