An MMA fighters' Union, with five major UFC fighters announcing tonight the formation of a new 'athlete's association', to be known as the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association, or to give it its wonderful abbreviation, the MMAAA.
The group are headlined by Georges St-Pierre, and include Tim Kennedy, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrone, and T.J. Dillashaw. These five fighters will form the Association's first board.
St-Pierre stated the Association's aims include earning a settlement for retired and current UFC fighters, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the UFC and to redress the imablance in the current revenue apportion: fighters are currently making about 8%, St-Pierre confirmed that he wished to bring it to 50%.
They announced the decision via a conference call, and were also backed by Bjorn Rebney, who is a former owner of rival company Bellator. Rebney stressed that the MMAAA is not an MMA fighters' union, as that may impede progress, but believes that the unity shown by such top-level fighters (three are former champions) can make a difference in making the UFC more equal.
While top-level fighters like Conor McGregor can make millions from the sport, fighters who are lower down the food-chain have a very different experience.
As the UFC is a private limited company, it is not obliged to disclose its revenues, therefore it is difficult to deduce exactly what portion goes to the fighters, but it is estimated to be around 8%.
According to some reports, those further down the UFC food chain earn an average of $24,500 a year, with entry level fighters earning as little as $6,000 if they fail to win their first fight. A 2013 story claimed that the salary of the worst-paid players in the WNBA are double that of the average MMA fighters.
Fighters must also sign contracts with the UFC, which are usually kept confidential. But in 2013, amid a contract wrangle between the UFC and Bellator, Eddie Alvarez' contract with the UFC was leaked.
Some of the clauses in said contract are remarkable.
If a fighter wishes to join the UFC, they must allow the company the right to use any and all aspects of their identity for promotional circumstances. This extends even to tattoos: the company have the right to use a fighter's tattoos for promotional purposes.
The UFC also control "all media", be it video, audio, radio, television, online, video games etc. This gives the UFC control of what are termed 'secondary' markets, like marketing deals with sportswear companies and video games. Whereas the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo can hold a money-spinning sponsorship deal with Nike while playing at a club sponsored by Adidas, this right is denied to UFC fighters, they get a cut of the UFC sponsorship deal with Reebok.
Speaking earlier this month, Saint-Pierre confirmed his desire for change in this regard, and said that change must come from the top:
What is happening now, it's not 'if' it would happen. It will happen, sooner or later. It's like any other sport, it will happen. Guys like me, Conor, guys that are a big draw, they can fight that battle. The guys that have no choice, or the guys that, for example, they're on two straight losses and they're waiting for their next fight, and they're on contract with the UFC, they're waiting maybe a year. And then, after a year, they're receiving a phone call, like, ‘Oh, finally, we don't need you, you're out of UFC.’ This should not happen. Because these poor guys, they need money, they need that.
The MMAAA joins the Professional Fighters Association (PFA) and the MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA) in agitating for labour change in the UFC, although all three currently have different visions of change. The PFA want a full-out MMA fighters union, while the latter is focused on introducing boxing's Ali Act to MMA.
Watch this space.
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