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Newsom signs first MMA fighter retirement fund bill into law

Mixed martial arts fighters in California got their pension fund Wednesday. Maybe they’ll collect in greater numbers than boxers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1136, the Mixed Martial Arts Retirement Benefit Fund, into law, the first of its kind in the United States. The bill by assemblyman Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) should benefit the more than 400 MMA fighters currently licensed by the California State Athletic Commission.

A fighter would need to accrue 39 scheduled rounds — about 12 to 14 bouts — at commission-regulated MMA events beginning next year to vest in the retirement benefit fund. The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024, does not retroactively cover fighters.

“MMA promotions have seen immense growth in the past three decades, and those fighters who came to California to compete deserve compensation in retirement,” Andy Foster, the State Athletic Commission executive officer, said in a statement. “It is time MMA fighters get their share.”

The fund will not be paid for using taxpayer dollars. Instead, it will be financed through ticket sales, sports paraphernalia, and souvenirs. One dollar of every ticket sold will be earmarked for the fund.

The California Professional Boxers’ Pension Plan, the nation’s only state-administered retirement plan of its kind, began making payments to eligible boxers in 1999. To date, the plan has provided at least 235 retired fighters more than $4 million. However, an additional 200 boxers have not claimed pensions owed them because, in many cases, they were unaware they were eligible.

The Times examined hundreds of state documents and interviewed dozens of fighters, promoters and retirement plan experts about the California boxers’ pension, which includes retirement accounts for more than 1,900 current and former boxers. The investigation found that the pension plan often fell short.

Roughly 200 boxers could have claimed a pension in 2022 but only a dozen did so. The commission failed to increase the amount of revenue generated for the pension to ensure the plan is adequately funded and the plan does not have enough money to pay all unclaimed pensions without reducing the amount of money received by fighters who become eligible in future years. Only $294,000 was set aside for the $2.1 million owed to boxers who haven’t been paid.

The State Athletic Commission said it will begin sending annual statements to all vested boxers beginning next year and that it has brought in investigators to search for fighters with unclaimed money.

Haney read The Times’ investigation and amended his bill to require that the commission send annual statements informing future vested MMA fighters of their account balances.

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