Battle lines are being drawn and the biggest fight in the UFC’s 20 plus year history is shaping to take place. The fight, however, won’t be seen on pay per view, will not be consumed by millions of fans nor will it be fast paced and exciting.
The fight is the timeless battle between labor and management. The UFC’s current ownership have made great strides taking the sport of Mixed Martial Arts from the fringes into mainstream acceptance. In doing so they have acquired significant market advantage over competing promotions.
The question is has the balance shifted so disproportionately that fighters can’t get a fair contract with the promotional giant? Many fighters think so as demonstrated through on-going anti-trust lawsuits. Many more quietly share this opinion and have been supporting efforts behind the scenes to organize through the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association.
Now, in addition to being involved in the anti-trust suits, the MMAFA made headlines last week by securing the support of the Teamsters and Unite Here unions.
The UFC was quick to strike back telling their roster to stay clear of these unions. MMA personality FrontRowBrian released the following image via twitter apparently containing the text of an e-mail sent by Kirk Hendrick, the UFC’s Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer –
The message from the UFC is loud and clear, please don’t organize!
There are some misconceptions that seem to surface when fighters organizing efforts are discussed and the above e-mail fuels some of these which are worth clarifying –
1. The fighters are forming an Association (MMAFA). Not a union. (You can read a useful article here on the important differences)
2. Unite Here and the Teamsters (national unions) have given their backing to help organize the fighters. Not to create a union nor to run the MMAFA. The fighters involved with the MMAFA run the MMAFA in a democratic fashion. In other words, if and when they achieve meaningful organization, the fighters alone will decide what decisions are in their best interests.
3. The Las Vegas culinary Union does have a curious past regarding MMA and they clearly are not divorced from their own interests. That said, they are but one faction of Unite Here who, like the Teamsters, have a Canada and U.S. Wide presence and are experienced in organizing labor.
4. The MMAFA does not seek to collect ‘union dues’ from members. As founder Rob Maysey explains, the organization seeks to be fully funded through group licencing deals similar to how other major league athletes fund their labor organizations.
The fight is on. As reporter Mike Couglin notes, it won’t be sexy and it won’t be easy but it is certainly on.