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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

A medical plan for MMA fighters

Mixed martial arts fighter Chris Weidman during a

Mixed martial arts fighter Chris Weidman during a training session at Ray Longo MMA in Garden City. (Sept. 9, 2010) Photo Credit: James Escher

The NFL lockout began its 66th day this morning, give or take a few hours from all that legal wrangling. In the NBA, 25 underclassmen withdrew their draft eligibility and returned to college, citing the uncertainty of the next collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated at season's end.

Well, here comes a bit of news that may surprise you. Two bits, actually, and they both reflect positive financial benefits for athletes on behalf of the sports organization that employs them.

Zuffa, the parent company of mixed martial arts promotions UFC and Strikeforce, announced last week that it will begin insuring fighters for injuries during training instead of just on fight nights, and it will pay its fighters for tweeting and increasing their followers on Twitter.

"I've been twittering like crazy now," said @chrisweidmanufc, err, Chris Weidman, a well-regarded UFC middleweight prospect from Baldwin. "UFC is not playing with this Twitter thing. It becomes a full-time job, though, tweeting as much as you can."

Quite a contrast from the NFL, which fines players for tweeting too close to the start of a game or at halftime, or from Major League Baseball which suspended Ozzie Guillen for two games last month and fined him $20,000 for an inappropriate comment about umpires.

Fighters are placed into four categories, and the winners will each earn $5,000. The quarterly bonuses go to those with the biggest percentage increase in followers and to the most creative use of the social medium. MMA fans might want to consider an extra cell phone battery or a separate smartphone just for Twitter so they can keep up with expected deluge of 140-character comments.

The move by Zuffa, though, is highly commendable, especially for young fighters. Weidman, 27, has his second UFC fight on June 11 in Vancouver. He has a young family, and now a mortgage to consider. A few extra bones tossed his way for gaining more Tweets doesn't hurt.

But fighting itself does hurt. Weidman, and just about every other mixed martial artist, is no stranger to injury. Weidman made his UFC debut in March with a broken rib and still won by unanimous decision. That was an injury suffered during training, which meant out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Not anymore.

Starting June 1, all Zuffa fighters are covered for any accidental injury outside of the cage, be it a training injury, car accident or routine slip-and-fall. The plan covers up to $50,000, is worldwide and keeps fighters' money in their pocket. It does not include prescription plans or routine doctor visits for things such as the flu.

It's a plan, underwritten by Houston Casualty, that Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said has been three years in the making.

"When you walk into an insurance company and say, yeah, we want to get full coverage for 400 ultimate fighters, that includes all of their training and everything else in their life, they pretty much slam the door on you pretty quick," Fertitta said.

Fighters are considered independent contractors and are insured on fight night up to $100,000. For a combat sport company to offer an additional policy at no expense to who are technically non-employees is unprecedented.

"Under this plan, you're going to be able to rest your head at night and feel good that you're going to be able to pick up the phone, call a doctor and then those expenses are going to be covered."

Maybe they could tweet the doctor, too.

New York Sports