In December, 2014 Cung Le, Nathan Quarry and Jon Fitch filed an antitrust lawsuit against Zuffa, LLC, the UFC’s legal owner, alleging they have gained their market prominence through a series of unlawful and anti competitive business practices. In simple terms the lawsuit claims the UFC has been able to artificially suppress fighter pay as a result of their position of power which they say was unlawfully acquired and damages should be paid for the wrongdoing.
Over the years other fighters joined the action and the nature of the allegations were tweaked and refined as more evidence came to light through the discovery process.
The lawsuit was a proposed class action meaning it was filed by the parties making the complaint who also sought to have the claim cover all fighters that were harmed by the alleged unlawful business practices. Class actions require certification, that is a court order allowing the case to proceed as a class action instead of a lawsuit on behalf of a handful of individuals.
Today, after years of litigation, Judge Boulware handed down his long anticipated ruling certifying the case as a class action (H/T to Paul Gift for live tweeting today’s proceedings). The lawsuit had two proposed classes, an ‘identity class’ and a ’bout class’. The latter obtained certification. The bout class captures fighters who competed in one or more UFC bouts from December 16, 2010 – June 30, 2017 excluding non US citizens and non US residents unless they competed in a UFC bout in the US in that time frame.
This means that all individuals caught by the class definition, approximately 1,200 fighters, are part of the lawsuit. They will have the option to opt-out but those that don’t will have claims automatically piggy back onto the case and if it proves successful will be entitled to their proportionate share of damages which the plaintiffs allege run between $800 million and $1.6 billion US. Because damages can be tripled in successful antitrust prosecutions the UFC’s exposure could be close to $5 billion.
The alleged wrongdoing by the UFC, which the promotion denies, has yet to be proven but if it is and if certification is not overturned by appeal this lawsuit has become a far more serious threat to the promotion’s market power.