MMA’s Next Legal Hurdle: Protection for Its Fighters
Over the past twenty years the Mixed Martial Arts Industry has experienced tremendous growth, reflecting in both its revenue and viewership. However, it’s only been within the last three or four years where Professional MMA Fighters such as Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey and Connor “The Notorious” McGregor have become household names. While there is no disputing that a fighter such as McGregor has come to deserve the millions upon millions he’s currently earning fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)1, many feel that because the UFC is the dominant promotional company of the industry with no close second in sight, the other UFC fighters are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to negotiating their respective contracts with the company. 2 A group of former UFC fighters even went as far as to bring an antitrust class action lawsuit in which they claim the “UFC violated Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act3 by using overarching anticompetitive schemes to maintain and enhance its monopoly and monopsony power in the market for live elite professional MMA fighter services.”4 To make matters worse, many fighters felt especially taken advantage of and exploited when news broke that the UFC was sold to WME-IMG group for $4 billion earlier this year.5
Collectively, these events have led to a building consensus among fans, fighters, and other interested parties that the legal protections of fighters are servilely lagging behind the industry’s incredible growth. This consensus was first made apparent way back in 2009 with the founding of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighter Association (MMAFA), a fighter’s association aiming to “maximize the influence and earning capacity of its members in the sport of mixed martial arts.” 6 Specifically, the MMAFA has been working to expand the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act so that it covers Professional MMA fighters. 7 The MMAFA believes that the expansion of the act would “establish national contracting reforms to protect professional mixed martial artists and prevent exploitive business practices.” 8
Major headway on this front was finally made in May of this year when former MMA fighter and current Representative Markwayne Mullin (a Republican from Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district) introduced H.R.5365 – Muhammad Ali Expansion Act to the House of Representatives. 9 However, the UFC has made it clear through its lobbying efforts that it is against H.R. 5365. Three 2016 lobbying report documents dated October, 17th, 19th, and 20th indicate that the UFC has spent approximately $290,000 hiring various lobbying firms to “monitor” and “work on” H.R. 5365.10
What are the implications of H.R. 5365 becoming law? On the other hand, if the UFC is successful in lobbying against H.R 5365, when will the fighters have another real shot at leveling the playing field?
http://soprweb.senate.gov/index.cfm?event=getFilingDetails&filingID=7DF20376-A56A-4B8E-A0EE-B75379A5675E&filingTypeID=71 [https://perma.cc/G324-YQGX]; http://soprweb.senate.gov/index.cfm?event=getFilingDetails&filingID=D661CAB5-AFEC-40B3-9684-699AD7FF1836&filingTypeID=69 [https://perma.cc/4LMB-LNDA]; http://soprweb.senate.gov/index.cfm?event=getFilingDetails&filingID=C40480B5-44A0-45AD-9D3B-CF13733398B0&filingTypeID=69 [https://perma.cc/DB4M-3XDP].↩