Within the last hour the biggest MMA organisation in the world the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has come under attack once again. A press conference is currently being held in San Jose, California which is featuring a lawsuit being brought against the UFC by several past fighters and once currently under contract. The three fighters officially named as filing the suit are Cung Le, Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry. Cung Le and Nate Quarry are at the conference personally whilst Jon Fitch is on the phone. The three have filed a lawsuit against the UFC this afternoon for claims that UFC has a monopoly on the business of MMA. The basis of their allegations are that the only real promotional option is UFC and that they systematically shut down competitors from entering the business in the first place. They claim they are bringing the suit in order “right wrongs and restore healthy competition in the industry.” When questioned on the goal to be achieved by bringing the suit the answer provided was to “defeat whatever comes their way, obtain class certification and seek to win damages from court.”
There has been a lot of talk about how the UFC treats its fighters over the last several months. Fighter pay and sponsors have had as much play in the MMA media if not more so than the fights themselves. Only this month has the UFC just announced a huge sponsorship deal with clothes apparel Reebok which stirred up a large amount of controversy. A lot of fighters welcomed this whereas a large proportion didn’t. The idea behind the sponsorship deal was that every fighter on the card from the bottom to the top would have some form of sponsorship deal in place that would see them get a base salary in place. Mainly put in place for the bottom tier guys this was seen as a way to help them get well known sponsors on side that they likewise wouldn’t necessarily have yet as they aren’t a big name. For the top tier guys this see’s them getting a substantially higher pay out due to the fact that their name is more marketable and will bring in more revenue to a pay per view card. Notable fighters who disagreed with the deal are Nate Diaz and recently retired Wanderlei Silva. Their view is that by assigning them a single sponsor it takes away their ability to negotiate and get their own and potentially lose out on revenue.
What makes this suit interesting is that it isn’t just former fighters who are bringing it but a current under contract employee in Cung Le. Admittedly Le hasn’t fought since a loss to Michael Bisping earlier on this year but he clearly holds a grudge against his employer. This has to be called into question due to Le was suspended from competition due to a pre fight drugs test failure. Le was however reinstated by the UFC due to some controversy over the confirmation of the test by the lab carrying it out. Originally testing positive for elevated levels of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) this test was disputed by Le and you have to believe that UFC believed Le’s version of events given their decision to rescind his suspension. Given that prior to these events Cung Le seemed perfectly content in UFC you have to question his decision behind taking legal action.
As for the claims of the suit itself of the UFC being a monopoly on the MMA business. You can argue that in 2014 the UFC has never been less of a monopoly. With other mainstream promotions such as World Series of Fighting, Bellator, BAMMA (in the UK) MMA has more than one league available to ply your trade if you are a fighter. That being said there can be no question that UFC is the undisputed king when it comes to those organisations. The best fighters in the world all ply their trade under the Zuffa banner. As a business you can hardly blame Dana White and the Fertita brothers for wanting to buy out their competition so they are the only game in town. After all if you own the biggest club in town you stand to make the most money right? That is what this suit is all about ladies and gentlemen. There is some degree of the fighters wanting to give back to the sport and wanting to help the other fighters out but how pay is structured within the business is what this is really about.
Given that MMA is a relatively new business it is often unfair to compare it to boxing however more often that not that is exactly what it seems fighters are doing. Everyone knows the reputation of Floyd Mayweather. He didn’t get his “money” moniker for nothing. Let’s not dance around it Floyd regularly gets paid millions of dollars for his fights. However Floyd is a top guy who is regularly setting pay per view buy records when he fights. Guys like Anderson Silva, George St Pierre and Brock Lesnar (when he was fighting) were regularly making millions for their fights as they consistently moved the needle when it came for how they attracted audiences to their bouts. It would be great if everyone made millions sure but it is just not feasible to pay every single fighter millions per year. Fighters under contract are not typically paid a downside guarantee like WWE. They typically are paid per fight and the amount depends on the name value of the fighter as well as their position on the card. A low level fighter will make as little as $8000 on a card which given management teams, training camps and the like they will see next to nothing of. The top guys on the card make up to $400,000 with the top name guys making much more than that.
Going back to the suit’s claim on the company being a monopoly if anything that just had a big hole blown right in it by Viacom owned, Bellator. For those unfamiliar with the company Bellator is currently run by former Strikeforce president Scott Coker and owned by one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. They have a huge amount of money to push behind Bellator. Looking at their November 15th show you can see that they don’t necessarily need to throw the money behind it as the main event showcased Tito Ortiz vs Stephan Bonnar. Ortiz is a former UFC light heavyweight champion long past his prime and Bonnar retired from competition after a drugs test failure following a destruction by UFC legend Anderson Silva. Given that no one in their right mind could possible have cared about this bout what made it all the more interesting is that it pulled an incredible rating on Spike TV in the US peaking at just over 2 million viewers. On one side yes this was free TV but at the same time given how much content of fighting is currently being shown this is incredibly. This is no longer 2005 where a MMA fight on TV or pay per view is a rare thing. UFC has an entire schedule built for 2015 already. Let that sink in for a moment.
Moving forward there can be no doubt that Dana White and the Fertita brothers will fight this lawsuit aggressively. The company has made fantastic strides over the years in trying to make their fighters happy. They have made changes to fighter insurance, pay, sponsorship, drug testing, you name it. All these changes have been in the best interest of the fighters themselves. Without a doubt the large scale of the company’s schedule is due to the fact that they want a show on almost every weekend which maximises profits for sure. But money isn’t the UFC’s sole primary function. They want to be able to make MMA the biggest sport globally. This suit has some incredibly serious consequences should it rule against the UFC. It seems strange in a way that one of the demands noted in the suit is to make the company less of a monopoly and have more fairness across the sport. You can hardly create an organisation out of the air and whilst Bellator, World Series of Fighting and the like do what they can to support fighters to, the MMA business is still relatively new and may not necessarily be able to sustain the action they so desire. The suit likely won’t be over quickly so as the year progresses we will keep you updated but for now UFC has a huge fight on its hands and not in the Octagon.