UFC 249 fighters could lose purse if they criticize coronavirus safety protocols

If a fighter competing at UFC 249 criticizes UFC's coronavirus safety protocols, he or she could face the revocation or his or her fight purse, according to a document obtained by ESPN.

All participants -- including media in attendance -- involved in the fight card, which was held Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida, were asked to sign a liability waiver earlier this week. The waiver includes the assumption of risk for participants if they test positive for the coronavirus and releases UFC from any responsibility in case of infection.

The waiver also has a "non-disparagement" clause that states UFC "may revoke all or any part of any prize monies or awards won" by a fighter on the card if they "defame or disparage" the promotion for its safety precautions "or otherwise." The clause extends the possible punitive action to fighters' "affiliates, agents and representatives."

Sources told ESPN that the language is atypical of past UFC agreements that fighters and participants sign. Another source with knowledge of UFC contracts said "anti-disparagement" clauses are common in legal contracts and are designed to address cases of defamation unsupported by facts -- not just someone's opinion.

"First of all, there's something in the contract for disparagement. There's a disparagement clause in there that's in all of our contracts," UFC president Dana White said Saturday after UFC 249. "[A problem] would be like if you came out and said they never tested me -- 'The UFC never tested me for the coronavirus.' But if you had something critical to say about the testing that was true, that wouldn't be disparagement."

The full clause states: "The Participant shall not, and shall cause its affiliates, agents and representatives not to, defame or disparage any of the Released Parties in any medium whatsoever in connection with the Activities. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the Participant will not suggest or communicate to any person or entity that the Activities have been or will be held without appropriate health, safety or other precautions, whether relating to COVID-19 or otherwise.

"If the Participant is a Fighter, the Participant hereby acknowledges and agrees that in the event that the Participant breaches this Paragraph 7, the Company may revoke all or any part of any prize monies or awards won by the Participant in connection with the Activities, including, but not limited to, purses, win bonuses, other fight-related bonuses and event-based merchandise royalties."

The presence of the waiver was first brought to light by Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, who tweeted about it Saturday.

UFC has said everyone involved in the event has been tested for COVID-19. This is one of the first major sporting events to occur since the start of the global pandemic. UFC 249 has the full backing of the Florida State Boxing Commission and local government in Jacksonville.

On Friday, UFC announced that fighter Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza had tested positive for the coronavirus and that he would be removed from his scheduled fight against Uriah Hall. Two of Souza's corner people also tested positive for COVID-19, UFC said. The three were removed from the hotel and would be "self-isolating off premises," according to a UFC statement.