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Amid COVID-19 pandemic, Dana White showing fighters they’re just cogs in the UFC machine

UFC takes care of its employees during COVID-19 pandemic, but what about its fighters?

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If UFC fighters want to know just what Dana White and the UFC as an organization thinks of them, all they need to do is reference the email that White sent out to UFC employees.

MMA Junkie got its hands on a copy of that email, which opened with a few words about all the support the UFC has received from fans for putting on their March 14th event in Brasilia, Brazil—even as most other sports organizations shuttered their events. After asserting that people look to sports for a sense of normalcy in trying times, White got to the organization’s plans for the weeks ahead...

We did everything we could to relocate our next three events– London, Columbus, and Portland. But every day, there are new restrictions put in place on travel and large public gatherings that are making it impossible to stay on schedule. We can’t even hold an event in Vegas, our home town, because there’s a ban on all combat sports events in Nevada until at least March 25.

As you heard me say, I’ve been in the fight game for 20 years, and this is what we do—we find a way to keep our events going no matter what. If fighters miss weight, if fighters get hurt, or if states won’t regulate us, we figure out a way. But this is different. The whole world is being affected right now, and nothing is more important than the health and safety of you and your families.

That’s why we are closing all UFC offices effective immediately, including HQ in Vegas, through at least March 31st, and asking all employees to work from home. The PI will also be closed to all personnel, including athletes, during this time. The next three events– London, Columbus, and Portland—will be postponed. UFC 249 is still scheduled as planned, but the location may change. We’ll keep you posted.

I tell you guys all the time, you are the BEST TO EVER DO IT. It feels shitty now, but WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS, and we’ll be TOUGHER, STRONGER, AND MORE BADASS than before.

Right now, the number one priority is to take care of yourselves and your family.

Finally, I want you to know that UFC has your back. If you or any member of your family is showing symptoms of coronavirus and you’re having trouble getting to a doctor, please reach out to me, Lawrence, or Hunter.

Thanks.

Dana

The email addresses UFC employees — which the nearly 600 individuals who fight for the organization and who bring in the bulk of the revenue for the organization are not. They are independent contractors. Could the fighters one day be considered employees? Perhaps, but don’t think the UFC will willingly categorize these men and women as employees.

As independent contractors, UFC fighters only get paid when they fight. UFC fighters are only insured for injuries when they are training for a bout. The UFC offers them no insurance outside of training. The insurance the promotion does offer does not cover illness. It also does not cover their families. According to former UFC fighter Nate Quarry, the insurance also carries a deductible of $1,500 per incident when a fighter is injured when training for a bout.

The only mention the UFC fighters get in White’s email is “We did everything we could to relocate our next three events– London, Columbus, and Portland.”

That sentence should be a point that fighters can look at and know how little the UFC thinks of them. To me, those few words read more along the lines of: “we did everything we could to put the fighters, their families, their teams and everyone they came in contact with in danger during a global pandemic, but golly, we just couldn’t make that happen because the meddling government wouldn’t allow us to do that.”

That’s not hyperbole. That’s literally what White tried his hardest to make happen in pursuit of making a buck off the back of their athletes, some of which would have been paid as little as $10,000 toward the end goal of putting more money in the bank for the UFC and its owners.

The promotion has even been willing to go so far as to try and drum up fighters from outside the organization as emergency replacements for the London card. Because the UFC brand is the only thing the promotion cares about and wants to protect. That it was willing to stock an event almost entirely with last minute replacements should be viewed as loathsome behavior.

White even doubled down on the above when he spoke to ESPN (who notably offered zero resistance to any of White’s frantic attempts to keep the show on the road) about the upcoming UFC 249 event headlined by a lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

”This fight’s going to happen,” White said. “No crowd. Whatever it takes. Probably not even going to be in the United States, but this fight’s going to happen.”

Collectively, all these actions over the past week should show fighters they are nothing more than cogs. They’re being treated as cheap, replaceable parts that can be tossed to the side with no qualms to keep the UFC machine rolling along and making money. Despicable doesn’t begin to describe the way the UFC is handling this pandemic when it comes to the actual athletes that make up the core of their sport.

*Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC for comment on fighter insurance and pay for athletes who were on the postponed events. The promotion did not respond at time of publication. The story will be updated if the UFC does respond.

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