After sports were abruptly stripped away from all of us because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the return of the UFC in early May was a welcomed event by all MMA fans. But outside of the sport’s most mainstream promotion, many MMA fighters’ lives have been put on hold just as ours have and their future is equally as uncertain as those without work at this time.
Kyle Daukaus of Philadelphia is one of those fighters in limbo. Daukaus is the undefeated middleweight champion of regional MMA promotion Cage Fury Fighting Championships. But with his promotion going on a pandemic-related hiatus, he was forced to seek manual labor work to earn money.
“As far as fighting, I can’t do anything,” Daukaus told the Associated Press in May.
The 27-year-old is just one of the thousands of MMA prospects who have been out of work with little intel on when their gyms might open again or when they’ll be able to compete next.
“There’s nowhere to fight — the regional scene has vanished during the coronavirus pandemic — and their gyms are shuttered,” wrote the AP.
So, like Daukaus, many fighters have been doing whatever they can at home in order to stay in shape. Daukaus said he would take to nearby parks or empty parking lots to do sprints. He gets the aid of his brother when it comes to hitting pads, which is done in the garage of his Philly home.
But staying in shape is only part of the equation for Daukaus and regional fighters like him.
There’s also the financial fallout from the pandemic, which has been even more drastic for fighters outside of the sport’s major promotions. The world’s top MMA fighters can earn hundreds of thousands, or even millions, for their participation in a pay-per-view fight. But many fighters, like Daukaus, are paid on commission and the more tickets they’re able to sell to their family, friends, and regional fan base leads to more potential earnings.
But amid a pandemic, there’s nothing to sell.
Cage Fury, along with most other MMA promotions like Bellator, ONE Championship, and the Professional Fighting League, has postponed all scheduled cards. With the UFC laying out a template for the return of combat sports and more states moving into “yellow” and “green” stages of the pandemic, perhaps these promotions will soon be back at it. But has too much damage already been done to the regional MMA community?
Daukaus, for example, was being trained by former Bellator fighter Will Martinez, who opened his Brazilian jiu-jitsu school in Philadelphia nearly a decade ago. Martinez was forced to shut the doors of his gym in mid-March — another casualty of the pandemic. With the closing came the suspension of nearly 200 member account, leaving Martinez to wonder how his 3,700-square-foot gym could survive even after reopening.
“Ten years may be going down the drain,” Martinez told the AP. “How many schools and places like us are in the same predicament? I can’t really dwell on it. I’ve got to sit back and wait. Mentally, physically, financially, emotionally, it’s terrible. Jiu-jitsu is in a real terrible predicament because we’re not like other gyms where people can keep social distancing and keep six feet apart because they have a 30,000-square-foot facility. We can’t do that. So what do we do? There’s no timeframe to our return.”
Gym owners are feeling the economic ramifications of the pandemic along with their fighters and members. Many MMA fighters, again, like Daukaus, are independent contractors. Unlike many pro athletes who are still receiving some or most of their regular-season paychecks, most MMA fighters are not paid a salary and rely heavily on being able to compete.
“It’s very tough not having any income,” Daukaus said. “I know that fighting as a profession is a struggle in the beginning, and I’m fine with struggling like that. But I’m not even guaranteed monthly payments from the gym right now. I’m doing as best as I can to spend as minimal an amount as possible.”
Daukaus, who is 9-0 and last fought in early February, was hoping to have his next fight in early summer, but now, he’s training at home wondering if he’ll even be able to fight again this year.
“I don’t have a Plan B,” Daukaus said. “If the opportunity comes and I get a call, I’m going to take it.”
While the UFC seems to have remained afloat during an unprecedented time, the MMA community overall has taken a major hit. With more businesses on the verge of reopening, hopefully gyms and other MMA promotions outside of the UFC can return so that the sport’s prospect pipeline isn’t affected more than it already has been.