The UFC and gambling have long gone hand in hand. The modern iteration of the world’s largest MMA promotion wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Station Casinos magnates Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. At this stage, the Endeavor-owned company has firmly embedded itself into the Las Vegas landscape—with their Apex facility, Performance Institute, and plans to build their own hotel just for fighters traveling to ‘Sin City’ to compete.
It’s no surprise, then, that with such a cozy relationship to gambling culture, fighters haven’t shied away from making a little money of their own. In 2021, lightweight talent Justin Jaynes made headlines when he bet his entire fight purse of $25k on himself to win.
“I just wanna tell everyone I really appreciate the positive energy I’m receiving and the negative energy I’m receiving,” Jaynes told fans amid public criticism of his actions. “But at the end of the day I really just don’t give a f-ck. It’s not your money. Let me bet what I wanna bet. I believe in myself, I believe in my coaching staff, I believe in my ability, I believe in my full training camp.”
Jaynes went on to lose that bout by split decision, a result that would see him released from his UFC contract as well. He’s hardly a rare case, though. While announcing his retirement from the UFC on the MMA Hour Glory MMA & Fitness head coach James Krause revealed that he’s made a lot more money gambling than he did fighting or coaching.
“I bet every single card just about every fight,” Krause said. “I have a Discord [server], like 2,000 members in it, we crush it. Last week, we destroyed it. I take over people’s accounts and play for them, I do pretty well. I make more money gambling on MMA than I do anything else.”
Unfortunately for him, and others like him, that era of the UFC appears to be coming to an end. MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani reports that the promotion just sent a memo to all fighters and managers that they had updated the language of the UFC ‘Code of Conduct’ to specifically ban fighters from betting on UFC fights.
UFC just issued this memo to fighters and managers regarding a change in their athlete conduct policy:— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) October 17, 2022
UFC fighters are now prohibited from gambling on any UFC fight, regardless of if they are involved or not. They can still be sponsored just not allowed to bet at all. pic.twitter.com/6zhuIITxmx
Moreover, the newly inserted agreement notes that—beyond fighters—it’s illegal in most states for coaches, managers, trainers, family members or other close affiliates to bet on these contests as well.
“An athlete that becomes aware or has knowledge of any wagering in violation of these restrictions must immediately notify UFC of such incident in accordance with this UFC Athlete Conduct Policy,” the updated Code of Conduct reads
Those are the kinds of restrictions that have long been in place for other sports as well. Major League Baseball has banned Pete Rose from the sport’s Hall of Fame in perpetuity after evidence surfaced that he had bet on games while manager of the Cincinnati Reds. More recently, the NFL suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley indefinitely (for at least the rest of 2022) for betting what he claims was a total of $1,500 on the Falcons to win various NFL games.
As always, the major difference between the UFC and the big stick & ball sports is that those athletes are employees, who collectively bargain their rights and penalties with the league and team owners. It is notable, however, that in 2007 Alessio Di Mauro became the first player punished by the Association of Tennis Professionals for betting on matches. He was suspended 9-months and fined $60,000.
The UFC isn’t without precedent when it comes to cracking down on athletes and gambling. But for a promotion that spent years operating out of casinos, brings ‘gambling experts’ in as shoulder programming for events, and even announced their intentions of creating their own ‘Live Betting Product’ back in 2019, it does seem a bit hypocritical.
Then again, it may be that this is exactly the kind of legal coverage the UFC needs to really kick their own gambling interests into high gear. If that’s the case then, as usual, it seems the UFC’s business will come at the expense of their fighters.