Let’s Speculate About GSP’s UFC Contract Dispute

Posted: October 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

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

zuffa-ufc-contract-addendum-screenshot

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.

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Comments
  1. Rob says:

    I am in law school now as a 1L. Finally a relevant case to my life as a fan of mma that I can apply to contracts class. Now if only I can do the same for Property, Civil Procedure, and Torts.

  2. EMagraken says:

    Thanks for your comment Rob. You’ll find no shortage of contract issues in MMA, some torts and good luck finding a real property issue. Administrative Law is the bread and butter of this sport.

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