Several prominent fighters, including former champions Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez and T.J. Dillashaw, have united together in the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association in hopes of making drastic changes at the UFC.
In a two-hour plus conference call, the fighters were joined by former Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney as they announced the new fighter’s association while laying out some of their fundamental complaints with the business practices by the UFC.
Current UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy says the issues being raised by the group have existed in the sport for years, but only now are high-profile fighters banding together to make real change happen.
“We’re the ones that pack the stadiums. We’re the ones that drive the incredible pay-per-view buy rates. The guys that are seated right now around me, the ones that have bled in the Octagon, taken last-minute fights, a day before event changes, guys like myself trying to fight for a different opponent, that we’re responsible for the millions of dollars of sponsorships worldwide that we would have been given a fair share,” Kennedy said.
“You would have seen an iron-clad protection put in place that when things got bad [fighters] would be protected. When we get hurt, when we retire, when we’re damaged that there would be something there, a safety net and it’s not there.”
St-Pierre, who has been engaged in a long battle with the UFC to negotiate a new contract, took direct aim at his longtime employers for not giving the fighters what they deserve, especially when compared to other major sports.
He even specifically mentioned UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, who is undoubtedly the highest-paid athlete in the promotion today, as an example ofsomebody not being paid his fair share of the profits.
“Most of the sports it’s 50/50 — promoter, athlete. For us, we have around 8 percent,” St-Pierre said. “So when I talk about it’s not fair for me, it’s not only fair for me, it’s not fair to the TUF contestants, even to Conor McGregor, who doesn’t have his fair share of what he should have.”
Three of the five fighters who are on the board for the new MMAAA — St-Pierre, Velasquez and Dillashaw — are represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a main rival to new UFC owners, WME-IMG. Despite that association, Rebney promised CAA isn’t involved with the new group but instead are “supportive of the athletes.”
Rebney’s inclusion raised some eyebrows among the MMA community due to a rather dubious reputation with many fighters and managers during his time as the CEO of Bellator MMA. Kennedy promised Rebney is only an advisor and representative of the new association and he would not be sitting on the board or making any decisions.
Instead, the power remains with the fighters and the board of the new association. The board currently consists of Kennedy, Dillashaw, Velasquez, St-Pierre and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
Rebney also laid out a three-point plan the MMAAA is targeting as a goal when dealing with the UFC on behalf of the fighters.
“We’re going to get a very substantial settlement, an enormous settlement that’s going to compensate prior UFC fighters and current UFC fighters for egregious, outrageous conduct they’ve been subject to over the last decade plus,” Rebney explained. “No. 2, we’re going to take eight cents on the dollar and we’re going to drive it to fifty-cents on the dollar.
“No. 3, we’re going to negotiate a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] that includes a benefits package that’s commensurate and comparable to what Major League Baseball players have and NFL players have and NBA players have and NHL players have.”
According to Rebney, the MMAAA will only target the UFC at this time and will not look for similar collective bargaining agreements with other fight promotions in the United States.
St-Pierre piped up to remind the fighters in the room, and undoubtedly the masses who would be hearing about this news, that they are the ones who make the UFC such a profitable organization in the first place.
“Don’t forget the UFC without the fighters it’s only three letters of the alphabet,” St-Pierre said. “It’s time for us to make our voice heard and make change happen.”
Kennedy and the others hope that more fighters from the roster will join them in taking this stand for immediate changes to be made to the promotion and how they do business with the athletes. The possibility of a labor strike was mentioned as possible recourse, though every fighter involved said they hoped these negotiations would never come to that.
All of the fighters admitted taking this stand is frightening, especially considering all of them are currently under contract to the UFC, but they believed this was the right time to make a stand if change was ever going to take place.
“We’re here today to take a stand and also fight for all the fighters who have those same problems,” St-Pierre said. “Fighters who got bullied and intimidated. Fighters who are afraid to retire or get fired left broken with brain injuries, physical trauma with no insurance and care.”
Out of the five fighters on the new MMAAA board, four have bouts in the UFC scheduled in December. Cerrone admitted there’s fear about possible reprisal for speaking up like this, “but it needs to be done.”
Rebney pulled no punches when speaking about how he hopes the MMAAA can make significant changes with the UFC.
“These athletes are risking more for less than any professional athletes on Earth,” Rebney said. “They’ve got no protection, no pension, no safety net of any kind and they’re paid pennies on the dollar. A tiny fraction of what’s fair.
“Those aren’t assumptions. Those are facts.”