“I’m cutting weight. I’m training hard. I try to focus on the positive. Life is a journey, you know what I mean? I’m not really concerned about that at all.”
That was John Makdessi, talking to Bloody Elbow ahead of his UFC bout this Saturday in Brazil. Despite being declared a global pandemic, the lightweight says he is not too worried about the coronavirus.
Some fighters and coaches have echoed similar statements, while others have expressed more worries about the pandemic. What they all seem to have in common though, is that they feel like they don’t have the luxury to take a step back.
For the time being, gyms will stay open (a lot of them even to the public), fighters will still train, and they will all hope to still be able to compete.
“We can’t tell people to disappear and stay home,” American Top Team head Dan Lambert told MMA Fighting. “Nobody’s going to get ready for a fight staying home. They’re all going to work. We’re not one of those employers that has the luxury of telling employees to stay home and do their work from there.”
“This is just another box checked off of things we’re more prevalent to get exposed to than the public,” Nick Urso of Jackson’s MMA Acoma said. “We’re constantly tired and beat up and drained and dehydrated. Generally, fighters have the odds stacked against them, but I feel like fighters get in this situation because we’re used to having the odds stacked against us.”
Even when competing in a venue without fans, there will still be fighters, cornermen, staff, media, officials, and other people flying in from different cities and countries. Fighters will train and cut a lot of weight the whole week — all lowering their immune systems — before they even fight. After, they’ll fly right back home to their families.
They’re aware of the perils of the situation but won’t hesitate to still take the risk.
“I don’t want to catch it, but at the same time, I’ve put in eight hard weeks of my life,” Eddie Wineland told MMA Fighting about his fight this month. “I’ve stressed myself. I’ve stressed my family. I would still like to compete if allowed to.”
Major sporting orgs like the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL have all postponed their events and/or seasons due to the spread of COVID-19. The UFC on the other hand, has decided to continue to host events, albeit some changes to protocol and venue. People can debate whether that’s the smart thing to do, but at least for now, the UFC seems to intent on continuing to make money. (They also aren’t really shy about promoting how their next show moved to ESPN and will have more viewers now that the NBA has shut down.)
As the situation develops, the UFC could again weigh their options on their next shows. But either way, it’s the fighters who will be the ones affected the most, financially.
A lot of them already live from paycheck to paycheck, and cancellation of bouts and events would be costly, especially to fighters who have already spent money for several weeks of training camp.
That’s the stark difference compared to athletes in other major sports.
For example, even if we don’t include their lucrative sponsorships, the average salary of an NBA player is at around $7 million a year. The NBA’s minimum salary goes from about $900,000 to $2.6 million a year, depending on their experience. Apart from bench players already getting significantly higher pay than a lot of UFC stars, the athletes in NBA, NHL, and NFL all get guaranteed figures as well.
So regardless if they play or not, they’re going to take home that money, and postponing or even canceling a season won’t hurt as much. MMA fighters don’t have that same luxury, because if they don’t fight, they don’t get paid.
That’s why fighters will continue to “hope for the best” and “focus on the positive.” They’ll still train and want to compete, because at the end of the day, they can’t really afford not to.
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