A bill that would create a Mixed Martial Arts Pension Fund for MMA athletes within California gained numerous former MMA athlete supporters on Thursday following being released last week.
Assembly Bill 1136, authored by Assemblyman Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), would specifically create the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Pension Fund within the California State Athletic Commission. The bill would allow the pension plan to generate revenue through assessments on tickets, revenue through the sale of sport paraphernalia and souvenirs, and contributions by martial artists, managers, promoters, or any one or more of these persons. Those retiring from the sport, or those needing an early pension benefit for education, training, or medical need, would be awarded funding as a result.
AB 1136 makes it clear that no generated funds would be going to the state General Fund, with all MMA Pension Fund money to be invested. The bill would also limit Pension Fund income to fighters over the age of 50, or for those who fought 14 or more fights in California.
Assemblyman Haney wrote AB 1136 due to MMA fighters currently not having any source of retirement income or post-fighting benefits. Fighters on average only last for ten years with only around 20 fights under their belts due to the violent nature of the sport limiting fights and to allow for recovery, financial assistance is often needed early on to help pay for problems caused by fights earlier in the career.
While leagues such as Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL) do have pension plans in place, most non-team, individual sports do not. However, California does have the Boxers’ Pension Fund, which provides assistance for this in boxing. Haney used the Boxing Pension Fund a a template for his proposed MMA Penson Fund.
“This pension fund is the right thing to do. It allows these athletes to save money for their retirement and creates a financial safety net to pay for medical bills,” Haney said last week. “It’s the first of its kind in the world of MMA and it’s an important step to support these athletes who make MMA one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.”
AB 1136 quickly gained the support of California-based MMA fighters following the bill’s introduction last week. Amongst the first former fighters to come out in support of the bill was former UFC fighter Rhonda Rousey who noted that medical problems largely don’t become more apparent until decades later when fighters are out of the sport and don’t have the work to help pay for treatment.
AB 1136 gains support from MMA fighters
“Your body doesn’t forget. And many times you don’t realize you’ve taken one hit too many until decades later,” said Rousey on Thursday in a statement of support. “Everyone loves you when you’re fighting in the octagon, but will any of those people be there for you when you’re in your nineties paying the price?
“I was really almost like shocked and encouraged by humanity that anyone is even thinking of the fighters after they’re not fighting anymore. 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.”
— Marc Raimondi (@marcraimondi) February 23, 2023
As of Thursday, no major opposition has come out against the bill. However, this will likely change due to the MMA, as well as many promoters, having spent tens of millions in the past to protect the league and how it functions.
“For many, it will be hard to justify voting against the bill,” explained Hunter Corwin, a legal advisor for athletes and athletic teams, to the Globe on Thursday. “If this was coming right out of the General Fund, or through a general tax, a lot of people would be up in arms about it. Instead, the burden of funding is placed on the sport and those building up these fights. Some taxpayers are paying into it, but only those who buy merchandise or go to fights.”
“What you will see is those in the support who say that the new, higher taxes will cause people to push away from support and cause fewer events to happen in California. They’re also worried that this Fund idea would spread to other places, especially Nevada, which holds the lion’s share of fights. But the boxing fund didn’t really go beyond California, so the MMA fund could also be stopped early on.”
“For both sides though, they want to see if it can fiscally work first. That’s the big thing.”
AB 1136 is expected to be heard in Assembly committees next month.
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