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‘Without the ring, I don’t think that’s possible’ - Cormier and UFC use COVID diagnosis for Oura Ring pitch

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The UFC is partnering with Oura Ring for a more complete athlete monitoring system. At the front of the campaign appears to be former double-champ Daniel Cormier, and his newly revealed COVID-19 diagnosis pre-UFC 252.

UFC 252: Miocic v Cormier 3 Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

“This is not an excuse at all,” Daniel Cormier is quoted as saying in a recent article from Yahoo! Sports. Amid what is largely an ad for the latest UFC sponsorship/partnership deal, DC revealed that, ahead of his August 15th UFC 252 rematch with Stipe Miocic, he became ill with COVID-19.

It’s a strange story to use in pushing a product, since it seemingly points fingers at several missed opportunities for caution before landing on the idea that – only because his vital signs were being constantly monitored via the Oura Ring – Cormier and his team was willing to take his illness seriously and get him treated.

“But over the weekend, I started feeling a little sick,” Cormier said, describing how a teammate at AKA had come down with COVID on July 1st, but Cormier had initially tested negative for the virus in the days following. “Things weren’t exactly ... well, let me put it this way: I wasn’t sick, but I got a little tired and peaked. Monday comes, I go to practice and I spar and I worked out three times. I felt OK, but I was a little bit tired is, I guess, how I would put it.

A day later, and Cormier was feeling even worse. Yahoo!’s account of the incident goes on to say that coaches at AKA initially mocked the former champ and urged him on to keep working, but changes in his resting heart rate and body temperature gave him the necessary push to stop training and get re-tested for the coronavirus—which a doctor confirmed he now had.

“The ring didn’t tell me I had COVID,” Cormier enthused. “But the ring told me that something wasn’t right, and I used the information to make a decision to go see the doctor. I found out then that I had COVID, but the information I got from the ring allowed me to make the fight.”

It all smacks of a baseline level of neglect that, frankly, shouldn’t take a glorified FitBit to solve. A person with COVID-19 was in a fighter’s camp, training with them. Said fighter started to feel ill in the days following. Negative test or not, it feels like perhaps an abundance of caution might have been warranted.

Cormier suggests that his use of the Oura Ring was entirely incidental to the UFC’s own interest in partnering with the company, saying that a coach brought on for his UFC 252 camp introduced him to the product. However, Yahoo!’s article reports that the UFC plans to give Oura Rings to all fighters that request one, and have already offered them to 65 athletes—who have all accepted. UFC Vice President Duncan French highlighted how, in conjunction with the Performance Institute, this could offer the promotion a whole new level of oversight into how their fighters train.

“We’re excited that this continues our ability at the Performance Institute to have conversations with and influence with the fighters,” French said. “We have expertise here at the Performance Institute that can help disseminate that information and interpret it and then strategically work with the athletes to say, ‘You know, looking at this data, maybe you need to drop a sparring round. Instead of sparring three rounds, let’s do two.’ It’s not about pulling athletes from doing the work or doing their training. It’s about being more strategic in managing it.”

This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t some good that could come of more precisely managing athlete training, the workouts athletes are doing, and the potential fallout of over-training. But for a sport that still adamantly maintains the independent contractor status of its talent, it seems like yet another way the promotion is working its way into every single corner of their fighters’ MMA lives—without any negotiation for just how invasive they should be.

Perhaps some fighters might be skeptical about opening the door to the UFC’s oversight of their careers even further. But, for anyone who might be reluctant, Cormier is here to provide one hell of a sales pitch.

“This is not an excuse at all. Miocic won the fight and he fought beautifully. This is a thank you almost to Oura for allowing me to get to the fight. I might have just kept pushing and not known I had it. But I was able to take care of myself properly and then get back into training and compete for the heavyweight championship of the world. Without the ring, I don’t think that’s possible.”