mma / News

Leslie Smith Launches Project to Unionize UFC Fighters

February 13, 2018 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Leslie Smith has launched a new project in an effort to get UFC athletes to unionize. MMA Fighting reports that Smith launched a venture called Project Spearhead, which is attempting to spur action on the effort by MMA fighters to start a union. Smith told the site that the project will be driven mostly by fighters and will begin as the venture’s interim president. UFC lightweight Kajan Johnson will serve as interim vice president.

Highlights from Smith’s interview are below:

On Project Spearhead’s goal to unionize fighters: “This is kind of just another in a long string of efforts, but I think a lot of things separate it from the other ones. One of them being that this has no outside influences. This is for the fighters, it was come up with by me — a fighter.”

On why past efforts failed: “I think that those efforts (PFA and MMAAA) failed, because they were not motivated by the right reasons.”

On the MMAFA’s efforts to get a union going: “That’s the goal of the MMAFA, to skewer the UFC and break it apart with this antitrust lawsuit. And I am not down with that, either. I actually really like fighting for the UFC. I like fighting for the UFC and I want to continue to do so. I think that the UFC’s business model is what has managed to bring MMA to the mainstream and general public and I don’t want to just blow up the vehicle that got us to where we are right now. I want to make that vehicle a little more rider friendly. Give it a couple more front seats — I want some fighters in the front seat of the vehicle the UFC has been.”

On working with New York labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook on the project: “He has educated me on all of this from Day One. So he has been invaluable to this whole effort. And when we actually have a fighters union, it’s gonna be Lucas Middlebrook that we’re all gonna have a lot of appreciation for.”

On support in the community for unionizing: “Everybody is into it. Everybody likes the idea of it. Everybody wants to get more bargaining power from the UFC. The thing is everybody has their different issues that they’re going through, but it’s all the same issues. It all boils down to people not getting enough respect from the UFC and being stuck in these restrictive contracts and not being able to move past that. Everybody has their different arguments with the UFC, but they’re all the same at the end of the day. I talk to people and they tell me that they are worried about their jobs. They say they want to get on board with this, but they’re worried about their jobs. I’ve been talking to some people who are really, really high up — like basically champions. And they’re still saying that they’re worried about their jobs.”

Why did Smith decide to go full bore into Project Spearhead now? It’s because she only has one fight left on her UFC deal and isn’t sure if she’ll be re-signed despite being currently on a two-fight winning streak. Smith will face Aspen Ladd at UFC Atlantic City on April 21.

On her faith that unionization will happen: “There’s no doubt that this is gonna happen. A union is going to happen. It’s impossible for it not to happen at this point. It’s just whether it’s gonna happen right now and with this effort or if this is just gonna be another one and then there’s gonna be another effort that comes up in the future. I’m not even against that. That’s fine. Whatever ends up being, if it works out that’s great. But this is my last chance to make a full-on effort when I can.”