Fighter deaths, especially the ones that happen right after a bout, are always difficult to process. Recently, MMA veteran and bare-knuckle boxer Justin Thornton lost his life after his knockout loss at BKFC 20. He was 39 years young.
UFC president Dana White was asked about it during Tuesday’s Contender Series presser, and this is what he initially said.
First of all, is anybody shocked? In bare-knuckle fighting… I’m not a big fan. I get — I guess I would call it concerned — when I see some of our people when they leave here and they go there. And it’s like, ‘Oh god.’
We’ve been putting on fights for 25 years. I’ve done over seven thousand fights with no serious injuries in the UFC. We’ve had some broken bones, some bad broken bones. The shin bone being the worst ‘cause it just blows our mind when that bone breaks. And cuts. That’s what we have.
White then expressed how much of a “big deal” fighter safety is for the company.
The reality is when I talk about… this goes hand-in-hand with what we talked about with fighter pay. And the money that we invest back in this sport. The number one thing to us is fighter safety.
Fighter safety is a very big deal to us, has been since day one. We ran toward regulation. We do extensive pre, post-fight medicals. We follow up afterwards with these guys.
And I say this all the time: when you make sure that you’ve spent the right amount of money to make sure that you have healthy athletes competing, going into training, then during the fight…
The other night when Ortega fought, I walked into the Octagon and I told his corner, ‘Do not do an interview, do not talk to any media. I want you to go straight back, they’re ready for you. They’re gonna put him in an ambulance and take him out of here. Get him right out of there and get him whatever.’
The UFC boss gave an exact figure of how much they spend on fighters’ medical needs, and he believes this investment has paid off, big-time.
Every year, we spend $20 million on athlete medicals. $20 million bucks. A year. Health or wellness or whatever it may be.
As a result of that, our pre-fight screening throughout the last 20 years, we found ten athletes that had life-threatening medical problems with them. And career-ending (injuries), that they shouldn’t be fighting. That if they weren’t in the UFC, they probably would’ve fought and probably would’ve died.
There’s a lot of shit talk about us. Nobody does even remotely close to what we do in this sport. It’s never been done what we do and nobody ever will.
We shouldn’t even be talked about in the same sentence as bare-knuckle boxing. It’s two completely different worlds. And yes, we’re very sorry to hear that this guy passed away.
But you’re never gonna see these other organizations doing the type of health, safety, and medical testing that we do for our athletes.
To their credit, the UFC did put its money on brain study and psychedelic therapy that could potentially help fighters. But White did also say that providing “health care forever” would be “pretty f—ng crazy.” And for guys like Spencer Fisher, who is now dealing with CTE symptoms after a ten-year career, White says “it’s just part of the gig.”