It’s every sports franchise worst nightmare—dealing with the gut-wrenching news that their All-Star player has been injured and is out for the season. Suddenly, the team’s championship dreams have all but disappeared and their die-hard fans are flooding suicide hotlines for support.
The only thing that could make this situation worse is if the savior of the organization was hurt while snowboarding at a premier mountain resort or racing his brand new Harley Davidson. Just ask the Chicago Bulls or Cleveland Browns, who lost their stud players Jay Williams and Kellen Winslow Jr. following motorcycle accidents.
No sport, including MMA, has been immune to players suffering injures off the field, or in the case of mixed martial arts, outside the gym or cage. When a fighter goes down, it can affect an entire event.
In an effort to prevent these misfortunes from taking place, the UFC has followed the lead of other major professional sporting leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB by creating a “dangerous activities” clause to a fighter’s bout agreement. Once the fight is made official and the athlete has signed the agreement, they are now contractually held to not participate in activities like snowboarding or water skiing. If they have not officially signed to fight, they’re free to participate in any hobbies they want to without repercussions.
“We have a code of conduct, and part of the code is the ‘dangerous activities’ clause,” says Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “We don’t want these fighters racing motorcycles, climbing mountains, doing rodeos…or anything else where they can get hurt. We’ve studied all the other sports when it comes to good conduct and moral clauses, and this one is in almost every other sport, so it was time for us to look into it.”
UFC president Dana White has been an advocate of the policy from day one. “We handle it situation by situation,” White says. “I get it, these are young, aggressive guys, but I would prefer MMA to be the only dangerous activity they do, but I can’t police everybody.”
Even the superstars are not exempt.
“If I hear Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre are doing something nutty,” White says, “I’m going to put in a phone call and say, ‘Come on, Georges.’”
After main events and entire cards were blown up or lost entirely in 2012, it makes sense that the UFC is trying to discourage their athletes from taking risks outside of the sport. After all, MMA is already hazardous enough. Although, it seems a bit ironic that men who fight in a cage for a living and are awarded bonuses for knocking out their opponents in emphatic fashion are prohibited from horseback riding or pick-up basketball games.
But when UFC Bantamweight Champion Jose Aldo was scratched from his UFC 153 title fight due to the serious injuries he suffered from crashing his motorcycle, it proved the exact point the UFC was making.
Extreme In & Out
UFC lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone could be the poster boy for the UFC’s new policy. Known for his love of extreme sports, including wakeboarding, rock climbing, and bull riding, he was one of the first fighters to voice his displeasure with the new restrictions added to UFC contracts. However, the policy didn’t really deter him, as a video surfaced of him performing crazy wakeboard stunts. He also Tweeted pictures of his rock climbing adventures.
Then, like a devastating right hook to the head, a 40-foot fall woke him up.
“I was showing Leonard Garcia what would happen if you slipped, and as I did, I actually fell,” Cerrone says. “I didn’t set the gear up correctly, and then pop, pop, pop, pop. Four of my five anchors ripped out, and by that time I had so much slack in the rope that I basically bounced of a rock that flung me out, and I smashed into the ground.”
What would have happened if that last hook didn’t hold? “I would have been hurt pretty bad,” he says, in the understatement of the year.
News of his fall traveled quickly.
“We heard about a fighter who fell while rock climbing,” says Ratner. “That’s the exact stuff we don’t want our fighters doing. We don’t want them jeopardizing their careers for fun.”
Social media alerted Dana White to Cerrone’s accident.
“That’s pretty much what happened with Cerrone,” says White. “I saw something about him rock climbing on Twitter and hit him up and said, ‘Come on. Are you crazy, kid?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ laughing and joking about it. Then he had the rock climbing incident, and he hit me back and said, ‘You’re right, I’m wrong. I’m done.’”
“I told Dana, no more of that BS while I’m in training camp,” says Cerrone. “I realized I have to limit how hard I go with my activities.”
While the UFC can’t follow their fighters 24/7 and watch their every move, they have attempted to educate their athletes on the risks associated with participating in dangerous activities.
And not all sports are considered “dangerous.”
UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson routinely takes part in jiu-jitsu tournaments, and the UFC doesn’t seem to mind.
“The UFC has never given me any problems about participating in jiu-jitsu tournaments,” says Henderson. “I told them during my contract negotiations that I would be doing jiu-jitsu tournaments and asked if that was cool. They said as long as it’s not the day before the fight, you’re good to go.”
However, other activities like rock climbing, horseback riding, and motorcycle racing will result in a meeting with the big boss.
“If we hear about a fighter doing something crazy, we will bring them in to talk with Dana to see if a suspension is necessary,” says Ratner. “I believe he would give them a warning, but if a fighter continues to do dangerous activities, it would be cause for termination. It’s just that simple—but a talk with Dana is usually all it takes.”