MMA fighter retirement benefit passed, becomes California law starting in 2024

California MMA fighters will now enjoy a retirement benefit if they meet vesting requirements, thanks to a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday.

Bill AB 1136, drafted by California assemblyman Matt Haney, mirrors a pension fund established in 1982 for professional boxers in California that’s funded by a tax on ticket sales – and allows them to cash out when they schedule the required number of rounds in the state.

“On behalf of the California State Athletic Commission, I would like to extend my gratitude to Governor Newsom, Assembly Member Haney, and the Legislature for making the MMA benefit fund a reality,” stated CSAC Chair Peter Villegas in a prepared release. “These fighters have dedicated years of their lives to the sport undergoing intense training and tough battles, while entertaining fans and inspiring future fighters. When these fighters step away from the cage and enter their later years, we want them to have that retirement check in their hands—they literally fought and earned it.”

MMA fighters will need to schedule at least 39 rounds – they still get credit for full rounds in the event of a finish – in bouts sanctioned by the CSAC and reach 50 to cash out (with exceptions, according to a CSAC release on Tuesday). Boxers have to schedule 75 rounds in the state.

The benefit does not apply retroactively to fighters who’ve fought the required number of rounds in the state.

Foster and CSAC are still at work creating separate revenue streams to fund the retirement benefit; the commission aimed to sell a specialty California license plate with CSAC branding that would put $40 in the pension fund for every plate sold. As of now, the benefit will be funded by a tax of $1 per ticket sold at CSAC-regulated events in addition to concessions and personal contributions. Funding for the retirement benefit will not come from the state’s general fund, the release stated.

“This is a wonderful achievement – I’m very, very excited about this,” CSAC Executive Director Andy Foster told MMA Fighting about the bill’s passage. “But there’s more work that has to be done, and we’re going to do it.”

Among high-profile supporters of the retirement benefit – the first of its kind among U.S. MMA regulators – is former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. So is her one-time opponent Cat Zingano, who recently spoke to legislators about the benefit of creating a small safety net for retired MMA fighters.

“If we could make it what we’re trying to make it, which is just a completely supported sport, where you’re actually looked at and treated like a professional athlete, it could be a good idea for people to do this sport,” said Zingano, who this past Saturday lost a bid for the Bellator featherweight title against Cris Cyborg at Bellator 300.

Haney previously told MMA Fighting the UFC and Bellator, the highest-profile MMA promoters doing business in the state, are “not in opposition” to the benefit and suggested they contribute to it independent of holding events in the state.

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