Treatment of fighters in MMA has been a pretty hot topic recently, and has mainly been centred around fighters from the UFC. Countless employees of the biggest promotion in the world have spoke about alleged ‘poor working conditions, pay and aftercare’. Chris Leben, Rampage Jackson, Nate Quarry, and even Georges St-Pierre have been very critical of their former employers, and some complaints I support.
For instance, aftercare should be part of a fighter’s contract in pro sports. It seems pointless to fight for, say, ten years for the promotion and then spend your total earnings paying for surgery and health complications when you retire. UFC legend Frank Shamrock spoke about this very subject while with Bleacher Report:
“I don’t think some guys realize that at some point, physically, they’ll be done, and at some point, their drawing power will be done,” says Shamrock. “In fact, they will literally stop overnight. There’s no backup, no union, no protection, no pension—there’s nothing to help them move to the next career.”
Chris Leben recently retired after years of punishing brawls in the UFC, and publicly slated his former bosses for a lack of aftercare. Dana White reached out to ‘The Crippler’ and it seemed the UFC may have turned a corner. Shamrock continued:
“At the end of the day, I’ve always made the bulk of my money teaching martial arts. You look at the value that Leben has brought to the company and the money he has brought to the bottom line. You want to protect guys like that in the future, or at least pretend like you’re protecting them so the next generation will line up and do the same thing for you.”
Shamrock comes from an age much different than today, in MMA terms at least. The brutal, bare-knuckle savagery of the 90’s in MMA is seldom looked on as sport. Shamrock reiterates that a lot may have changed since then, but the essentials are the same:
“If you’re out there risking your body—your physical health—you’ve got to be compensated,” says Shamrock. “It’s got to be worth it to you and everybody else. And if it’s not, then don’t do it. There’s no light in this industry because nobody has sparked it and maintained it, there is a light in getting healthy personally.”
Is there a quick fix for the growing problems surrounding fighter health? Well, yes actually there is. Don’t get hit in the head too often. That either involves being a really good fighter, or not stepping in the cage. On a serious note though, the UFC would do well do integrate a medical aftercare system. It would benefit it’s athletes and also put a stop to some of the harsh media they are receiving.