The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Mixed Martial Arts Foe Launches Bill to Create Fighters' Health Care Fund

By Alan Neuhauser | April 26, 2013 9:30am

MIDTOWN — Midtown state Sen. Brad Hoylman is opposed to legalizing professional mixed martial arts in New York State, but that hasn't stopped him from preparing for the worst, by pushing for legislation to force promoters to pay for fighters' health care.

Hoylman's bill, which he plans to introduce by the end of the month, would create a mandatory health care fund for the sport's combatants, modeled on funds established for horse-racing jockeys and taxi drivers.

"If you're going to make a profit off people getting beaten up and injured, you better take care of them," said Hoylman, who is among a number of Manhattan state lawmakers opposed to allowing promotional mixed martial arts matches in New York State.

"Promoters are making a lot of money off of these fighters. I think we need to consider the impact," Hoylman told DNAinfo.com new York. "It's another approach to make sure fighters are cared for."

Amateur bouts are currently permitted in the state, but bills to allow pro fights have been defeated in the state Assembly for the past four years. The state Senate approved a bill that would sanction professional fights Friday, and a concurrent measure is making its way through the Assembly.

A coalition of labor unions and anti-domestic-violence groups also oppose the plan to legalize professional fights.

The sport's largest promoter, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, provides $50,000 in health insurance for its roughly 450 fighters. UFC is the only MMA organization to cover injuries incurred outside the cage, such as during training.

Most other promoters, such as Bellator, which has partnered with Spike TV, provide event-by-event health care coverage. But even UFC's coverage, Hoylman argued, ends once a fighter's contract expires — potentially years before the long-term neurological consequences of repeated blows to the head often surface.

"My concern is that there are long-term health consequences for the participants — injuries that have been shown in other sports to come to fruition to have debilitating consequences," Hoylman said.

His bill, if approved, would make New York the first state in the country that would require MMA promoters to contribute to a health care fund.

The discussion comes on the heels of a growing awareness of the dangers of repeated concussions and other brain trauma resulting from contact sports, such as professional football.

The UFC said it would be open to the idea of a fighters' fund.

"We are supportive of any bill or anything that can help the health and safety of our athletes," said UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein. "We've got a short-term solution, where we take care of guys while they're with us."

Epstein added that the company is funding and participating in a neurological study being conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, focusing on the brain health of its athletes.

Bellator also expressed support for Hoylman's proposal, calling it "a very positive idea."

"Orchestration and overall funding for such an undertaking is an involved issue," the California-based company said in a statement. "But the concept itself is something that every promoter of MMA or any form of combat sports should be at the table discussing."

Smaller promoters in New York State said they, too, would be behind virtually any measure that would help protect MMA fighters — but they also voiced strong reservations about the financial burden such a fund could impose.

Organizing a professional fight in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, for example, typically costs at least $5,000 to $10,000, and attracting fans beyond fighters' friends and family proves a challenge.

"It's a great idea in theory," said Mike Hauben, owner of Fight Summit, the world's largest annual MMA conference. "The big issue is that most of these promoters — none of these guys have any money.

"It's easy for UFC to make some money, Bellator to make some money," he added. "But unless you have really well known local fighters, no one's coming except friends and family of the fighters. So it's hard to keep introducing all these costs."

Erik Herbert, co-promoter of TNT Fight Series, which has held four amateur MMA fights in and around Buffalo and Rochester, agreed.

"I pay thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars a year in health insurance, liability insurance, doctors, EMTs, prepaid medical, blood work, and now the state wants a health care fund?" he said. "No other state requires that. These fighters, they do sign contracts, they do sign waivers. They are grown adults making their own decisions."

Hoylman's proposal is based on the state's Worker's Compensation Jockey Fund for horse jockeys, and the Taxi & Limousine Commission's Health & Disability Fund for taxi drivers.

"It will frankly save the state from having to care for these participants, who may not have the knowledge of the consequences of the sport," Hoylman said. "The fighting careers have been very short. They're like racehorses or greyhounds, and we can't put people out to pasture."