The UFC and Cage Warriors may be intending to run shows in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, but there are countless MMA fighters, boxers, and other combat sports competitors who are unable to work as a result of postponed or outright cancelled events. With the Association of Ringside Physicians recommending an indefinite ban on combat sports shows, it’s likely that many of these athletes will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.
One of the concerns about the suspension of combat sports events is the negative toll it will take on the finances of fighters, all of whom are classified as independent contractors, meaning they would’ve been ineligible to apply for unemployment benefits. However, the United States government’s recently approved stimulus package has created an avenue for the likes of MMA fighters and boxers to receive benefits.
Bloody Elbow’s John Nash has provided a full breakdown of the $2 trillion CARES Act, and what this means for inquiring combat sports athletes.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes a provision for temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which would expand unemployment insurance coverage to include those that typically can not receive benefits, namely non-employees, including independent contractors and self-employed workers.
The requirements for eligibility and amount that each individual can receive depends on where they live. Each state has their own unemployment insurance program. In the nation’s largest state California, payouts can be anywhere from $40 to $450 a week based on how much was made during a base period before the claim, typically the first 4 of the last 5 quarters. If someone earns more than $1300 in a quarter they can be eligible.
Fighters and boxers that are not citizens of the United States may also be eligible as long as they had valid work authorization for both the base period and the time they are apply for and receiving benefits.
Independent Contractors filing should follow the same guidelines as employees, being sure to have copies of any invoices or records which shows how much they were paid in any given quarter. Remember, the maximum amount paid out is different from state to state. In 2019 this ranged anywhere from $235 for Mississippi to $795 in Massachusetts with the average unemployment insurance benefit nationwide being $385 a week.
In addition, because of the nature of the crisis, the CARES Act adds an additional $600 a week to all recipients. Thus someone that was to receive $400 a week in unemployment insurance payments would now receive $1,000 a week. This additional money is for only 16 weeks, ending on July 31, 2020, unless the Act is extended. Independent contractors and other freelancers will be eligible for an addition 23 weeks of “regular” unemployment after that. The benefits are retroactive to January 27, so anyone filing could claim for any lost weeks of work after that date. MMA fighters and boxers who are unable to work because of the Coronavirus pandemic, either because events are canceled or because they can’t train in their gym do to shelter-at-home decrees, should be eligible. Each state has different rules though. Further details as well as links to register can be found here. Just click on the state you’re applying for.
With over 10 million people filing for unemployment in just the last two weeks, applicants should be aware that the system is currently overloaded. What that means is that it may take longer than normal to both apply and receive your benefits. The only advice I can give is be patient when trying to register and even if if there is some delay in receiving your first payment recipients should expect to be paid for the weeks in-between their filing and it eventually being sent out, either electronically or by mail.
As Nash mentioned, unemployment insurance varies by state. This breakdown by Vox.com provides information on every state in the union, as well as Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
It may be tricky to define what “out of work” entails, but according to Senior Policy Analyst Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, fighters not having access to closed gyms would count as being unable to work, thus you could qualify for PUA.
“If you can’t get to work because of the virus, if you can’t safely make it to where you’re supposed to work, this should cover workers,” Evermore said on The Luke Thomas Show.
Conversely, if you receive unemployment insurance, sign a bout agreement and then start training for said fight, you’d “no longer eligible for unemployment insurance” per Evermore, as that could constitute as work.
“You can always get back on benefits as long as you haven’t exhausted the [39 weeks of unemployment insurance] that you are eligible,” Evermore added.
I think it goes without saying that with no timetable for event schedules to return to some semblance of normalcy, there should be increased awareness across all combat sports (primarily MMA and boxing) that financial help is available for many fighters. Curiously enough, the only handful of notable announcements to come from managers or promoters have been from the boxing side.
Attention boxers in the US: you are independent contractors and may now be eligible for unemployment insurance! Check with your state's unemployment bureau!— Main Events (@Main_Events) March 29, 2020
#Boxing, take heed of what @mikeleanardi is telling you. Boxers are independent contractors, and you ARE eligible for #unemployment. Seek all available info and PLEASE apply for what you are entitled to. You are not going to be working for a long while. #coronavirus #COVIDー19 https://t.co/KMiQbUsjo1— Lou DiBella (@loudibella) April 3, 2020
In Nevada, and I would guess other states as well, Unemployment Insurance is still waiting for guidance from the federal government in terms of making unemployment benefits available to independent contractors, ie pro boxers. Go file now! https://t.co/tovuOSyQhA pic.twitter.com/dmx2nb7Llv— Mike Leanardì (@mikeleanardi) April 2, 2020
Lastly, while this article emphasizes options available in the USA, fighters who live up north in Canada could be covered through the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB). Independent contractors are included in the CERB, and eligibility requirements are available in the link provided. Monthly checks are $2,000 CAD, and if your situation remains unchanged then you can re-apply for multiple 4-week windows (maximum 16 weeks or four periods).
What could complicate things for combat sports athletes is if they have another job and are still able to work in that field. Ultimately, it’s dependent on what state or which country you live in. For Americans, partial unemployment insurance is available to those who work two jobs but have lost one.
Hopefully this was all informative and beneficial, especially for fighters who are currently unable to draw paychecks in competition. Whether this will be useful to any UFC fighters — given the promotion doesn’t plan to cancel any more events — remains to be seen, but there are far more MMA fighters outside the UFC than in it, and they should be looked after too.