UPDATE – The UFC appear to be standing their ground in the face of McMann’s criticism releasing the following statement:
“The new UFC Athlete Outfitting Policy (AOP) equally recognizes each athlete’s tenure in UFC, as well as any bout appearances in the WEC and Strikeforce for the period those organizations were under the Zuffa, LLC ownership. Women fighters with limited bouts under the tenure model are treated the same as other experienced men or women new to UFC from other organizations not included in the tenure model. This new policy was designed to provide an equal opportunity for both men and women in each tenure tier. In addition, the champions and challengers, regardless of tenure, will be equally compensated under the AOP for their bouts, something few other sports can claim.”
As many in the UFC’s roster continue to voice displeasure of the Reebok uniform pay structure privately, others such as former bantamweight title challenger Sara McMann speak out publicly.
McMann offers a unique take on the deal suggesting it negatively impacts the UFC’s female fighters to a disproportionate degree. She appeared on The MMA Hour earlier this week and, as transcribed by MMAFighting.com, stated as follows:
“I feel like this is a really touchy subject just because if you look at the numbers and you look at the facts, there could be a strong case for gender inequity in the way this deal is presented”
“I think the UFC and Reebok would never want to be perceived as somebody who was treating an entire gender poorly.”
“The women are just recently added, but that doesn’t mean that these girls haven’t been fighting for years or been in other sports for years and they don’t deserve to be compensated for that…They deserve $2500?”
“This is really something they really need to think about, because it does look discriminatory against an entire gender. So I think they probably will do the right thing and contact people and make personal deals. They’ve already done that with other people and I don’t understand why they couldn’t do that with the women.”
“[Men] are getting the majority of that chunk and we’re being left high in dry because we were just recently added…That doesn’t mean we haven’t had full careers and these women don’t deserve it. We’re not the same as just a younger guy who just made it to the UFC. We shouldn’t be treated that way.”
“I don’t think that it was purposely, because if you look at it on paper it looks fair…I don’t think that [the UFC] is out to screw the women. If they were, they wouldn’t have even added them in to begin with.”
“I wasn’t going to make a statement without looking and examining whether I could back it up…That really is the case. It would be the equivalent if this were the civil rights movement and you decided to hire minorities and then you instill a policy that said the only way you can be applicable for a raise is if you have been with the company for five years. Well, automatically every single minority would be out of that running.”
As previously discussed, there is nothing unique about MMA promotions that exempt them from discrimination claims in the context of civil rights/human rights legislation. That being said, I suspect this complaint if pursued will likely fall short of the mark from a legal perspective. In McMann’s own words the deal is not structured to ‘purposely‘ target women. The seniority based structure addresses newly added weight classes equally. If the UFC added a men’s atomweight division that roster would also fall on the low end of the Reebok sponsorship scale. A potential legal challenge can incorporate the disparate impact argument though such an argument would not be without its challenges.
While this is not a particularity attractive legal challenge, McMann’s public stance and carefully crafted criticism, along with the backlash from other fighters, may prove useful in persuading Zuffa to restructure their planned payouts under the increasingly criticized uniform deal. Considering, however, that the UFC’s president expects criticisms to simply “blow over“, fighters should not expect any change unless their criticism is public, persistent and united.