Fabricio Werdum thought he wouldn’t get in trouble for criticizing the UFC’s exclusive uniform deal with Reebok. “I don’t have a contract with Reebok,” he said.
It turns out that the big man is a little less free than he realized. Werdum estimated that he has, so far, lost over seven figures because the Reebok deal precludes the types of fight-week sponsorships and brand visibility that he and most other UFC fighters were previously able to procure.
Now, the fighter has also lost a broadcast television job, and he says it was because of his revealing how much money the Reebok deal cost him. The multilingual Werdum reported a few days ago that he was let go from his FoxSports Latin America analyst position.
He was disappointed, but also shocked – the latest casualty of the unethically intertwined world of the UFC and its broadcast partner, FOX. Though Werdum appeared on FOXSports Latin America, he implied that the UFC was his real boss, there.
“I’ve always been there and did my job,” Werdum continued.
“They paid me regularly. I can’t complain about anything. But I don’t have a contract with FOX. I just didn’t know they could send me away for something stupid like that. It wasn’t that I didn’t do my job right or anything like that. I just wanted to show people that this is how it works in this game.”
Fighter and broadcaster Chael Sonnen has spoken openly about this type of situation, before, and this past spring the sport’s most followed journalist Ariel Helwani revealed how, for years, he also took payment from both ostensibly independent media outlets and the UFC while covering the promotion.
Werdum may have thought not being signed to a Reebok contract gave him freedom to speak freely. In fact, UFC fighters like him seem to be learning that the absence of more formal agreements is what is denying them seats at the table of important negotiations that athletes in other major sports have representation at.
Werdum doesn’t like the UFC’s exclusive uniform deal with Reebok, that he says it cost him money. It is no wonder, since UFC athletes like him were not involved, collectively and formally, in putting the details of that deal together.
Werdum also probably thought he had a good thing going doing broadcast work on a number of platforms while he says his fight promoter also signed those checks. Just like with most UFC fight contracts, however, Werdum found out that he had no actual security with those agreements.
The UFC can usually drop any fighter at just about any time. The UFC still categorizes its athletes as so-called independent contractors which, among other things means that the UFC doesn’t have to extend to them the benefits employees might be entitled to.
UFC athletes also don’t currently bargain collectively as a part of a union or association, as most other major sports’ athletes do. In addition to having a seat at the table to negotiate terms of deals like the Reebok uniform one, and to work out royalties for everything from other corporate sponsorships to action figure and video game sales, a UFC fighter’s union could offer a host of protections in the form of contracts with more security for athletes, and disciplinary and termination steps and review procedures.
With unions, terms and conditions of employment are typically laid out in a contract or other agreement, not simply subject to the whims of the employer. Unions also have progressive discipline systems in place with steps like verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions, and termination.
Even when an employee issue is supposedly one of performance, unions typically ensure that a defined, clear, and open process is in place for employees. UFC fighters don’t currently have any such security, clarity, protections or dignity.
And, they won’t, until they organize. Without bargaining collectively, even some of the most successful, rich fighters – guys like Fabricio Werdum – are not powerful enough to help themselves.