CTE is a part of combat sports.  In fact the disease, which used to be called dementia pugilistica (ie “punch drunk”) has its origins traced back to boxing.

MMA is not immune from CTE.  It is a real risk. Several athletes likely have the disease with fighters such as Gary Goodridge being diagnosed with CTE and being vocal about its realities.  Despite the high likelihood that many MMA athletes have CTE it is a diagnosis that cannot be made definitively until death as study of brain tissue is required.

Now, the Boston Globe Reports, MMA has its first proven case of CTE.

Former Bellator fighter, Jordan Parsons, who was recently killed in a pedestrian/vehicle collision, has been diagnosed with CTE post-mortem.

The Globe reports as follows:

Now, six months after he was struck and killed as a pedestrian by an alleged drunken driver, Parsons is the first fighter in the multibillion-dollar MMA industry to be publicly identified as having been diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)

The diagnosis was disclosed to the Globe by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who first discovered CTE in a professional football player (in 2003) and a professional wrestler (2007).

Omalu provides the following grounded and sober comments “As a scientist, a physician, and a person of faith, I beg everybody involved with these sports to come together and identify the problems and find solutions’’

Combat Sports athletes should participate only with informed consent of the sport’s real dangers.  Comments calling MMA “the safest sport in the world” do no favors.  Informed consent only comes from an acknowledgement and understanding of the science of CTE and its links to acute and repetitive head trauma.

Regulators also must grapple with this reality both in making informed choices as to when an athlete has been exposed to too much mileage and when considering safety issues such as the fact that gloves, while making for more exciting fights, do much to increase the likelihood of brain trauma.

Today I had the pleasure of making an appearance on the Fight Network’s MMA Meltdown with Gabriel Morency discussing some of the latest legal topics in combat sports.   You can find the full interview here:

As always I’d like to thank Gabriel for having me as a guest.

For those of you visiting here for the first time after listening welcome!  For your convenience here are some quick links to the topics we touched on in the interview.

Celebrated welterweight Georges St-Pierre is in the midst of a contract dispute with the UFC.  He reportedly was well on the road to renegotiating his contract when the UFC sale brought things to a sudden halt.

The UFC’s new majority owners, WME-IMG, described as  “an American talent agency” that “represents artists across all media platforms, specifically movies, television, music, theatre, digital and publishing” apparently did not see eye to eye with the MMA legend or his perceived market value.

It is noteworthy that WME-IMG also represent, in their diverse portfolio,  high profile mixed martial artists such as Ronda Rousey.  GSP, on the other hand is represented by WME-IMG’s rival Creative Artists Agency.

Is this business reality playing a role in GSP’s current stalemate?  Is this a conflict of interest?

WME-IMG certainly must not believe so otherwise they would not have taken part in the UFC’s $4.2 Billion purchase.

MMA regulations, however, may suggest otherwise.

Let’s Take Nevada, the UFC’s staple jurisdiction, as an example.  The State prohibits promoters from acting as managers with NAC 467.104 reading as follows:

An unarmed combatant may not have a promoter or any of its members, stockholders, officials, matchmakers or assistant matchmakers:

     1.  Act directly or indirectly as his or her manager; or

     2.  Hold any financial interest in the unarmed combatant’s management or earnings from contests or exhibitions.

For the purposes of combative sports the State defines a “manager” broadly and includes those that do any of the following (with subsection (d) being the most noteworthy):

     (a) Undertakes to represent the interest of another person, by contract, agreement or other arrangement, in procuring, arranging or conducting a professional contest or exhibition in which such person is to participate as a contestant;

     (b) Directs or controls the professional unarmed combat activities of an unarmed combatant;

     (c) Receives or is entitled to receive 10 percent or more of the gross purse or gross income of any professional unarmed combatant for services relating to participation of the unarmed combatant in a professional contest or exhibition; or

     (d) Receives compensation for service as an agent or representative of an unarmed combatant.

Taking these two together “stockholders” of the UFC’s parent company Zuffa appear to “receive compensation for service as an agent or representative of an unarmed combatant“.

Perhaps this prohibition is designed to only prevent a conflict where a “manager” receives compensation from an unarmed combatant’s fight related earnings.  If, on the other hand, subsection (d) prevents promoter stockholders from receiving compensation from an unarmed combatant’s outside the cage earnings there appears to be a potential conflict of interest.

Whether there is a proper legal conflict of interest or not, the optics are certainly poor.

Update October 18, 2016ESPN reports that GSP’s position is that “UFC breached (his) contract by not offering him a fight” indicating that GSP has been looking for a return bout since February.

When Zuffa was given a “10 day deadline” by GSP’s team to offer a bout they replied with “a “letter” that referenced a potential bout against former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler” but no other details such as date, venue , number of rounds etc.

So can this amount to a breach of contract?  Perhaps.  It will depend on the terms contained in GSP’s contract which is not a matter of public record.  Assuming the contract contains standard clauses that other Zuffa contracts contain there is a lot of grey.

If the contract does not call for times to offer a Bout courts will deem a ‘reasonable time-frame‘ as being applicable.  Failing to offer a bout from February – October is likely unreasonable given the short shelf-life of a fighter’s career.

Aside from the issue of timeframe, Zuffa contracts contain these standard provisions about promotion which may come into play

Each Bout shall be a mixed martial arts contest, one-on-one fight between Fighter and opponent designated by ZUFFA, subject to Fighter approval not to be unreasonably withheld, delayed or conditioned, conducted pursuant to the rules ad regulations of the athletic commission, federation or official authority having jurisdiction over the Bout or ZUFFA (in unregulated jurisdictions)

ZUFFA shall be deemed to have complied with its obligations to promote any Bout if ZUFFA shall have made an offer to Fighter to promote a Bout in accordance with the provisions hereof and Fighter shall have refused to participate.”

All Bouts shall be on dates and at sites to be designated by ZUFFA, in its sole and absolute discretion.

For each Bout, Fighter shall execute and comply with the terms of a Bout Agreement which shall be either the standard fighter contract required by the applicable Athletic Commission or pursuant to the Nevada Rules, as applicable, and a other contract required to be executed by law, the terms of which shall be consistent with the terms of this Agreement.  To the extent of any conflict between this Agreement and a Bout Agreement with respect to a Bout, the Bout Agreement shall control“.

The fundamental question is how many specifics does Zuffa have to provide when offering a bout under the contract to fulfill their obligation?  Is simply floating a name sufficient?

These clauses do not go so far as to require Zuffa to provide a bout agreement when making an offer so that in and of itself is not likely a breach on their part.

Zuffa also has the “sole and absolute discretion” when choosing a date and picking a venue so it matters little how the blanks are filled in when making an offer.  That said, failing to fill in the blanks can be problematic due to the fact that the Contract states that mandatory bout agreements do in fact override Zuffa’s contract terms where there is any inconsistency.  Bearing this in mind a fighter likely is acting “reasonably” in considering jurisdiction when choosing whether to provide consent to any given offer as the sport is not universally governed. GSP may have a fertile argument that a ‘name only’ offer is insufficient under the terms of the contract but it is far from iron clad.

The bottom line is if GSP and Zuffa can’t work things out litigation will likely be needed to decide whether GSP is indeed a free agent.  A process that will take both time and money, assets that GSP fortunately seems to enjoy.


Today Georges St-Pierre announced that his lawyer did some lawyering and he is now a free agent.

The UFC was quick to respond noting that GSP “remains under an existing agreement with Zuffa, LLC as his MMA promoter. Zuffa intends to honor its agreement with St-Pierre and reserves its rights under the law to have St-Pierre do the same.

So what’s the nature of the legal dispute?  Other than the obvious (ie money) no one other than the parties knows.  But we can certainly speculate.

Two significant changes have crept into the UFC contractual landscape since GSP took a hiatus from the sport.  Zuffa unilaterally imposed the USADA drug testing scheme and a Reebok “outfitting” policy.

Assuming these changes are at the root of the dispute (and not a more general allegation that Zuffa’s UFC contracts are of questionable enforceability or simply bad faith negotiating due to lingering ill will after GSP’s announced hiatus) what may GSP’s arguments look like?

When the USADA deal was brought in Zuffa required fighters to sign a contract addendum


As previously discussed, this is in essence an admission by the UFC that fighters under old contracts (from the date one can assume this would cover at least all contracts that pre date December 2013) are not bound by the current anti-doping policy.  GSP’s current contract pre-dates this time frame.

Where things get interesting is what happens to a fighter that refuses to sign this addendum?  Any first year law student can tell you that a contract cannot be changed without consent of both parties.  If a fighter chooses not to sign this addendum and not be bound by the UFC’s heavy hitting ADP policy they would be within their rights not to so so.

GSP can certainly argue that Zuffa have to offer him fights without being bound by the USADA deal.  This would be a politically odd stance for GSP to take, however, given his outspoken criticism of doping and his hiatus from the sport being largely due to concerns about the prevalence of doping.  It is also noteworthy that GSP was tested at least 4 times by USADA in September, 2016 suggesting that he has already signed the USADA addendum.

This leaves the Reebok deal.  This deal essentially stripped fighters of fight night sponsorship’s and an athlete like GSP would be out significant money by this change.  It can be argued that this is a unilateral change of contract and GSP can insist that Zuffa offer him fights with his old sponsorship rights intact.  As previously discussed, however, this is not an iron clad legal position as Zuffa standard contract language was structured in a way that any non Reebok brand could arguably be in conflict with the exclusive Reebok deal.

Whether it is the Reebok deal, USADA, a combination of the two or other legal arguments, GSP has hired a heavy hitting attorney with an impressive list of accomplishments in the sports/business world who will be advancing his position.  If GSP is not back in the cage anytime soon this legal battle will be sure to bring fireworks of a different variety.

Earlier this year it was revealed that Brock Lesnar failed in and out of competition tests surrounding his bout with Mark Hunt at UFC 200 with “Clomiphene and hydroxyclomiphene” being detected.

Lesnar is undergoing results management with the United States Anti Doping Agency who oversee the UFC’s in house anti-doping program and further facing regulatory consequences with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

There is speculation that Lesnar may try the ‘tainted supplement‘ defence blaming the positive results on products which failed to include them on their label.  While this is not an outright defense it is a mitigating factor which can result in drastically reduced punishments for athletes who successfully pull it off.

While USADA punishment is one thing, the NAC regulatory process creates its own challenges and Lesnar’s biggest barrier, even if he can prove a contaminated product, may be an alleged misrepresentation to the NAC.

I have obtained a copy of the State’s Complaint against Lesnar where not only doping allegations are made but also allegations of providing “false or misleading” information to the commission, a stand alone offence.


Lesnar’s pre-fight medical questionnaire indeed denies ingesting any “medication, drug, cream, inhalant, intravenous infusions, or injection, whether prescription or over the counter” in the month prior to UFC 200.

Lesnar does admit to ingesting multivitamins, creatine and protein powder but nothing else.

In short, if Lesnar’s legal team can indeed identify a product which resulted in his unwitting ingestion of Clomiphene he will need to link it to “multivitamins, creatine and protein powder” or a drug or other product ingested more than 30 days prior to UFC 200 which was capable of leaving detectable traces beyond 30 days.  This is, to put it charitably, an uphill legal battle.


Adding to this site’s archived combat sports safety studies and weight cut reform articles, a study was recently published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism  finding all MMA athlete participants being dehydrated when weighing in for competition with the magnitude of rapid weight loss and strategies being “comparable to those which have previously resulted in fatalities“.

In the study, titled Extreme Rapid Weight Loss and Rapid Weight Gain Observed in UK Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Preparing for Competition, the authors measured dietary intake, urinary hydration status, and body mass of several MMA athletes in the week prior to competition.  Despite the small sample size the authors observed troubling findings that “”At the official weigh-in 57% of athletes were dehydrated… and the remaining 43% were severely dehydrated

The authors call for “Rule changes which make RWL impractical should be implemented with immediate effect to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of competitors.”  Given the ever growing Rapid Weight Loss Injury/Fatality List in MMA this is a sensible call to action.

Below is the study’s full abstract:

There is a lack of research documenting the weight-making practices of mixed-martial-arts (MMA) competitors. The purpose of the investigation was to quantify the magnitude and identify the methods of rapid weight loss (RWL) and rapid weight gain (RWG) in MMA athletes preparing for competition. Seven athletes (mean ± SD, age 24.6 ± 3.5 yrs, body mass 69.9 ± 5.7 kg, competitive experience 3.1 ± 2.2 yrs) participated in a repeated-measures design. Measures of dietary intake, urinary hydration status, and body mass were recorded in the week preceding competition. Body mass decreased significantly (p<0.0005) from baseline by 5.6 ± 1.4 kg (8 ± 1.8%). During the RWG period (32 ± 1 hours) body mass increased significantly (p<0.001) by 7.4 ± 2.8 kg (11.7 ± 4.7%), exceeding RWL. Mean energy and carbohydrate intake were 3176 ± 482 kcal·day−1and 471 ± 124 g·day−1, respectively. At the official weigh-in 57% of athletes were dehydrated (1033 ± 19 mOsmol·kg−1) and the remaining 43% were severely dehydrated (1267 ± 47 mOsmol·kg−1). Athletes reported using harmful dehydration-based RWL strategies, including sauna (43%) and training in plastic suits (43%). Results demonstrated RWG greater than RWL, this is a novel finding and may be attributable to the 32 hour duration from weigh-in till competition. The observed magnitude of RWL and strategies used are comparable to those which have previously resulted in fatalities. Rule changes which make RWL impractical should be implemented with immediate effect to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of competitors.

Even before the Nevada State Athletic Commission hammered Nate Diaz’s UFC 202 opponent, Conor McGregor, with steep penalties Diaz’s legal team opted for a far different legal approach – playing nice with the NAC.

With the McGregor lesson in hindsight, complete with a hefty $150,000 fine, 50 hours of community service and (if it wasn’t for its arbitrary and capricious nature) an almost comical requirement that the fighter produce a “glossy” PSA for the commission, the Diaz legal play seems all the wiser.

I have obtained a copy of the NAC’s Complaint for Disciplinary Action against Diaz where the commission seeks vague relief against the fighter namely an unspecified “penalty” legal costs and “such other and further relief as the Commission may deem just and proper“.

In the face of similar allegations McGregor’s lawyer denied wrongdoing, raised affirmative defenses such as challenges to the commission’s jurisdiction and even went so far as to suggest he was acting in self defense and defense of others when he hurled a water bottle and a can of Monster Energy drink towards Diaz. This drew scrutiny and even ire of the commission and arguably fueled their heavy handed response.

Despite the mysterious and uncertain punishment the NAC is seeking, Diaz’s legal team has chosen to admit wrongdoing and seek leniency. This strategy is one that has paid off in the past as those with experience before the NAC can attest to.  Unless there is strong legal and factual foundation against discipline admitting wrongdoing and pleas for leniency tend to resonate with the NAC.  Diaz apologizes, notes no injury arose from his actions, expresses regret and asks for leniency.  A strategy which hopefully will pay off for the fighter.

Taking things a step further Diaz’s lawyer would be wise to discuss matters with the Nevada AG’s office ahead of his hearing and learn what punishment is being recommended and ideally make a joint submission for the NAC to consider.  While the NAC had no issue going above and beyond the State’s recommendation for McGregor’s punishment, it is harder to justify doing so when both parties come to the table with a jointly agreed resolution

Here is a copy of Diaz’ full Answer  –




(Image courtesy of MixedMartialArts.com’s Kirik Jenness)

Although little media attention was received, on September 9, 2016 Nevada overhauled their combat sports regulations with many significant changes most notably to the anti doping scheme.

The full regulations can be found here.

The key changes to the anti doping rules are as follows which all Nevada combat sports stakeholders should be familiar with:

  • The NAC adopts, in addition to WADA’s prohibited substances, WADA’s prohibited methods thus eliminating a blood doping loophole which arguably existed in Nevada.
  • Specifically noting that anti-doping violations are strict liability offences and that “it is not necessary to establish that the unarmed combatant intentionally, knowingly or negligently used a prohibited substance or that the unarmed combatant is otherwise at fault for the presence of the prohibited substance
  • Confirming that a positive A sample where B sample testing is waived is sufficient to prove an anti doping violation
  • Confirming that a positive A and B sample is sufficient to prove an anti doping violation
  • Confirming that an anti-doping violation can occur even without a failed test if there is proof that an unarmed combatant “utilizes, applies, ingests or consumes by any means, or attempts to utilize, apply ingest, inject or consume by any means, a prohibited substance or prohibited method
  • Sets penalties for refusing or failing to submit to a test as a suspension from 12-24 months and fines of 20-40% of the fighter’s purse.
  • Confirming that intimidating test administrators or otherwise tampering or obstructing with the test collection process is a violation with suspensions of 12-24 months and fines of 20-40% of the fighter’s purse
  • Confirming that possessing out of competition substances at any time (or possessing substances banned in-competition while in competition) is an anti doping violation with suspensions ranging from 9-24 months and fines of 15-30% of a fighter’s purse
  • Confirming that it is a violation to sell, give, transport, deliver or distribute prohibited substances with suspensions ranging from 12 months to a lifetime ban and fines of 15-50% of a fighter’s purse
  • Allows for reduced penalties where an athlete “promptly admits to an anti-doping violation“.  If the admission is the only evidence against the fighter the suspension can be reduced by up to 50% and fines can be reduced to as little as 10% of the purse.
  • Similar leniency is built in where an admission is made in the face of other evidence.
  • Mandating a default suspension of 9-24 months for an anti doping violation with a fine from 15-30 % of a fighters purse.
  • Doubling the period of suspension for “a second anti doping violation” with fines of up to 40% of the fighter’s purse
  • Increased suspensions for “a third or subsequent anti-doping violation” from 18 months up to a lifetime ban and fines of 40-60% of a fighter’s purse
  • Doubling anti-doping suspensions if there are “aggravating circumstances” defined as “when the conditions, events or facts accompanying an anti-doping violation increase the culpability of the person who committed the anti-doping violation” with an unexhaustive list of examples provided.
  • Allowing reduced suspensions including the potential for no suspension where ‘one or more mitigating circumstances’ exist such as the tainted supplement defense or providing assistance in establishing anti doping violations against others
  • Clarifying the Therapeutic Use Exemption process including confirming that TUE’s can not be granted retroactively after a bout took place.
  • Confirming that a licence can be further suspended or revoked where an individual fails to pay a fine imposed in a timely fashion or otherwise comply with the terms of a payment plan
  • Requiring promoter hired drug testing organizations to be licenced with the commission and further requiring promoter/drug testing organization contracts to be filed with the commission and compelling such organizations to send all test results to the commission.


In 2014 the NSAC levied steep fines for a press conference brawl between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones.  Today the NSAC kept in line with this precedent when dealing with Conor McGregor for throwing bottles into the crowd at a UFC 202 press conference.

In short the NSAC hit McGregor with a $150,000 fine, 50 hours of community service along with compelling McGregor to appear in an anti-bullying Public Service Announcement which the NSAC will be able to use.  The legal justification for the imposition of sanctions was that throwing objects into a crowd created risk of public injury and this behavior violates NAC 467.886 which prohibits “any activity that will bring disrepute to unarmed combat“.

Perhaps to the surprise of McGregor’s legal team, the commission went well above the $25,000 fine and 25 hours of community service that the Nevada Attorney General was seeking. After hearing this position McGregor’s legal team essentially abandoned all defenses and admitted guilt assuming the prosecution’s recommendation would be a worst case scenario.  No such luck.

This case, coupled with the previous Cormier and Jones affair, show that the NSAC is comfortable taking a percentage of a show purse as punishment for press conference violence regardless of how high the purse is.  Jones and Cormier were fined 10% of their respective purses and the McGregor fine represents 5% of his purse.  The lesser percentage was justified in face of McGregor abandoning defenses at the hearing coupled with the time he will have to sacrifice to meet the 50 hour community service requirement.


Adding to this site’s archived posts addressing combat sports piracy, reasons for judgement were released recently by the US District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division, assessing damages following the commercial piracy of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Saul Alvarez.

In the recent case (J & J Sports Productions, Inc v. Lara) the Defendant displayed the boxing pay per view program at a club without purchasing commercial sub licencing rights from the Plaintiff.

The Plaintiff obtained default judgement but the damages sought were significantly undercut by the Court.  The Court awarded $1,000 in statutory damages and a further $2,200 for the common law tort of conversion.  The Plaintiff’s request for $30,000 in enhanced damages was rejected.  In finding an assessment of $3,200 in total damages was appropriate Chief District Judge PK Holmes, III provided the following reasons:

Since default judgment will be entered against the Club, the Court must determine the appropriate amount of damages to award. For the violation of § 605, the Court awards $1,000 in statutory damages to Plaintiff. A section of the Plaintiff’s brief in support of its motion for summary judgment adequately explains the reason for these damages:

A party aggrieved under section 605 may, at its discretion, recover either actual or statutory damages. 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C). Plaintiff elects to recover statutory damages. Plaintiff requests statutory damages pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C)(i)(II). The amount of statutory damages to which Plaintiff is entitled for each violation of this section shall be not less than $1,000.00 nor more than $10,000.00. Id.

(Doc. 22, p. 9). The Court defers to Plaintiff’s election to collect statutory damages, and finds that $1,000 is an appropriate amount to award in this case. Plaintiff has further requested $30,000 in enhanced statutory damages. (Doc. 22, p. 9). In calculating damages, the Plaintiff argues that “particularly important to the issue of enhanced statutory damages, the establishment required a $5.00 cover charge for entry.” (Doc. 22, p. 12). In support of this argument, the Plaintiff cites to the report of the private investigator. That report reveals that at its peak, attendance reached 12 persons in the Club on the night in question. This evidence does not support a claim for enhanced damages. The Court finds that $1,000 in statutory damages is sufficient for the violation, and in addition to the conversion damages discussed below, this award will effectively deter both this particular defendant and other similarly situated defendants in the future.

For the conversion, the Court awards $2,200 in compensatory damages to Plaintiff. “[T]he proper measure of damages [for a conversion claim] is the fair market value of the property at the time and place of conversion.” Durham v. Smith, 374 S.W.3d 799, 805 (Ark. Ct. App. 2010). However, “the circumstances of a case may require a different standard, including a measure of the expenses incurred as a result of the conversion.” McQuillan v. Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp., 961 S.W.2d 729, 733 (Ark. 1998) (citing First Nat’l Bank of Brinkley, Ark. v. Frey, 668 S.W.2d 533, 535 (Ark. 1984)). Relying on the affidavit of Joseph M. Gagliardi, the President of J & J Sports, Plaintiff asserts that the fair market value of the Program is $6,200 because that is the “commercial sublicense fee” for the Club. (Doc. 21, Ex. 1, p. 3). That affidavit references the “rate card” and states that this is “based on the capacity of the establishment.” (Id. citing Doc. 21, Ex. 2, p. 17). A review of that rate card shows that there is “A NON-REFUNDABLE MINIMUM GUARANTEE OF $2,200 Plus $20.00 Per Person Above 100.” (Id.). Presumably the higher $6,200 figure comes from the rate card where it states that for a minimum seating of 200 to 300 people, the rate is $6,200. (Id.). The report of the private investigator revealed that the capacity of the Club was 287, but that the actual attendance never reached more than 12 people. (Doc. 21, Ex. 1).

While the President of J & J Productions submitted one interpretation of the rate card in his affidavit, a plain reading of the rate card would also support the conclusion that the Club could have given a non-refundable minimum guarantee of $2,200 plus $20.00 per person above 100. Under that reading of the rate card, with a total attendance of 12 persons, $2,200 would be the total amount owed by the Club. Either because an ambiguity in the rate card should be construed against its drafter, or because $2,200 is closer to a reasonable rate for 12 people to watch the Program than $6,200, the Court concludes that $2,200 will be the fair market value of the Program showed at the Club. The Court finds the fair market value of the converted property to be the appropriate means to determine compensatory damages for conversion in this case. Under this measure, the Plaintiff is entitled to, and will be awarded, $2,200 in compensatory damages, which represents the fair market value of a commercial license for the Program at the time of the conduct alleged.