Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company,
Evolve Media.

* * *

When the
Professional Fighters League
announced that it was canceling it
2020 season, it wasn’t exactly a shock. As the coronavirus pandemic
continues to take its toll on the globe, public gatherings of more
than a handful of people remain banned in most states, and social
distancing measures continue to be encouraged in almost every
country. What many found surprising, however, was that
the promotion opted to pay a monthly stipend to its fighters during
the health crisis in a gesture of goodwill
, stating that the
money would “help support them and their families throughout 2020.”
Many pundits praised the move, with some going so far as to suggest
that it could set a precedent for other large organizations like
and the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
as a way to help contracted
athletes during this time.

However, the stipend came with a catch—a
round of fighters being cut from the organization
. While some
might say that undercuts the stimulus given out to the remaining
contracted athletes, that notion couldn’t be further from the
truth. During these unprecedented times, the fact is almost every
type of business is hurting, those based around live events
especially so. With their main source of revenue reduced to nothing
the projected unemployment issues that are likely to linger even
after the crisis is over
, recovery will not be easy for
entities that have relied on blue-collar discretionary spending.
Given that the PFL is still in its infancy and has not yet carved
out market share on par with Bellator
or the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
, the stipend was akin to a
retention bonus in the corporate world, trying to make fighters
feel valued and keep them from looking at other promotions that may
instead opt to continue with shows during the pandemic.

Those organizations that are planning to move forward with events,
however, are feeling the financial pressure, as well. The UFC is
scheduled to host its ill-fated UFC
card on May 9 after postponing the event for three weeks
due to the pandemic, this despite various calls from MMA media and
the Association of Ringside Physicians to put a moratorium on
combat sports. The promotion may not have much of a choice in the
matter, as
parent company Endeavor has been struggling with layoffs and pay
cuts across the board
and recently
had its credit rating downgraded by S&P Global
. To make
matters worse,
the entertainment conglomerate’s botched IPO in 2019 had already
left the organization cash-strapped
, so much so that
$300 million of the UFC’s profits was used to pay a dividend to
investors right before the pandemic hit
. While UFC President
no doubt wants to continue with events simply for the
sake of the sport, the pressure on Endeavor’s crown jewel
subsidiary to keep the talent agency afloat must be immense.

While the bigger MMA promotions are struggling to appease
investors, calm business partners or deal with the large amounts of
debt on their books, regional promotions tell a somewhat different
story. Many smaller MMA organizations run on tight budgets and have
very little overhead, lessening the effects of the stay-at-home
orders plaguing the bigger companies. Although there are impacts to
what little crew regional promotions do have,
many have stated that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t put them in a
dire situation and that they’ll be able to wait until the virus is

Big or small, promotions aren’t the hardest hit financially in the
MMA community by COVID-19; that unfortunate distinction belongs to
their contracted athletes. Regardless of the promotion, fighters
are almost universally bound to contracts that pay them per bout
agreement, leaving the majority without any income from the
profession. For those who fight full-time, that means that they’ve
been essentially laid off for the time being, relying on their
partners’ income, help from friends and family or having to look
for another job during a crisis that has tens of millions searching
for work. For others who were still working another job while they
pursued their MMA career, it still means that their dreams of
getting to hold a belt, get a call-up from a major organization or
one day fight full-time are now on hold for the foreseeable future.
Instead, they are having to focus their time towards that other
profession, provided they still have it. Others who are towards the
end of their careers and not in an organization that plans to keep
hosting events are losing what little time they have left in the
sport, possibly forcing them into retirement without the chance to
end their careers the way they wanted.

Any way you look at it, the coronavirus pandemic is bad for
business, and the MMA industry faces some tough challenges ahead.
Promotions of all sizes will have to find a way to keep their
operations running during the crisis, with some facing significant
debt and others simply trying to keep their relevance on the
regional scene. Fighters will face the toughest road ahead, with
many having to find creative ways to not only train without a gym
but also keep the lights on at home. It’s too early to say what the
MMA industry, let alone the world, will look like when COVID-19 has
come and gone, but as promotions and athletes adjust to the
ever-fluid situation, it’s important to remember one thing:

It’s likely not going anywhere anytime soon