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Professional fighters put their bodies and health on the line every time they step into the ring. The intense training, brutal impacts, and risk of serious injury are all part of the job. However, the physical toll this takes can have lasting effects long after a fighter’s career has ended. That’s why providing fighters with comprehensive health care and insurance is vital – it can help safeguard their futures.
In this article, we’ll explore the health risks facing fighters before, during, and after their careers. We’ll look at some alarming statistics about fighters’ life expectancy, health issues, and financial stability after retiring. And we’ll make the case for much more robust health care and insurance to properly look after fighters and give them a quality of life after hanging up the gloves. An online health insurance quote platform can help fighters easily compare plans to find the right coverage.
The Dangers of Fighting
Stepping into a boxing ring, MMA cage, or kickboxing arena to trade blows is inherently dangerous. Fighters risk impact trauma, cuts, fractures, and repeated head injuries that can cause lifelong health problems.
Some key dangers include:
Traumatic Brain Injury – Repeated blows to the head, even sub-concussive impacts, can cause permanent structural damage to the brain over time, leading to impairments in memory, cognition, coordination, and more.
Diminished Chin – The ability to take a punch without being knocked out is commonly referred to as a “chin” in fighting sports. However, excessive head trauma causes a rewiring of neurons that diminishes a fighter’s chin, making them more susceptible to being knocked out.
Impaired Vision – Blows to the eye socket and cuts on the brow can cause detached retinas, nerve damage, cataracts, and other visual impairments that develop during and after a fighter’s career. These increase susceptibility to further eye injuries.
Breaks and Fractures – Boxing and MMA involve extensive punching, kicking, knees, elbows, takedowns, and submissions that can lead to broken noses, fractured eye sockets, broken hands and feet, cracked ribs, and other orthopedic damage.
“Punch Drunk” Syndrome – Also known as dementia pugilistica or CTE, extreme cases of traumatic brain injury cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms, including slurred speech, loss of coordination, confusion, aggression, and other cognitive/physical deterioration that develops years after retirement.
All this damage accumulates fight after fight, year after year, with boxers typically having much longer careers than MMA fighters. Even during training, fighters suffer injuries and concussions regularly, well before they ever compete.
But what happens when the lights go down, the crowds stop cheering, and the punches stop flying? That’s when the long-lasting impacts start to set in after the adrenaline has worn off.
Life After Fighting
Walk into any boxing gym or MMA academy, and you’ll typically find young, strong, vibrant athletes honing their craft. But visit some old dive bar in town, and you might encounter former fighters who are only in their 40s or 50s but are already experiencing severe health declines.
This contrast shows the shocking bodily impacts that can surface years after a fighting career ends. Simply put, fighters pay a tremendous physical price that sets in gradually over time.
Some alarming statistics on fighters’ health and life expectancy paint a concerning picture:
- The average life expectancy for boxers is just 58 years old – decades less than the general population. And MMA fighters average just 53 years.
- A 30-year study found that nearly 90% of former boxers developed CTE brain trauma, with over 15% developing full-blown dementia pugilistica neurological syndrome.
- Arthritis, vision problems, speech issues, deafness, disequilibrium syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s are also common long-term for retired fighters.
- One study showed almost 70% of former fighters struggle financially after retirement, with 22% filing for bankruptcy or falling below the poverty line. Much of this results from mounting medical bills combined with a lack of money management skills, forced into early retirement.
Clearly, fighters sacrifice their mind, bodies, and future physical and financial health to compete professionally. So what can be done to help safeguard them after they can no longer capitalize on their fighting abilities? This is where insurance becomes vital.
The Vital Role of Health Insurance
Insurance coverage is essential to mitigate risks in dangerous, injury-prone professions, from NFL football players to stunt performers. The same is certainly true for fighters who gamble their well-being to entertain fans and win purses.
Here’s why comprehensive health insurance is so important for professional fighters before, during, and after their careers:
- Covers training injuries so fighters can heal properly without paying crushing medical bills out-of-pocket
- Pays for doctor visits, MRIs, surgeries, physical therapy, and more, both in and out of competition
- Allows fighters to properly rehab so they don’t return to action prematurely, risking further damage
- Handles mounting costs of lifelong health complications stemming from fighting days
- Provides financial safety net to improve quality of life after retirement
Additionally, a good health plan gives fighters access to doctors, tests, and treatments they require after suffering traumatic injuries. The care they receive can also help extend their fighting careers by keeping them healthier and preserving their longevity.
Fighters who skimp on coverage or opt for bare-bones plans do so at their own peril and face massive risks if injured. Obamacare plans often don’t meet the full scope of health services fighters regularly need.
That’s why choosing the right carrier and policy using an online health insurance quote comparison tool enables customization for ideal protection. Fighters can compare plans from top providers based on monthly premiums, deductibles, copays, doctor choice, and other variables. This allows them to find the sweet spot of comprehensive, affordable coverage to safeguard their futures.
Healthcare Expansion Efforts
In recent years, many promoters, state athletic commissions, and fighter advocate groups have pushed to increase healthcare support and insurance requirements for fighters:
UFC Health Insurance – As the MMA leader, UFC provides all athletes under contract with more robust coverage for training injuries, surgeries, hospital stays, and significant dental/eye care both in and out of the cage. But premium coverage varies by fighter salary tier and contract status.
Cleveland Clinic Programs – The Ohio Boxing Commission and Cleveland Clinic have partnered for one of the most comprehensive fighter health initiatives ever launched. It includes advanced MRI scans, blood biomarkers tests, in-depth annual physicals, online health records, lifestyle disease prevention, mandatory 8-week suspensions after a knockout loss, and more. Neurocognitive tests are also conducted during fight week for all boxers and MMA fighters competing in the state.
California – The state athletic commission now requires promoters to carry $50,000 of medical coverage for fighters incurred during events.
Federal Lawmakers – The Muhammad Ali Act has been proposed to be expanded to cover MMA and increase insurance requirements to better protect fighters. However, it has faced immense resistance from the UFC and its lobbyists, who do not want outside regulation or added overhead costs.
Ali Act Expansion – Some states now test fighters for Vulnerable Blood Disorder to help detect potential brain bleedings. Maryland is drafting a “life insurance for fighters” bill requiring state coverage for career-ending injuries.
Brain Trauma Insurance – Groups like The Drake Foundation have launched dedicated policies covering boxers and MMA fighters for medical costs and lost wages stemming from traumatic brain injuries suffered in the ring/cage.
These initiatives show progress in protecting those who literally put their lives on the line for viewer entertainment. But there is still much more to be done on the fighter health and insurance front, ranging from mandatory scans to pension plans.
Call for Comprehensive Reform
Despite select improvements, most fighters are still inadequately protected, entering an incredibly dangerous profession that leaves many of them entirely broken down. The system exploits their health, bodies, and willingness to endure extreme risks for a shot at glory and fortune. But a tiny few ever achieve lasting financial security while countless others are left picking up the pieces of their shattered minds and bodies after the final bell eventually tolls.
That is why fighters urgently need comprehensive reform at the state, promoter, and federal levels for complete health coverage and injury insurance, including:
- Extensive baseline & annual medical testing – Comprehensive baseline and annual medical testing, such as MRIs, bloodwork, and ophthalmology exams, are crucial for early detection of developing health issues, ensuring fighters’ well-being throughout their careers.
- Full health and dental insurance – Comprehensive health and dental insurance are essential for fighters. It covers routine checkups, significant injuries, surgeries, and hospital stays. This coverage ensures they receive timely and adequate medical attention, promoting overall health.
- Minimum post-career pensions/benefits – Fighters deserve minimum post-career pensions and benefits akin to those in the NBA and NFL, providing basic living assistance and financial stability as they transition from their active careers.
- Guaranteed life insurance payouts – To support fighters’ families in the event of tragedy, there should be guaranteed life insurance payouts if a fighter is killed or fully disabled in the ring or cage, offering financial aid during challenging times.
- Mandatory concussion protocols – Implementing mandatory concussion protocols is vital, including lengthy medical suspensions after knockouts or TKOs, to prioritize fighter safety and allow for a safer and more thorough recovery process, reducing the risk of long-term damage.
- Coverage for training injuries – Comprehensive coverage for training injuries is essential, addressing the often-overlooked issues that occur away from the spotlight but can have lasting impacts on a fighter’s health and career.
- Establish health savings accounts – Fighters should have the option to establish health savings accounts, allowing them to proactively save for potential medical expenses and ensuring they have financial resources to address mounting health problems throughout their careers and beyond.
These reforms would provide a much more thorough safety net for fighters by mandating expanded health coverage in and out of active competition. Insurance requirements on promoters and commissions should also force the funding needed to administer testing, treatment, pensions, and other support systems.
Additional policy changes could include:
- Limiting fights per year/career to reduce damage – Implementing a cap on fights per year and throughout a fighter’s career, perhaps at 8-10 bouts annually, with total caps based on the starting age, can significantly reduce physical damage and contribute to the overall well-being of fighters.
- No sparring 30 days pre-fight – Instituting a 30-day no-sparring rule before fights allow fighters’ brains crucial recovery time, minimizing the risk of additional trauma and enhancing their cognitive health when stepping into the ring or cage.
- Objective suspension criteria – Implement objective suspension criteria, such as a maximum of 3 knockout losses in 12 months or 4 in 24 months, to safeguard fighters from overexertion and potential long-term consequences, prioritizing their well-being.
- Minimum salaries & purse percentages – To increase pay and enable more savings/coverage purchases. Implementing minimum compensation standards and increasing the percentage of revenue that goes to fighters would directly improve financial security. Higher salaries and fight purses allow fighters to focus on training while meeting living expenses and building long-term savings.
- Nutrition guidance: Diet planning is essential to properly fueling for fights and avoiding large weight cuts. Fighters should have access to nutritionists who can help create meal plans tailored to their training schedules, weight management goals, and personal preferences. Proper nutrition supports performance, recovery, and health during intense training camps.
- Financial planning assistance – To help guide investments, savings and smart spending during peak earning years. Fighters would benefit from meeting with financial advisors to develop plans for managing fight purses, investing for the future, budgeting during camp, and transitioning into retirement. Early guidance helps fighters use earnings wisely and build security for life after fighting.
While injuries will always be inherent to combat sports, much more can be done from a health, safety, and career transition standpoint for fighters. Top boxers and MMA athletes now pull in 7 figure paydays regularly, especially with athlete-friendly promoters like Jake Paul disrupting pay structures. So funding is available for lifesaving reforms.
These changes will require buy-in from state lawmakers, athletic commissions, event promotors, and the fighters to better look after their own well-being. But establishing comprehensive health frameworks to protect those stepping into the ring and cage is the least they deserve for their immense personal sacrifices.
The next generation deserves to pursue their fighting dreams, knowing people have their back when the cheering stops. And pioneers of the sport should be able to watch fights from the cage side as esteemed veterans – not prematurely deteriorating seniors who feel forgotten and financially abandoned.
With the right healthcare reform and insurance policies, we can help today’s fighters successfully transition to tomorrow’s trainers, commentators, and ambassadors of the sports they helped build.