Multiple plaintiffs, including former UFC fighters Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry, filed a lawsuit against the UFC’s parent company, Zuffa LLC in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division on Tuesday, December 16. Cung Le is the only current UFC fighter listed as a plaintiff.
The lawsuit alleges that the “UFC has engaged in an illegal scheme to eliminate competition from would-be rival MMA Promoters by systematically preventing them from gaining access to resources critical to successful MMA Promotions, including by imposing extreme restrictions on UFC Fighters’ ability to fight for would-be rivals during and after their tenure with the UFC. As part of the scheme, the UFC not only controls Fighters’ careers, but also takes and expropriates the rights to their names and likenesses in perpetuity. As a result of this scheme, UFC Fighters are paid a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace.”
In short, the plaintiffs are arguing that the UFC has acted against the regulations put in place by the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which is a law intended to break apart companies operating as trusts to keep them from becoming monopolies. The problem is the UFC is not a monopoly, nor has it ever been. This is why I believe that the case brought forth by Fitch, Quarry and Le will fail. Yes, UFC president Dana White and his team are shrewd negotiators, but their actions are standard in any business.
The UFC is going to watch its bottomline first. It will do what it must to protect its brand, which includes attempting to control how the likenesses of its’ under-contract fighters are used. However, that doesn’t mean that the UFC is in sole control of the U.S. MMA market. It’s foolish to think so when all a person has to do is check Spike TV’s listing for the next Bellator MMA broadcast.
I remember sitting in on White’s media scrum following the UFC’s visit to Indianapolis in August 2013. During that scrum, I asked him about fighters leaving the UFC for Bellator, and he was quite clear with me about his belief that fighters have a right to make a living, even if they weren’t competing in his promotion. The UFC has a track record showing this. They released Jon Fitch when he was no longer a fit for the promotion and didn’t stand in his way when the World Series of Fighting came calling. Nate Quarry put together a solid career in the UFC, making good money during his time. Cung Le has been featured as a headliner on the UFC’s cards, earning a solid living as well.
However, all three fighters have one thing in common. They all aren’t on good terms with the UFC, which makes their lawsuit look like sour grapes. This wasn’t lost on MMA manager John Fosco. He told MMAJunkie.com that “They don’t have the market value, and they’re a bunch of wimps who got together and said, ‘We’re going to get them this time.’ They have no clue how much egg they’re going to have on their face when this thing is said and done, because the UFC is not abusing anything. They’re using what they’ve built.”
Fosco is right: the UFC is using what they’ve built. Yet they aren’t getting in anyone’s way of making a living. Former middleweight champion Rich Franklin is a solid example. He moved on from the UFC with one fight left on his contract to take a job as an executive for rival ONE FC. The UFC gave him its blessing on his way out. If the UFC was trying to control the market, then they would have given Franklin problems about leaving to take the job with another company.
That said, there has been plenty of controversy surrounding how the UFC pays its fighters. It isn’t surprising that some of those athletes would finally make a case. But in the end, it will come down to evidence, and given what we know about the UFC’s business practices, I believe there isn’t enough evidence to win this case.
Photo Credit: MMASucka.com
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