“The UFC without fighters is only three letters of the alphabet.”
On a teleconference call yesterday, former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre announced the formation of the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA), a group that will seek better wages, health care, and pensions, among other needs, for UFC contracted fighters. The group will be advised by former Bellator MMA CEO and promoter Bjorn Rebney, who stated that he has been working on putting together the association for two years. Rebney will not being compensated for advising the group, which will be run by the athletes.
The fighters speaking on behalf of MMAAA expressed a need for change and “to do what’s right.” According to St-Pierre, UFC fighters only receive 8% of the overall revenue. MMAAA would like the revenue split to be closer to 50%. In other major league professional sports, such as the NFL, NBA, and MLB (all of which have player unions), the athletes receive close to, if not more than, 50% of the overall revenue. The fighters also cited the July purchase of the UFC by WME-IMG for close to $4 billion as a reason why the fighters should receive better pay and more benefits.
St-Pierre is currently in a contract dispute with the UFC. He hired Jim Quinn of the law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges to represent him against the UFC’s new owners and contends that he is a free agent, while the UFC argues that, despite the fact he has not fought in 2 years, St-Pierre remains under contract with the company. At this point, the two sides are at an impasse and Wednesday’s announcement likely creates a deeper chasm between the two sides.
The MMAAA fighters stated that they would talk to other fighters and would travel across the country to MMA training gyms to spread the word. It was not specified as to how the MMAAA, which will be based in Anaheim Hills, California, is funded, although, without disclosing specifics, Rebney confirmed that they are being funded.
This summer, baseball agent Jeff Borris announced the Professional Fighters Association (PFA). His intent was to create a union for UFC fighters. PFA is seeking to sign up enough contracted UFC fighters to engage the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. The PFA was dealt a major blow as labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook and fighter Leslie Smith announced that they would be withdrawing their support for the PFA due to the release of names regarding the potential organization of a board of fighters.
There is also the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association which has been around for several years. Arizona-based attorney Robert Maysey founded MMAFA with the intent to “maximize the influence and earning capacity of its members in the sport of mixed martial arts” per its web site. The web site also states that the organization is “modeled closely after the Major-League Baseball Players’ Association and the Screen Actors Guild as it is led and directed by its members and their elected members.” MMAFA has a broader goal as it seeks to include fighters in other promotions in its efforts and not just the UFC as the MMAAA and PFA seek to do.
There is speculation that the creation of the MMAAA continues the rivalry between Hollywood agencies, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and WME-IMG. Four of the five fighters speaking at the teleconference are represented by CAA. Rebney claimed that CAA was supportive of athletes but was not directly associated with MMAAA. He also stated that the MMAAA has not contacted the UFC but that the organization’s implementation of strategies in achieving its goals would likely bring about contact from the company. In response to the news, a UFC official told MMAFigting.com, “We respect all of our athletes and are always open and willing to hear their thoughts on how to improve the sport.”