mma / Columns

Is MMAAA Ready to Fight for Their Right…to Fight?

December 7, 2016 | Posted by Evan Zivin

So…anybody up for a little collective bargaining? Or fighting for the rights of the male and female athletes who put their lives on the line for our entertainment on a weekly basis?

Or a round of Overwatch? Anything?

Last week Monday, the MMA world was rocked with a major announcement: A major announcement that would surely rock the MMA world was going to be made…on Wednesday! And it was going to feature a number of prominent UFC fighters!

What was the announcement going to be? A sponsorship deal? The formation of a new MMA promotion? The initial dates for the world tour of the first fight-themed boy band? I know Georges St-Pierre likes showing off his dance moves…

Nah. It was going to be talks of a union. Or, more accurately for the current landscape, an association.

And that’s what we got, as we learned of the formation of the MMAAA, the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (and not the Massachusetts Municipal Auditors’ and Accountants’ Association), a new group with the goal to lessen the increasing inequality between the fighters and owners of the UFC and gain rights for UFC fighters that athletes in other sports get through their players associations.

The immediate focus of the MMAAA, as stated in their Wednesday conference call, seemed to be centered on finances, working to increase UFC’s profit sharing as well as initiate and negotiate collective bargaining on behalf of the fighters.

The MMAAA is not the first formal attempt to stir up the MMA proletariat. We already have the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA), championed by Randy Couture and Nate Quarry, who are trying to foster change in the UFC through antitrust lawsuits, as well as getting a law passed to extend the Muhammad Ali Act to MMA, which would ultimately make MMA as “exciting” as today’s boxing scene.

There’s also the Professional Fighters Association (PFA), headed by baseball agent Jeff Borris, who’s also looking for collective bargaining power for fighters. He’s planning to go through all the proper channels to create a full fledged union recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, which will involve getting a judge to recognize UFC fighters as employees and not just independent contractors, and he’s currently in the process of getting fighters to sign membership cards to pledge support to the cause.

They did just hit a snag last week, though, as documents listing some of the fighters who had pledged support, which was supposed to be confidential, leaked, causing Leslie Smith, the female voice of the group, and Lucas Middlebrook, Nick Diaz’s lawyer and promoter of WAR MMA, the greatest MMA event ever, to resign. So that’s going well…

With the fighter unionization space getting more and more crowded, what makes MMAAA different from these other groups? Well, they’re only focused on the UFC, which is okay for a start. I mean, it would make sense to try and bring this kind of change to the entire sport but it also makes sense to start at the top.

Oh and they boast a board made up of UFC fighters.

Active ones.

Relevant ones.

It’s actually an impressive group of athletes.

How impressive, you ask?

ROLL CALL!

Georges St-Pierre: Former UFC Welterweight Champion and one of the greatest fighters of all time. He currently claims he’s a free agent even though UFC disagrees, possibly out of anger that he wouldn’t work for peanuts to bolster their garbage-ass UFC 206 card, this Saturday! Only on Payperview!

Cain Velasquez: Former UFC Heavyweight Champion and the man who could have been one of the greatest of all time if he could go two minutes without injuring himself. A big part of his interest in the group is in gaining health coverage for current and former fighters, since he’s pretty much being held together with duct tape and Daniel Cormier’s tears at this point.

TJ Dillashaw: Former UFC Bantamweight Champion. Probably wouldn’t mind a system where UFC is no longer allowed to determine their own title challengers, especially since Dominick Cruz has spent the entire year dangling the bantamweight belt 68 inches in front of his face…

…because TJ’s reach is 67 inches…and Cruz has a slight reach advantage…and he has no interest in giving him a title rematch even though he has no problem granting one to a guy who wasn’t even ranked at the start of the year…

Shut up. I thought it was funny…

Donald Cerrone: Former UFC Lightweight Title Challenger, who fights every other week because it’s the only way to make a decent enough salary to support his interests outside the Octagon, like bullfighting and flaming jetskiing. He drinks Budweiser because it’s the only beer he’s contractually allowed to drink.

Tim Kennedy: Former Strikeforce Middleweight Title Challenger (it still counts), Army Ranger, and Katy Perry impersonator. May or may not be doing this to get a rematch with that stool Yoel Romero was sitting on at UFC 178.

Seriously, though, that is some hefty manpower. This board could stand to get a Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey involved if they really want to have some weight behind them but having GSP there sends a strong message that even the top of the MMA food chain feels disrespected by the way the organization has been operating.

Then again, with all the recent UFC 206 nonsense over a new, unnecessary interim Featherweight Championship and Conor “relinquishing” his title, which we all know is bullshit, maybe he’ll be willing to sign up sooner than later.

Oh, and there’s someone else involved in the MMAAA, as an advisor: one Mr. Bjorn Rebney, the founder and former President of Bellator.

WHAT? WHAT’S HE DOING HERE? HE’S THE USED CAR SALESMAN OF MMA! BOO THIS MAN! DO IT BECAUSE I TOLD YOU TO!

Everyone seems to be up in arms about Rebney’s involvement, considering some of the shady, dick ride-like things he did while running Bellator but I’m not bothered by this. Most of the decisions he made were in the name of running a business, one trying to compete with a juggernaut, which is not what he’s doing here. With MMAAA, he just looks to be offering up his knowledge and experience as an MMA promoter to guide these fighters in their goal of bringing a multi-billion dollar corporation to its knees. Easy peasy, right?

Either that or he’s just looking for another way to stick it to Dana White.

Then again, maybe he really wants to help as a way to atone for his earlier transgressions and do something for the future of the sport. At the very least, they could use a weasel on their side, considering what they’re up against.

So, we’ve got this new group of fighters looking to bargain on behalf of all the fighters in the UFC. Seems like a daunting task. How do they even go about accomplishing it?

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on unions or associations (or anything, for that matter) but just saying you’re going to fight for the rights of all fighters doesn’t mean a whole lot, especially if you don’t have the support of those fighters, which has been a challenge in the past for similar efforts, as fighters would rather keep signing bad contracts to stay in the UFC than stand up to any perceived unfair practices and risk facing the consequences, such as ending up in World Series of Fighting for your next fight.

The horror….

But maybe things are finally changing. Maybe the fighters are finally at a point where they aren’t afraid to let the UFC know how they feel. Maybe after the Reebok deal, the implementation of enhanced USADA drug testing, and the UFC’s massive sale to WME-IMG, all done without any input from the fighters and with no choice but to go along with these decisions, fighters are finally ready to stand up and say “No more.”

I mean, we are starting to see more fighters fight out their contracts, more fighters entertaining offers from other promotions, and more fighters leaving UFC for those other promotions. Maybe they’ve finally had it. Maybe they’re finally ready to push back.

Maybe it’s finally time to fight.

And, if it is, maybe fighters like GSP and Velasquez and Cerrone are the ones who can get the roster on board, since they will need overwhelming support from the UFC roster to get this group to become anything more than another ragtag bunch of well-wishers.

Whether the MMAAA will succeed or not, it’s too early to tell. They’re already getting criticism for things like Rebney’s involvement, or not having any women or Brazilians on their board, or not offering any real plan on how they expect to get UFC to join them at the negotiating table or agree to any of their demands, but it’s at least a start, and you gotta start somewhere, right?

This is all assuming this isn’t just a front for some proxy war being waged against WME-IMG by their talent agent rivals at CAA, who manage the majority of the MMAAA board. I hope that’s not what this is. I want to believe there are good intentions behind this. I really do, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Still, what MMAAA is asking for is not going to be easy to get, especially against an organization that is surely uninterested in allowing the fighters to have any more control over their careers than they currently do.

Well, if anybody knows how to put up a fight, it’s fighters, right?

Let’s get it on…

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

comments powered by Disqus