MMA and the UFC, in particular, are a fast-growing phenomenon in the sporting world, and millions of people tune in to watch UFC stars like Conor McGregor fight.
Despite this, one thing separates the UFC from many other sports, and it’s not something most people think about. Unlike other mainstream leagues like the NBA, there is no player’s union for the UFC’s fighters. There’ve been several efforts to change that, and like anything else, a UFC union has its pros and cons. Here’s a rundown of what a union for UFC fighters could mean and whether it’s worth striking over for the fighters.
This is something that many fans and fighters have complained about, and a player’s union could go a long way at solving it. Because the UFC is still a private company, details about contracts are scarce.
However, a union would ensure those ridiculous negotiation tactics and vengeful firings by the UFC won’t happen to fighters. Again, this is mainly speculation by fans, but it seems very blatant.
For example, when Kajan Johnson spoke up about sponsorships during the UFC’s 2017 Fighter’s Retreat (the same retreat where Leslie Smith asked Kobe Bryant about unionization), things seemed to be moving positively for fighters afterward.
Not long after though, Johnson was seemingly thrown to the wolves and paired to fight two killer Dagestani fighters back to back. At the time of their fights, the two men, Islam Makhachev and Rustam Khabilov, had a combined record of 37-4, whereas Johnson’s record was 23-12-1.
After losing to both Russian men, Johnson was cut from the organization. The UFC tried to do this again with Leslie Smith, who had started a fighter’s association, Project Spearhead, following her talk with Kobe. After being matched with bantamweight contender Aspen Ladd, Ladd missed weight and Leslie refused to fight her at a catchweight. This isn’t uncommon for fighters to do, but the UFC decided to release Smith from the organization afterward.
These two incidents are just the tip of the iceberg of the type of shadiness that the UFC seemingly does behind the scenes. Again, however, the motive for both of these incidents are just speculation. That said, Leslie has since taken legal action against the UFC.
Generally speaking, like Kobe said during the Fighter’s Retreat, a rising tide raises all boats. We don’t know for sure what each and every UFC fighter gets paid, but the salaries on the lower end are extremely low compared to other sports.
The most recently available disclosed salaries were for the UFC event in Sacramento, and the best-paid fighter was Urijah Faber who got $340,000. The worst paid fighters were Wellington Turman and Livia Renata Souza, both of whom got paid $12,000 for losing.
Again, we don’t know for sure how much money the UFC makes, but simple math says that if they have to pay their fighters more, then the UFC will make less profit. This could affect the UFC’s expansion or, but we simply don’t know until their financials become public.
Bad fighters on the roster
One concern critics of unions have is that the worst performing union members will stay involved in the sport or company. However, the UFC is not a stranger to this, and they’ve seemingly done it before as a favor for their more popular fighters.
This is speculation, but Conor McGregor’s teammates, despite having terrible records, managed to get signed for the UFC. For example, before he was finally cut from the organization, Artem Lobov, Conor’s good friend and training partner, had a record of 13 wins, 15 losses, 1 draw, and 1 no contest. So if you have fears of bad fighters getting to stay on the roster unfairly, then rest assured knowing that the UFC already allows that.
The biggest strike ever thrown?
Despite the numerous attempts to get a union going, none has succeeded so far. And things aren’t looking too hot on that end either as some fighters, even knowing the positives of forming a union, simply don’t think they’d participate in a strike.
However, if a lot of popular fighters or even some unknown ones refuse to fight right before their fight like boxer Curtis Harper did, then that act of protest will at least get people talking and potentially, get a union growing.