Are the UFC’s New Owners in a Conflict of Interest as Promoters?

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.


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