Leslie Smith Withdraws from Professional Fighters Association

One of the competing groups seeking to organize fighters has lost one of its key players.  Leslie Smith, who was vocal in championing the Professional Fighters Association has published a letter explaining that she is stepping away due to sports agent Jeff Borris failing to keep fighter names considering joining the PFA confidential.

This development occurs on the cusp on an announcement where it is anticipated that fighters managed by Creative Artists Agency (a key competitor to current majority Zuffa stockholder WME-IMG  who are arguably a in a regulatory conflict of interest by also managing current UFC fighters) will seek to implement “industry redefining” changes.

Smith’s full statement, which continues to support efforts of fighters to organize and lays out concrete goals, is set out below:

This is an open letter to apologize to all the fighters, trainers and managers that I introduced to Jeff Borris in the capacity of the PFA.  I am stepping away from the PFA because our vision and methodology surrounding a fighters union are not aligned.  I apologize to any of the fighters and their supporters who may have been negatively affected by the actions of Jeff Borris though the PFA.  I still believe in the need for, and will continue to work toward, a union for fighters under the UFC banner.  Previously I thought we needed help and leadership from a well-established sports agent such as Jeff Borris.  I believe strongly now that for a fighter union to succeed it must be the fighters that lead and choose.

In order to assist in the progression of PFA, I made a list of active fighters that I thought would be great candidates to serve on an interim executive board.  I spoke to those fighters and solicited insight from several managers on the condition of confidentiality.  I shared all the names and information I had compiled with Jeff Borris, because he pledged confidentiality and professed his desire to see the liberation of fighters from restrictive contracts and one-sided negotiations.  Most of the fighters to whom I spoke prudently withheld absolute commitment to the union until such time that they felt confident in the union and that the best leadership was in place.  I was horrified when I read an article published by a major MMA news outlet that included a list of fighter names, some of whom I had spoken regarding potential involvement in the PFA.  The names included people to whom I had promised confidentiality, and those people had neither pledged commitment nor consented to the release of their names.  I had also provided this information to Lucas Middlebrook, the labor lawyer involved with the PFA.  However, I am confident, based on my opinion of his character as well as through direct discussion with him that he would not betray the trust nor jeopardize the careers of the fighters and their supporters.  When I reached out to Jeff Borris to inquire how the names could have been released, I was severely disappointed to hear that he had started creation of a board of agents with whom he was sharing information – including, in my opinion, the information he assured me would be kept confidential.

Jeff might have been doing everything with the best of intentions.  However, I cannot work with him anymore given the opinion I have formed regarding his unique perception of the concept of confidentiality and lack of transparency.  I have not written this letter to cast a negative light on Jeff Borris.  Quite the contrary! I have written this letter because I need to apologize and explain to everyone who trusted me enough to entertain a conversation with me why their names ended up on a publicized list that incorrectly asserted they had committed to the union.

I am deeply passionate about the need for a promotion specific union to bargain for UFC fighters health care, negotiating power and revenue shares.  At the same time I believe in the MMA Fighters Association’s ability to operate as an umbrella over all MMA promotions, and deal with issues like regulating state commissions and officials, as well as looking out for fighters in all promotions.

I believe we need a union specific to both the UFC and Bellator.  In fact, it could be the same union that administers separate CBA’s for each promotion.  My vision of this union is a democratic one in which the fighters in the UFC and Bellator will be the ones that lead the organization and decide the issues that affect the fighters.  We, as fighters, do not need agents or lawyers making policy decisions on behalf of our union, because as fighters, the labor and product we provide places us in a unique situation to bargain for our due share of leverage and the revenue we are generating.  As with any other union composed of professionals, we will hire professionals, such as lawyers or economists, but we will decide who those professionals will be, they will work for us.

I look forward to the next step in this journey, which will be to work closely with other fighters that have 100% committed to the union in order to draft a constitution and bylaws, which will secure control of our union exclusively for fighters, not agents or lawyers.  Once we are an established labor organization, and information does not have to be confidential, we shall diligently research and examine potential formation of an advisory board of agents, as these bodies have proved useful to the other major players unions in this country.  However this will be done transparently and only after receiving democratic approval from the fighters represented by our union.

The next steps will be:

1)    Establish an interim executive board of UFC and Bellator fighters;

2)    Draft a constitution and bylaws, which will serve as the governing document for our union;

3)    Collect authorization cards with the goal of obtaining cards from a minimum of 30% of UFC fighters;

4)    Once we have the requisite number of cards,  asking the UFC to voluntarily recognize our union, and if it refuses then we will submit the cards to the NLRB;

5)    The NLRB will determine if we have presented the necessary amount of cards to demonstrate showing of interest, and if so will commence the process of organizing an election.  In order to be certified, 50% plus 1 of all eligible voting fighters will need to approve unionizing.  We would expect the UFC to argue that we are independent contractors as opposed to employees, but we feel strongly that our status as employees entitles us the right to unionize.  That issue, if raised by the UFC, will be decided by the NLRB;

6)    Once certified we will hold an election amongst the membership to determine the dues structure and to elect a full-term executive board comprised of fighters.

7)    The elected executive board will be empowered to construct a negotiating committee, including hiring necessary professionals, to begin negotiations toward our first collective bargaining agreement.

I am excited to make the unionizing of fighters a reality.  I want to focus now on making sure when it does happen, the union will be our union – led and chosen solely by fighters.

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