UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture appeared recently on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour and discussed the need for some form of players association in mixed martial arts. Couture spent $500,000 of his own money in 13 months trying to get out of his contract with the UFC in order to fight Fedor Emelianenko, but ultimately returned to the world’s dominant league on a renegotiated contract.
Fedor was the one that got away, for both the UFC and Couture.
However, the UFC continued to grow and earlier this year sold for about $4,000,000,000. That to ‘The Natural’ was a sign that fighters have got to organize. And Couture knows who he wants to organize them.
There are currently two efforts afoot, the PFA and the MMAFA, and the do not see eye to all in all regards. The PFC is led by noted baseball agent Jeff Boris, and seeks to organize UFC fighters, but not for example fighters in the Viacom-owned Bellator MMA, or other promotions. A necessary step for Boris’s efforts to succeed is the redefining of UFC fighters as employees, rather than independent contractors. It is believed that a PFC fighter board will be announced next month.
The MMAFA, created by attorney Rob Maysey in 2009, has long advocated for a players union, as well as the extension of the Muhammad Ali to MMA. It has attracted several prominent supporters, including Jon Fitch, Cung Le, Nate Quarry, Leslie Smith, and Couture.
“I think the company selling for $4 billion was a big red flag,” said Couture, as transcribed byShaun Al-Shatti for MMA Fighting. “That a lot of fighters stood up and took notice as to what those guys made off of the sale of the brand we’ve all been representing for a long, long time, and recognized that less than 10-percent of what they’ve been making, we’ve been reaping as the products, as the fighters stepping in that cage. And that’s just wrong. That equation is way out of whack, and I think until we, frankly, come together and use our voice to fight these types of things, it’s going to continue to happen.”
“I’m confident that it can happen, absolutely. Obviously, again, I think that the MMAFA model, the fighters association, is the right model for what we do and who we are as independent contractors. I think, obviously, a huge step in the right direction is getting the Ali Act amended, and then that levels the playing field with federal legislation on some level.
“I think that’s a huge step in the right direction. And yeah, I think it can definitely happen, but it’s going to guys having the strength and backbone to get over their fears of the repercussions or potential repercussions with the promotions like WME and the UFC. Everybody’s scared they’re going to get dropped, they’re going to get blackballed, and there’s going to those kinds of repercussions, so they’re not willing to exercise their voice and come together.”
“The association is there now. The MMAFA, you can get on WhatsApp and get on the thread. There are over 200 athletes on there communicating on a regular basis about the MMAFA and all of the things, and basically there’s an education process just like there was when we were teaching people what our sport was about, and that we weren’t crazy thugs and criminals, we’re just martial artists that want to be professional athletes.
“So I think the same thing is true about what we’re doing as athletes now, educating ourselves about: what the difference is between a union and a fighters association? How does that affect us as 1099 independent contractors? What does the Ali Act do for us? There’s been an education process for all of us as fighters. For 10 years, I’ve been hearing this talk and been involved and trying to see us come together as fighters and unite our voice for quite a while now, and I feel like the best shot we have right now is the MMAFA.”