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Fighters getting fined over flag violations during UFC 281 fight week: ‘You can’t wear it anywhere’

Get caught on UFC cameras wearing a flag, get fined.

UFC 236: Holloway v Poirier 2 Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

While Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) definitely isn’t above using fighter nationalities to sell pay-per-view (PPV) units, the world’s leading mixed martial arts (MMA) outlawed its athletes from carrying flags into the cage back in May, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine and world vibes started getting pretty jingoistic.

The move probably saved UFC a lot of headaches in the public relations department, but was certainly hypocritical from a company that often claims its fighters can say and do whatever they want. It’s also questionable considering fighters are technically considered independent contractors, not employees. Putting too much of a limit on their ability to do as they please certainly blurs that line even more than in the past.

UFC isn’t just keeping flags out of the cage, either.

According to Featherweight “Super” Sodiq Yusuff, you can’t wear anything with the flag of your country. He was barred from wearing a headband with the colors of his home country of Nigeria.

“The flag thing, it was so weird,” Yusuff said on an episode of The African Fighters podcast (via Calfkicker). “They always let me wear my bandana, but that weekend they told me, they said, ‘Hey, if you wear the flag, we’re gonna fine you a lot of money.’ So it wasn’t worth it. They were like, ‘You can’t wear it anywhere the UFC cameras are gonna catch.’”

The way UFC enforces compliance on this front is with the Promotional Guidelines Compliance pay, formerly branded as Athlete Outfitting pay. When Reebok signed a $70 million deal with UFC back in 2014, half that money went to fighters in the form of Athlete Outfitting pay on a sliding scale based on number of fights with the promotion. Fighters with 1-5 fights got $2,500 and fighters with 21+ fights got $20,000 per fight. For fighters, getting that money meant making sure they — and everyone on their teams — wore the full uniform kit at all designated times during fight week.

Now, Athlete Outfitting pay has become Promotional Guidelines Compliance pay, which means the money can be taken away from fighters for several different actions that go against internal UFC guidelines. While we haven’t heard of instances where fighters are getting dinged for getting into altercations outside the cage, the promotion is apparently very serious about the uniform situation ... and the flag situation.

While putting strings on uniform pay may be enough to stop some fighters from trying to slip bandanas past the censors, it hasn’t stopped everyone. Chinese fighter Li Jingliang had someone throw a national flag of the People’s Republic of China to him in the cage after beating Muslim Salikhov in July. Footage shot from the arena shows a UFC employee rushing into the ring to rip the flag out of Jingliang’s hands.

So, if you see any flags or clothing with national symbols on your favorite UFC fighter at UFC 281 in New York City, know that they’re risking several thousand dollars to show it off. And keep an eye out for UFC employees snatching the offending items away in the background.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 281 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard (on ESPNEWS/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 281: “Adesanya vs. Pereira” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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