Sports

California bill proposes pensions for MMA fighters

Politicians in California are hoping to give back to retired fighters.

A proposal in the California Legislature would set up a pension fund for former MMA fighters who have a certain number of fights in the state, bill sponsor Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) told ESPN.

The legislation was introduced in state Assembly on Feb. 15 and Haney said he hopes it will pass into a law this year. It could be heard on the Assembly floor as early as March 18.

A pension fund for retired boxers in California already exists, the only such fund of its kind in the U.S. No states currently provide a pension fund for MMA fighters, who don’t have the kind of post-career protections athletes in other major sports get from unions or players associations.

“We know that this is an incredibly popular sport,” Haney said. “It’s a sport that’s growing and it’s also one that can be dangerous and people put their bodies on the line for our entertainment. And as fans, we appreciate it, but we should make sure they’re taken care of when they retire.”

The bill is being supported by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and several retired MMA athletes, including UFC Hall of Famer and women’s MMA pioneer Ronda Rousey.

“You have a much shorter window [in MMA] because your body takes so much more of a heavier toll,” Rousey told ESPN. “And the difference with these kind of combat sports, with all this contact and the neurological injuries involved, you don’t know the day that you’ve taken one hit too many. You’re going to find out that you crossed that threshold many decades later when you no longer have that extra income.

“It’s when you’re dealing with the repercussions of that career is when you no longer have that income stream.”

If the bill passes into a law, $1 from each ticket sold at MMA events in California will go into the pension fund. Checks will then be cut annually to retired fighters age 50 or older who had a certain number of pro fights in California. The criteria for those eligible will be roughly 13 fights in the state, Haney said.

California holds more combat sports events than any other state in the country by a sizeable margin.

“I hope to see a lot of other states replicate this type of model,” Haney said. “I hope to see us find ways to grow the amount of revenue that we can put in. We’ve had a good set of conversations with some of the promoters and hopefully we can get them to be more invested in it as well and ultimately they can make even larger contributions to this fund.”

If the proposal becomes law, the CSAC will write the exact regulations for the fund and specify its method of distribution. The commission has paid out 171 checks from the state’s boxing pension fund to retired boxers since 2012, per CSAC executive officer Andy Foster. The average check has been $19,000, Foster said. Several fighters are granted checks annually. An MMA pension fund would work similarly.

“I was really almost like shocked and encouraged by humanity [that] anyone is even thinking of the fighters after they’re not fighting anymore,” Rousey said. “I just kind of thought that nobody cares ever, that they only want to see us punch each other and it’s really cool and then they forget about us and don’t ever think about us for a second after that.

“This is the first time I’ve really felt that anyone is actually thinking about the fighters themselves, not just the fight, and actually cares about the people and not thinking of us as a product. And if this doesn’t pass, I’ll be extremely disappointed.

“I can’t think of a single reason why all of these fighters who are literally fighting their hearts out and putting their lives on the line to entertain people haven’t had this support already. And I’m really keeping my fingers crossed — if I could cross them, because they’re so damaged from fighting — that this will pass.”

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