UFC 249 fighters face financial penalties for criticism of company's health and safety protocols

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
UFC president Dana White speaks during a 2017 news conference as Stephen Espinoza of Showtime (center) listens. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
UFC president Dana White speaks during a 2017 news conference as Stephen Espinoza of Showtime (center) listens. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

According to a contract obtained by Yahoo Sports that UFC 249 fighters had to sign, they face the potential loss of their purse and any financial bonuses they may earn if they defame or disparage the UFC over its health and safety protocols.

Earlier in the day, Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, tweeted about it.

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Yahoo Sports spoke via telephone Saturday to UFC president Dana White, who confirmed the UFC’s deal with the fighters includes an anti-disparagement clause, which he said is included in all of the company’s contracts. But he denied that there would be any punishment if a fighter said something negative about the organization which was true.

“It’s called an anti-disparagement clause and if I know what that is, that scumbag (Espinoza) is a lawyer and you would think he should know what that is,” White said.

Yahoo Sports asked White to clarify the clause.

“If a fighter says something that isn’t true — if he says we didn’t test anyone for this — that would [violate the agreement],” he said. “But if he said something that was true, his opinion, then that is different.”

Espinoza failed to return repeated phone calls and text messages from Yahoo Sports. But according to a document Yahoo Sports acquired from a third party who wished to remain anonymous, the non-disparagement clause does note the fighter could lose his or her entire purse for violating it.

According to the final sentence of paragraph 7 of the Event Participation Agreement fighters are required to sign:

“If the Participant is a Fighter, the Participant hereby acknowledges and agrees that in the event that the Participant breaches this Paragraph 7, the Company may revoke all or any part of any prize monies or awards won by the Participant in connection with the Activities, including, but not limited to, purses, win bonuses, other fight-related bonuses and event-based merchandise royalties.”

The UFC has done multiple swab tests looking for the presence of COVID-19 on all fighters and their teams. On Friday, Jacare Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive and his bout with Uriah Hall was canceled. But Souza made weight and fist-bumped White, though he was wearing a mask and had gloves on. When Souza arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday, he informed UFC officials that he had a family member whom he believed had contracted the virus.

In a statement the UFC released on Friday announcing the positive tests, it wrote, “From their arrival earlier in the week until their departure today, Souza and his cornermen followed UFC health and safety protocols, including practicing social distancing, wearing personnel protective equipment, and self-isolating whenever possible.”

However, former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum posted a video to his Instagram story which he later deleted which showed at least one instance of Souza violating social distancing protocols.

Clearly, Souza and Werdum were not six feet apart and Souza appears to be roaming freely through the hotel when he had reason to believe that he may be positive.

All fighters assumed the risk when they signed the Event Participation Agreement, according to Paragraph 4, which reads:

“The Participant fully understands and agrees that the Participant’s preparation for, travel for, lodging, attendance at, contact with and consumption or use of, food, beverages and other consumables at, participation and appearance in and/or provision of services or personnel for the Activities (collectively, the “Covered Matters”) may lead to exposure to COVID-19 and that contraction of COVID-19 may result in severe and permanent damage to the health of the Participant and/or others, including, but not limited to, death, fever, weight loss, irreversible pulmonary, respiratory and/or neurological system damage, mental or emotional distress, temporary or permanent disability, loss of income, loss of employment, loss of financial or other opportunities, medical expenses, which may or may not be covered by insurance, cleaning expenses, mandatory self-quarantine, loss of licenses and similar approvals by any regulatory or self-regulatory body to which the Participant or any of the Releasing Parties (as defined below) is subject, investigation and/or prosecution by civil, criminal or other regulatory authorities and other harms and lost opportunities, whether economic, reputational or otherwise (collectively, the “Harms”).

The part of the contract that Espinoza appears to be referring to when he talked about fighters being subject to losing their purses is the first portion of Paragraph 7.

In that, the fighter agreed with his/her signature on the contract that he/she “will not suggest or communicate to any person or entity that the Activities have been or will be held without appropriate health, safety or other precautions, whether relating to COVID-19 or otherwise.”

More UFC 249 coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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