Seems like a simple question for most people. Many might say they’d rather not break a bone at all, but fighters undergo the risk of bone fractures on a daily basis. Through training and especially during competition. Sure this is nothing new, in fact, many sports create risk of injury for participants. But few professional sports pay less than that of the average MMA or combat sport athlete.
When you consider the constant physical torture, the financial burden of training and diet, as well as the relatively low pay outs, then the cost of a broken bone can start to seriously add tension to an already tense affair. What’s worse is that most fighters, especially those signed to the less financially able promotions, are without health insurance. While this may present less of a concern for those in the United States who plan to capitalize on recent changes in healthcare legislation. The fact is we haven’t seen how this new healthcare system will truly work nor do we know what the future costs to the individual will be. A foregone conclusion by many is that the burden of cost will inevitably fall on the masses, as it always does, but that is a story for another day.
The real question, how much is a broken bone worth, is what we are trying to address. In the past week we’ve had two notable bone fractures, one sustained by Steve Carl from World Series of Fighting and one by Holly Holm, currently signed to Legacy FC. Before those there were multiple high profile fractures in the UFC during 2013. Starting with the frightening jaw fracture sustained by Stefan Struve during a bout with Mark Hunt, Johnny Hendricks with a broken hand during his bout with Carlos Condit and ending the year with a shocking bang was Anderson Silva’s gruesome shin break during he rematch with Chris Weidman in December.
The first thing most fans focus on is the obvious shock and awe at the idea of a bone fracture. Thoughts of pain, anguish, triumph and courage all race through their minds. But then the impact of the potential loss of a fighter, the end of their career, never seeing them in the cage again. All these ideas come to the surface in casual review but what few focus on are the financial costs incurred by each fighter when something so significant happens to their body.
A bone break is not like the superficial soft tissue damage we are used to seeing in a fight. Black eyes, cuts and bruises of all sorts. These can heal with basic first aid. The risk and cost is relatively low. But when a bone is broken, proper medical intervention is a must. If the bone isn’t properly set, the limb or joint may be unusable in any practical or athletic sense. This would not only end a fighter’s career but possibly make basic living a chore in and of itself. Even then, the immediate medical attention is just the beginning. It’s the months of rehabilitation, follow-up doctors visits and even potential need for future surgeries to correct any issues that may develop during the healing process that make the costs tremendous and almost unbearable by most.
Just to keep things in perspective. We will take a simple payout like that provided to Steve Carl by WSOF. (Keep in mind, the purpose of this exercise is not to question the validity of pay or the ethics of the promotions, but rather to highlight some of the true costs of an injury and how it relates to the compensation provided for the activity that caused it.)
In his last bout with Rousimar Palhares, Steve Carl was reported to walk away with 20 thousand dollars (according to the NSAC). To many that amount in hand is more than a full years pay but then again this amount is the reported earning before taxes. You’d probably want to slice of a good thirty percent of that figure to get a better representation of what a fighter making that amount might walk home with.
For this payout of $20K Steve Carl got his name in lights, his potential 15 minutes of fame (which in truth was cut down to a few minutes by the sheer power and technical ability of his opponent) a broken fibula and a good story to tell.
Now let’s look at what the cost of such an injury “could” incur to an uninsured fighter. For this exercise we sourced data from a recent study reported by the British publication “This Is Money”. In that study they reviewed the average cost of treatment for British travelers in various countries for various conditions. When you see the chart you will note that the US has the highest treatment cost of any nation reviewed. Also it’s important to note their figures are in British pounds for each equates to over $1.66 US. So factor a multiplier of 1.6 for each of those stats and you have your approximate cost in American dollars.
One more thing to note is the fact that UK citizens are afforded public healthcare that is inclusive with their social services. Those who elect to travel outside of the UK are able to purchase health insurance policies that can cover them during their travel for as little as 40 British pounds. The same is not always true for travelers from countries outside the UK to chose to travel to the US.
In the “This Is Money” article they discuss the specific average cost of a bone break compared to other countries. The United States had the highest figure. With the average cost totalling 25,000 British pounds. That is approximately $41,500!
Now, when you factor in a take home pay of something shy of 70% of $20,000 (appx $14,000) and deduct the cost of treatment for the broken bone, that would be a net total of -27,500 US Dollars.
That’s right. An uninsured fighter could end up walking away from the cage with a debt of over 25 thousand dollars just to fix an injury sustained in the cage. Even if you win but are injured in such fashion, the earnings become seriously diminished by the cost of treatment. This is something to consider for those wishing to fight and also something to note for those negotiating contracts. Always factor the risks. You may get your 15 minutes of fame, but it might cost you more than you ever bargained for.
Note to our readers: Steve Carl is a US Veteran and thus insured through the VA. This examination is not an exact representation of every fighter in every promotion.