On May 9, 2011, Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC and Strikeforce, announced that beginning in June, all 350 of its contracted fighters would be eligible for a revolutionary accident insurance policy.
"As this sport continues to grow, we have been working hard to secure additional insurance coverage so that our athletes can perform at the highest levels," UFC president Dana White said at the time. "We're proud to give our athletes access to this type of insurance."
The move was heralded around MMA circles as being fantastic for fighters because costly training-related injuries would now be covered by the organization.
Whereas before fighters battled through injuries in training camp because they needed to fight to get paid, now they had the opportunity to pull out with a lesser financial hit.
And the fans have suffered mightily for it because an unintended consequence of this policy has been a slew of good fights being cancelled.
UFC 133, in particular, has been ravaged.
First, co-headliner Phil Davis pulled out of his fight with Rashad Evans, citing a knee injury that prevented him from kickboxing, even though White said it didn’t require surgery and that he could start training again in a few weeks.
Then, Vladimir Matyushenko pulled out his fight against Alexander Gustafsson, even though White said a day earlier he was the next fighter in line to fight Evans after Tito Ortiz and Lyoto Machida had declined (although Ortiz later changed his mind).
And then on Saturday evening, it was revealed Antonio Rogerio Nogueria would pull out from his match against Rich Franklin, leaving the UFC with very few alternatives—most other 205-pounders are either hurt or already booked—to fight the former UFC middleweight champion and only a few weeks remaining until the event.
But it’s not just UFC 133 that has seen this nasty pattern of replacement fights.
At UFC on Versus 4, main-eventer Anthony Johnson pulled out, then co-main-eventer Martin Kampmann did the same and with only a few days before the event, T.J. Grant did too.
At UFC on Versus 5, surging lightweight John Makdessi was forced to cancel, as were Paul Taylor, Stephan Bonner and Tom Lawlor.
Bonner and Lawlor haven’t fought since last year. Had these guys needed paydays and pre-accident insurance, they might have been more willing to battle through their injuries.
There is no absolute proof that the accident insurance policy is to blame. But consider this: The last UFC event to take place pre-insurance coverage was UFC 130. After Quinton Jackson defeated Matt Hamill in the main event, he revealed he had broken his hand in training, but decided to fight through it.
Had that injury occurred in a post-insurance-coverage fight, Jackson might have been more willing to pull out, but of course, he wouldn’t have had the chance to defeat Hamill and win the opportunity to fight Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship.
So although fighters may think that by pulling out of fights they are making the right decisions, they may actually be squandering the opportunities of a lifetime.
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