Few that pay attention to the issue disagree that MMA fighters at the highest level are financially exploited compared to other professional athletes. While revenue splits around 50/50 are seen in unionized major league sports and splits north of 80/20 in favour of fighters are seen in high level boxing the money flowing to fighters in MMA’s most dominant promotion is closer to the neighborhood of 20%. With no pension. And no post retirement health insurance nor most of the other benefits and protections enjoyed by unionized athletes.
While most agree there is need for reform there is little consensus on what reform is best. Such disagreement is a powerful reason for lack of reform. Lack of agreement leads to lack of a significant number of people taking action which entrenches the status quo.
Some want the Ali Act brought to MMA which would make the sport follow the boxing model. Some are opposed to this given boxing’s dysfunctional landscape. The Ali Act to MMA would unquestionably allow the biggest names in the sport to enjoy substantially greater pay but would also bring some of the baggage of boxing.
Some want a fighters union like other major league sports enjoy. Others oppose this saying fighters are and should be independent contractors and a UFC fighters union would keep the dominant promoter entrenched at the top of the sport making it more difficult for genuine competition to arise.
Some fighters are seeking change through an antitrust lawsuit which could hit the UFC hard in the pocket book. After over half a decade of gritty litigation the case looks more promising than ever. Others are hesitant to be seen as trying to bite the hand that feeds them.
One idea, however, seems to enjoy near unanimous support.
I asked whether limiting fighter/promoter contract lengths to 2-3 years would be good for fighters and good for the sport. Of the 334 responses an overwhelming 91.9% said yes.
Yes, a Twitter poll is not scientific. You can only respond if you are on Twitter and follow the poll creator or had it retweeted into your timeline or had Twitter’s algorithm feed it to you. Leaving these fair shortcomings aside it is rare to see this level of support of any idea regarding legislative reform in combat sports.
Some prominent voices weighed in as well supporting the positive effects such a change would have.
Dave Meltzer, the man behind the Wrestling Observer, who has been around the combat sports block more times than most people walking the earth had the following short and to the point observation:
John Nash, who has perhaps written more about the state and details of UFC fighter pay from the numerous documents revealed in the antitrust lawsuit against the promotion tweeted the following:
Even the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association, the driving force behind bringing the Ali Act to MMA and the billion dollar plus antitrust lawsuit pending against the UFC’s parent company agrees that this simple reform with nothing more would be an “immense improvement“
A hard cap on contract lengths is an easy concept for everyone to understand. This reform would create regular free agency. This would allow fighters to frequently have their value tested. This would allow current promoters to go after top talent. This would allow new promoters to easily enter the game. This would create bidding wars. It would create competition. It would make fighter pay skyrocket. And its not complicated.
It would prevent situations like Jon Jones being unable to secure a bout for a fair slice of the revenue he helps create because he’s locked in to a seemingly never ending contract. It would free GSP to be in his thwarted high paying boxing exhibition with Oscar De La Hoya. It would prevent many of the highest profile champions from being locked in to harsh lengthy contracts at the height of their earning power.
It is hard to see any downside to this reform other than creating a landscape where promoters have to pay fighters a greater slice of the revenues their bouts generate. Given the dangers of the profession and the lack of a safety net after retirement that is a good consequence.
Promoters, such as the former owners of the UFC, retire from the trade with piles of cash. Fighters retire with chronic injuries and often brain trauma. If any professional athletes should be fighting for a fair share of revenue its those that pay the biggest physical price for their profession.
Given the overwhelming support this idea seems to enjoy it is something fighters, managers, regulators and law makers should give serious thought to.