The Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association, led by lawyer Robert Maysey, has been working for almost a decade to provide a unified voice to seek reforms to benefit professional fighters.
I have been advised that yesterday, at the annual Association of Boxing Commissions meeting in San Diego, it was announced that the MMAFA has now obtained the backing of the Teamsters Union.
John Nash of BloodyElbow suggested the support will include efforts to expand the Muhammad Ali Act to include MMA fighters, a change that would disrupt current business practices in professional MMA.
I have reached out to the MMAFA and the Teamsters for any official comment about the details of their affiliation. While the extent of this relationship has yet to be clarified Maysey published the following statement about the MMAFA’s reasons behind asking the Ali Act to be expanded to MMA –
A more expanded version of my remarks made at the Annual Convention of the Association of Boxing Commissions in San Diego:
In July 2009, CSAC sent a letter to Mixed Martial Artists stating that federal law required all fighters to obtain a national ID card. The application to obtain the National ID card is virtually identical to the boxing counterpart, with two key exceptions:
1. The MMA application does not contain an equivalent bill of rights that boxers receive, and
2. The MMA application deletes the medical disclosures required to be given to boxers.
Of course, the commissions are not enforcing the Ali Act to MMA, and no federal law is being applied to MMA. That federal law, of course, is the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000.
FINDINGS OF FACT APPLICABLE TO THE ALI ACT (Modified to replace boxing with MMA as appropriate and not complete list for brevity):
State athletic commissions do not currently receive adequate information to determine whether boxers competing in their jurisdiction are being subjected to contract terms and business practices which may violate State regulations, or are onerous and confiscatory.
A recent example of this lack of adequate information occurred in an arbitation presided over by Commissioner Andy Foster. One of the parties to the arbitration sought to ask questions in regards to a promotional agreement which they believed were very pertinent to their case. Commissioner Foster, however, ruled that the Promotional Agreement was not before the commission as it was not submitted by the promoter, and that it would not be admitted or read into evidence as the promoter deems the agreement “confidential.” How can the commission adequately regulate or arbitrate disputes when they do not even obtain copies of all agreements between the promoter and MMA fighter, as is required in boxing?
The sport has not established credible and objective criteria to rate/rank fighters.
In MMA, promoters have taken this a step further, contractually stating that titles are merely “ceremonial” and the athlete has no right to fight for or retain titles earned. How is this permitted by state governmental bodies sanctioning “title” fights to the consuming public?
Open competition in the professional MMA industry has been significantly interfered with by restrictive and anticompetitive business practices of certain promoters and sanctioning bodies, to the detriment of the athletes and the ticket-buying public. Common practices of promoters represent restraints of interstate trade in the United States.
Jon Fitch, Ben Askren, Randy Couture, Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva and many others provide numerous examples of restraints in place that harm fighters and the consuming public.
Each of these findings taken from the Ali Act apply with equal validity to MMA, as do the findings not included here.
To remedy these abuses, all of which are rampant in MMA, the Muhammad Ali Act Requires:
Objective Rankings Criteria based upon merit–not contractual subservience. Standardized, objective rankings serve to increase public confidence in the sport, and meansnew opportunities for honest fighters who are trying to fight their way up the rankings.” Additionally, the sport achieves “more integrity and respect” since boxing fans “will know that championship matches are being fought by true champions.
Protection from Coercive and Exploitive Contracts. The practice of requiring “options” stifles competition. As the legislative history of the Act declares, the “athletes would be better served, as would open competition in the sport, if fighters were free to contract with those promoters they personally choose, rather than being coerced to contract with a promoter who is in the position of barring a lucrative bout.”
Prohibition Against Conflicts of Interest. The Act also contains a provision which prohibits certain conflicts of interest.Specifically, the Act prohibits a manager from having a direct or indirect financial interest in a promotion, and prohibits a promoter from having financial interests in the management of a fighter. It “is not plausible for a boxer to receive proper representation and counsel from a manager if the manager is also on the payroll of a promoter. This is an obvious conflict of interest which works to the detriment of the fighter and the advantage of the promoter. Similar restrictions are in place prohibiting conflicts between managers and promoters and sanctioning bodies.
Required Disclosures to State Athletic Commissions. The Act also requires promoters to disclose all payments made to a fighter, whether by written or oral agreement. Specifically, the Act requires the promoter to provide (i) a copy of any agreement in writing to which the promoter and fighter are a party, and (ii) to provide a written statement under penalty of perjury that no other written or oral agreements exist between the promotion and fighter. No hidden agreements are permissible.
In combat sports with competition and free of restraint, as Carlos Newton states, promoters compete for fighters, and fighters compete for titles. When the promoter dictates who a fighter fights, when a fighter fights, where a fighter fights, what the fighter ranks and who obtains title status, and now, what sponsors are worn–no semblance of legitimate negotiating power remains between the promoter and fighter. The scales are tipped overwhelmingly towards the promoter.
Very recently, Commissioner Lueckenoff sent a letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for an investigation into the actions of a boxing promoter/advisor. This boxing entity was allegedly attempting to behave in the same manner as “Bellator or the UFC,” that is in the same manner as an MMA promoter behaves. If these actions are illegal for a boxing promoter to undertake–why are they also not illegal in MMA, when everyone in this room (ABC convention) knows these same abuses are rampant in mixed martial arts.
The Ali Act was brought in to protect boxers from these abuses, the Ali Act to MMA is what is needed to offer the same protections to mixed martial artists, and what fairness and consistency requires. Please, join us in seeking to have the Muhammad Ali Act applied to MMA. The athletes and fans of this sport deserve no less.