California creates new MMA fighter retirement fund but don’t get your hopes up

Finally MMA fighters can enjoy their latter years in peace and comfort... well, maybe.

By: Nate Wilcox | 2 months ago
California creates new MMA fighter retirement fund but don’t get your hopes up
Typical MMA retirement. Lane Oatey BLUE JEAN IMAGES/IMAGO

It’s no secret that making a career out of MMA is not the road to riches. Even fighters who have long and successful runs at the top of the sport in the UFC, often end up broker than broke with few job prospects as they get older. Maybe the UFC only sharing 13% of the revenue with the fighters is a contributing factor, but they’re not alone.

“I’m flat-out broke right now,” former UFC headliner Chris Leben told MMA Mania in a 2012 interview. “Being broke sucks. It’s probably one of my biggest things where I just feel terrible. I feel terrible for having put my wife through so much and all because of the poor decisions that I’ve made. The year’s been hard. The year’s been a struggle. The only thing I can say is it’s already happened. It’s water under the bridge. The only thing I can do now is try to make sure it never happens again in the future and prepare for the future now.”

One of the most depressing parts about about working in MMA media for the past 16 years is seeing over and over again how the industry takes a lot from fighters and doesn’t give a lot back…if it gives back anything.

California passes legislation to create pension for MMA fighters

So in an industry that largely preys on the punishment that athletes take inside the ring, it seems like a major positive that California appears to be trying to do something better. The state recently announced plans to pass legislation for the formation of a pension for MMA fighters. That legislation has now been finalized and will go into effect.

“On behalf of the California State Athletic Commission, I would like to extend my gratitude to Governor Newsom, Assembly Member Haney, and the Legislature for making the MMA benefit fund a reality,” CSAC Chair Peter Villegas stated in a press release. “These fighters have dedicated years of their lives to the sport undergoing intense training and tough battles, while entertaining fans and inspiring future fighters. When these fighters step away from the cage and enter their later years, we want them to have that retirement check in their hands—they literally fought and earned it.”

To fund the efforts, California will be releasing special edition license plates, the purchase of which will direct $40 into the fund. Alongside that revenue stream, $1 of every ticket sold for an MMA event under CSAC’s jurisdiction will go to supporting the pension. The fund will not, however, get any general support from the state budget.

Boxing Pension Fund shows causes for concern

This new Calfornia pension fund for MMA fighters sure sounds like good news, but may not do much in practice. Our own Zach Arnold rang the alarm in June by looking at the existing retirement fund for boxers, which is a bit of a fiasco.

A state boxing pension fund was created to be managed by state employees, who may or may not be financial or legal professionals. That is where the system immediately began to fail.

Millions of dollars have accumulated inside of the pension fund because most eligible retirees had no clue that a pension ever existed. Because the pension is not a private business plan, it doesn’t have the protections of ERISA. Since licensees in California are considered independent contractors and not employees, pensioners don’t have the same automatic protections like public state employees do with CALPERS.

What you’re left with is a quasi-public trust guided under the principles of the Contract clause. Pensioners can file a claim for distribution but they can’t administratively challenge the value of that distribution. Since most eligible pensioners have no idea that they’re eligible for a pension distribution in the first place, money is sitting in the pension trust.

This is the financial system that California’s new MMA pension fund will be modeled after.

Numerous attempts have been made over the years since the boxing pension fund was established to create and manage proper oversight of the system, but very little has changed in the CSAC’s seeming inability to manage and maintain a functional database of eligible boxers. It looks like great news that the state is creating a pool of cash to support aging combat sports veterans, but if that money never actually makes it to their pockets, then it’s not really all that worth celebrating.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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