UFC taps smart ring maker Oura Health as its official health-tracking partner for fighters and event staff

Key Points
  • Oura Health is partnering with UFC to become its official health tracking device.
  • Oura's smart rings can track sleep, heart rate and respiratory data of the wearer, and could help detect early signs of Covid-19.
  • The program is voluntary, but more than 100 UFC fighters and staff are currently using the Oura ring. 
Oura ring is made of titanium and weighs less than .25oz.
Source: Oura Ring

Oura Health, the company behind the Oura smart ring that has helped athletes and users detect early symptoms of Covid-19, announced its newest partnership is with UFC Tuesday. In a multi-year deal, the mixed martial arts company has named Oura as its first-ever "Official Health Wearable."

"In a sport like mixed martial arts where reaction times and recovery are really crucial, having insight and accurate information that's going to help us make more informed decisions on an individual basis is critical to us," Duncan French, UFC's vice president of performance told CNBC. 

Oura Health and UFC declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

The Oura smart ring, which starts at $299, measures and logs data ranging from sleep and body temperature, to heart rate and respiratory function. Its unique ability to measure body temperature differentiates it from other devices like the Apple Watch or the Whoop band as well as the fact that it's a ring. 

"There's a reason why every hospital tends to measure your heart rate from your finger. It tends to have a much stronger signal and leads to more accurate data," said Harpreet Rai, CEO of Oura Health.

As part of the deal, Oura will provide UFC with the smart rings and use of the company's Health Risk Management platform, allowing athletes and training staff to share their data, should the fighters decide to opt into the program.

French said fighters will not be wearing the Oura ring during competition, but the ring will be used as a "health and wellness" tool to measure long-term health. 

Use of the ring is optional, but after just two weeks, nearly 60 fighters are currently using one, in addition to 40 event staff. 

For retired MMA fighter and former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier, it was his Oura ring that first helped him identify he was experiencing early symptoms of Covid-19. 

The former champion fighter, who retired in August, was using an Oura ring to help provide him data during his training camp earlier in the summer. 

"I was really trying to ensure that at 41 years old, I had all the science that helped me get through camp healthy and also have data that shows that I'm doing things in the right way and progressing in the direction that I need to be to try to become the heavyweight champion of the world," Cormier told CNBC. 

Cormier said that after several guys at training camp tested positive for Covid-19, he got tested and was negative.  A couple days later he started noticing major changes in his Oura data. His readiness score dropped, his heart rate variability score went from 75 to 23 and he had a temperature.

"Everything was out of whack, and that triggered me to know that I needed to go figure out what's going on," he said. 

Cormier took that information to his doctor and they re-tested him. His results came back positive for Covid-19. 

Because of the data signals from the ring, Cormier took a break from training and was able to safely quarantine and recover before returning to the octagon for his career capstone fight against Stipe Miocic on August 15. 

Today,  Cormier said he feels great, even with the lack of sleep from the arrival of a new baby. But he's forever grateful for the information provided by his Oura ring. 

"Maybe my situation with the virus would have been much worse, maybe I would have kept training, maybe I make myself even sicker and I end up passing this virus to a number of my teammates," he said. 

French said that despite the early success they've seen with Cormier and other fighters in detecting early signs of Covid, they were looking at and testing the Oura ring well before coronavirus even began. But the coronavirus detection aspects of the ring were also very appealing. 

"Being able to in the modern times trying to run a multimillion dollar sports entity, bringing people from all over the world to come to Las Vegas or Thailand — it may be just having another barrier, another layer of insight around some of these physiological indicators. It is hugely beneficial to us," French said. 

The Oura smart ring's coronavirus early detection benefits came somewhat by surprise, CEO Harpreet Rai told CNBC. 

The ring was was originally designed to provide its users with an overall picture of their health by looking at their movement, sleep and other functions. But several months ago, its users began noticing that changes in their overall health score could be early indicators for Covid-19.

Today, Rai said the Oura ring has successfully detected Covid-19 symptoms in several hundreds of its users.

A study by The West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) and WVU Medicine found that Oura could detect Covid-19 symptoms up to three days in advance with 90% accuracy

"I think the early results have been extremely promising," Rai said. 

Oura Health, the company behind the Oura ring, announced a $28 million series B funding round in March, from Forerunner Ventures, Gradient Ventures and digital payments company Square. At the time, the company said it had sold more than 150,000 rings. 

Its Covid-19 detection benefits have led to leagues like the NBA, WNBA and NASCAR to signs similar deals for its players and staff in recent months. In addition to sports leagues, Oura is also working with companies including Las Vegas Sands hotel group to help its employees get back to work. 

"I would say even before Covid, we were growing more than double, and that trend is continuing," said Rai.

As a result, he said the company is looking to expand its 150-person team and says we can expect new partnerships with other sports and companies in the days ahead.

"I think we were smart as a company. We did some of the right things to provide support during the pandemic — and we had a solid product and research from the get go. And now that's been elevated," said Rai.

Oura CEO on how wearable devices can be used to help detect coronavirus symptoms
Oura CEO on how wearable devices can be used to help detect coronavirus symptoms