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« | Home | »

UFC and labor relations

By Zach Arnold | April 1, 2009

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Regarding this new Sherdog report claiming that some managers & agents are being kept away from their clients (fighters) backstage at Zuffa events…

The only surprise here, in my mind, is that it didn’t happen sooner.

The Jon Fitch/video game rights licensing debacle last year was a test for UFC and they won hands down. They got what they wanted and Fitch was dressed down in public fashion. Same deal with the American Kickboxing Academy. Doesn’t matter if in the end it was a blow-up over nothing, the fact is that UFC got what they wanted and were willing to go to the mat to make a point. What repercussions have they suffered from last year’s little 24-hour incident? None. Nobody on the Internet is going to stop anything Zuffa does as far as their business practices are concerned.

Let’s call a spade a spade right now. In the MMA scene, most MMA agents and managers are powerless to Zuffa. They show little-to-no backbone. There’s no united front. What are they going to do to stop Zuffa from getting fighters to sign ‘backstage deals’ without legal representation? Nothing, that’s what.

However, there is a clear and present danger with UFC’s behavior here. The two dangers are:

  1. This kind of behavior by UFC will hasten the process of fighters aligning with higher-name, more powerful agents. (Think about what Georges St. Pierre recently did with CAA — it will happen with more fighters.)
  2. A fighter with nothing to lose will take UFC to court in Nevada and obliterate the current contractual structure of deals between Zuffa LLC and its fighters.

In order for the second option to happen, it’s going to have to come in the form of a lawsuit from a fighter who a) is likely on his way towards retirement, b) has a big bankroll, and c) has a lot of patience. So far, nobody in the fight business has demonstrated these three qualities together. If a fighter does step up to the plate and this happens, then there’s trouble for UFC… that is until they throw substantial money at that fighter to settle, which of course the fighter (and his lawyer) will want to do, and then we’re back to square one. So, in addition to the three characteristics mentioned up above, you would also need a fighter who has a backbone and no desire to further his career advancement in Zuffa in-or-out of the cage.

The scenario much more likely to happen is that fighters start to ditch the ‘old guard’ of MMA agents and managers and start making their move towards big sports agents/agencies like The Poston Brothers, Scott Boras, Leigh Steinberg, Drew Rosenhaus, or the William Morris agency. Once that starts happening, then UFC will face a labor relations strain that could jeopardize its business model. You would also face the prospects of bigger agents getting together to form a players association-type group for MMA fighters (similar to what Rob Maysey is trying to accomplish right now), which would bring us down the road to breaking UFC’s ability to hire fighters as independent contractors instead of actually treating the men like employees. Put yourself in the shoes of someone like Leigh Steinberg looking at a UFC fighter contract — the fighter is an ‘independent contractor’ yet Zuffa basically treats the fighter as their exclusive property, has rights to their likeness for video games and merchandising, has clauses for champions involving static salaries for title defenses once a contract runs out/expires and the fighter is still the champion, and the company doesn’t pay the fighter a salary when they’re not fighting.

As far as what the blogs or web sites say, it’s white noise as far as Zuffa is concerned. As far as the broadsheet media goes, they don’t give a damn about Zuffa’s business practices. If UFC can sell copy or bring in new ad revenue for them in exchange for coverage of events, then it will be performed without remorse. The real revolution needs to start amongst the fighters and the representation they choose to use to manage their careers. You get what you pay for, and right now the old guard of MMA agents and managers are looking pretty powerless. Once the current crop of agents are replaced by the David Falks of the world, then we’ll see Zuffa start to react more favorably towards their talent when it comes to business practices outside of the cage.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 35 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

35 Responses to “UFC and labor relations”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1. Union
    2. Union
    3. Union

    Fighters need to be smart and stick together.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    I’m pro-union for the fighters.

    With that said, Loretta Hunt’s article is garbage. I’ve never been impressed with her writting, and this is just another example. It seems more like muck rackign then it does a real story. I hope it’s just an April Fool’s joke.

    1. The most credible person to go on record is Mont Cox. And he said he doesn’t have a problem with it.

    2. In an article that is about Zuffa’s policies, she brings up fighters being forced to sign contracts without their managers around. It’s like she was trying to blur the line of what happens in general, and what happens in the UFC. To my knowledge, Zuffa has neve done this.

    3. Hunt really never proved a need for the managers to be backstage. Even in her article, it comes across as a nice to have and not a need to have.

    Not to mention that she makes a really bold claim without backing it up:

    “Some say the move is yet another strike in a campaign to separate fighters from their business representatives.”

    Like I said, I’m all for a UFC Fighters Union. Not one that would suck the company dry of financials. But one that would give the fighters some leverage. Still, this article is garbage.

  3. Alan Conceicao says:

    I don’t think the UFC has any issue as to whether or not they retard the growth of the sport domestically or internationally as long as they keep making money, and entering long periods of contractual disputes (which is inevitable as time moves on) will do that. I’d argue that the numbers indicate that they’ve already effectively peaked.

  4. Chris says:

    I think Zach is right about most MMA agents having no backbone. So the real responsibility lies with the fighters. They should not verbally agree to anything backstage before taking it to their manager. They should not sign anything until their manager or attorney has reviewed it.

    You would think that this should be a common sense type of thing. But I can see many fighters pressured into signing deals without their manager or attorney present. Especially if the UFC go the good cop, bad cop route they took with John Fitch.

    When Dana White first approached him about the deal he refused. This was followed by White’s angry public tirade against Fitch and AKA. The Fertittas’ take on the good cop role when approaching Fitch and the deal is eventually signed.

    Both Mark Dion and Matt Lindland have gone on the record about Zuffa having fighters sign deals without the fighters manager being present. So if you believe their side of the story, then this move is all bout building a wedge between fighters and their management.

  5. EJ says:

    1. This kind of behavior by UFC will hasten the process of fighters aligning with higher-name, more powerful agents. (Think about what Georges St. Pierre recently did with CAA — it will happen with more fighters.)

    Fighter can hire anyone they choose but they will have the same kind of luck as all managers and agents do now which is none. The UFC has all the power and stroke there is nothing that an agent can do to make things any different. If the UFC takes the stand that a guys demands are outrageous they will pretty much blackball the fighter and make him irrelevant to most MMA fans. The UFC has proven that they are bigger than any fighter regardless of name or history with the promotion you do things their way or join Fedor in Affliction (as long as that last). Either way this is just another case of wishfull thinking by people in the end The UFC name is all that matters thanks to Dana and company and that won’t change anytime soon.

    2. A fighter with nothing to lose will take UFC to court in Nevada and obliterate the current contractual structure of deals between Zuffa LLC and its fighters.

    Pipe dream, the NFL has the most one sided contracts in all of sports and they’ve shown that with their bankroll they can pass any rule and the courts will uphold it. Just ask Maurice Clarett he tried to fight the machine and he lost his career because of it there is no such thing as a fighter with nothing to lose.

  6. Rollo the Cat says:

    Dana’s new video blog is on YouTube and he has plenty to say about Loretta Hunt.

  7. spacedog says:

    Man Dana is a douche. That said there is no way these types of contracts could stand up to judicial review. I’m only a 1L but I can think of several issues with having a fighter sign a contract, backstage after a fight, with no chance to review the contract. Courts want to preserve the right for private parties to contract but they also have a strong interest in protecting the weaker of two parties.

    I actually need to meet with my Contracts Professor and I’ll ask him about these issues.

    Zack, or any one else, do you have any questions in particular you would like me to ask or issues I should ask him to address?

  8. Ivan Trembow says:

    Wow, this is a bush league move even by “you’re either our ‘partners’ or our enemies” standards.

    The overcrowding point is a red herring argument that only serves to draw attention away from the fact that this move is just another in a long line of moves designed to separate fighters further and further from their managers.

    To wit (excerpt from the article): “Almost all the reps that Sherdog.com spoke to said they’d be comfortable with three licensed cornermen and one managerial figure allowed backstage, which is the setup the UFC and WEC approved until recently.”

  9. Ivan Trembow says:

    45 Huddle (hilariously) wrote: “1. The most credible person to go on record is Mont Cox. And he said he doesn’t have a problem with it.”

    Have you not been paying attention? Managers are scared to say anything negative about the UFC for fear of majro negative repercussions. That has been the case for years, but particularly in the months since the UFC took AKA out behind the woodshed (“Fuck every last one of them”), got them to kneel down and sign what they told them to sign, and then continued to punish their lack of obedience by putting #2-ranked-welterweight-in-the-world Jon Fitch in a prelim fight. Did you miss the part in the article where it specifically said that most managers were afraid to go on the record because they were scared of the repercussions from Zuffa if they did so? The two managers who did go on the record were very careful not to step on Mother Zuffa’s toes.

    As for Zuffa’s contracts in general, one must also remember that Zuffa contributes to the election campaigns of Nevada judges, and that this may or may not lead to these judges being more favorable towards Zuffa in the future. Remember that judge who lost his mind screaming at Rich Bergeron over a minor procedural issue when the Fertittas (through Xyience) tried to sue Bergeron? It was openly stated on that very same judge’s web site that he said thank you to the Fertittas for their contributions to his campaign. How many other judges share the same gratitude?

    spacedog— Among the more legally ridiculous clauses in UFC contracts, and there are plenty of them, is the de-facto no-compete clause for life that all champions have. Take Anderson Silva, for example. He recently repeated what he has said on numerous occasions, which is that he plans to finish out his UFC contract, retire from MMA, and then realize his dream of fighting Roy Jones, Jr. in a boxing match.

    Unfortunately for him, his Zuffa contract would never let that happen as long as he keeps winning, because if you’re a UFC champion and your contract expires, it automatically rolls over for one more year or three moer fights, and it keeps doing this indefinitely, so regardless of whether you want to compete in boxing or anything else, you are essentially Zuffa’s property for the rest of your life unless you lose a fight in the cage. And before anyone says that the wording “essentially Zuffa’s property” is too strong, you might want to go back and read the merchandising contracts (which a few fighters signed) or the video game merchandising contracts (which tons of fighters signed).

  10. David says:

    Business is business…

    “This kind of behavior by UFC will hasten the process of fighters aligning with higher-name, more powerful agents. (Think about what Georges St. Pierre recently did with CAA — it will happen with more fighters.)”… Right Zach – because EVERY MMArtist is as big as GSP 🙂

  11. Bam Bam Gigalo says:

    Dana responds to Hunt’s article
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBe5_nFwyic

    Can’t say I blame Dana for being so mad. Dana’s done more for MMA than anyone and still people constantly bash him.

  12. Fluyid says:

    “Can’t say I blame Dana for being so mad. Dana’s done more for MMA than anyone and still people constantly bash him.”

    You don’t get a free pass to act capriciously and arbitrarily, and it’s not bashing when people point said behavior out.

  13. Zack says:

    Nice…Dana calling people “faggots” now.

  14. 45 Huddle says:

    Ivan,

    There is a difference between a manager being scared and not going on record or staying silent…. And a guy like Monte Cox who went on record, and said it wasn’t a big deal.

    Dana White has a unique style…. Which is just in your face, crude, loud, and obnoxious. The hardcore fans hate it. The casual fans, who outnumber us greatly, think it’s a breath of fresh air that a president of a company will talk like a regular person and call out the BS people are putting out there.

    And honestly, Dana White complete wrecked Loretta Hunt. I think Hunt deserves it. She is a special kind of bad when it comes to being a “journalist”. I think there are good MMA journalists out there. Dave Meltzer & Dann Stupp come to mind. Loretta is not one of them. And her article was a bashing without facts.

    She deserved what she got, plus more.

  15. Bryan says:

    45 huddle—

    I’ll give you credit, you didn’t list Kevin Iole has one of the icons of MMA journalists.

    But I have trouble taking Meltzer very serious as “journalist” because he writes newsletters about pro wrestling. And I recall one of WO’s after he saw his first MMA event and he speculated about it being a work.

    Zach—

    I think another concern that the UFC could face is the government meddling with its business. Our current government seems to think that is better equipped to run businesses than the people who run those businesses. Whether it’s from McCain getting a hair up his rear end and deciding that it’s not “human cockfighting” but unfair business practices.

    Or something that indirectly affects it like socialist legislation that requires unionization or profit sharing for companies of a certain size or that make a certain amount of money.

  16. Zack says:

    “And I recall one of WO’s after he saw his first MMA event and he speculated about it being a work.”

    Well, he covered Pancrase prior to the UFC even existing, and many of those fights were works.

  17. Ivan Trembow says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBe5_nFwyic

    In addition to the usual third-grader reaction to someone reporting on facts that may not portray Zuffa in the most favorable light, this rant also contains plenty of misogyny and homophobia— all of this from a man who says that the most important thing to him is for his kids to be able to know that he’s not a sleazeball promoter.

  18. Ivan Trembow says:

    45 Huddle wrote: “There is a difference between a manager being scared and not going on record or staying silent…. And a guy like Monte Cox who went on record, and said it wasn’t a big deal.”

    Again, you are either not paying attention or you are just willfully disregarding the facts.

    Monte Cox doesn’t want to do anything to upset Mother Zuffa.

    Neither does anyone else who stands to lose anything from upsetting Mother Zuffa.

    Example: Take the bush-league move of selectively banning certain managers from having basic backstage access, and compare how many MMA media outlets with UFC press credentials cover that story, and how many MMA media outlets without UFC press credentials cover that story.

    Another example: Take the aforementioned homophobic and misogynistic rant that would get the president of any Fortune 500 company fired, and compare how many MMA media outlets with UFC press credentials cover that story, and how many MMA media outlets without UFC press credentials cover that story. And note that by “cover that story,” I mean actually quoting the offensive lines from it, not just posting the video without commenting on it.

    As with any story that may shine a less-than-flattering light on the UFC, these stories will be covered more by the MMA media outlets who don’t have UFC press credentials, and the reason for that is clear as day to anyone who doesn’t have their head in the sand.

    Fear, intimidation, and making examples out of people is how the UFC does business, and if that wasn’t reinforced in your mind by the AKA debacle, then you truly do have your head in the sand.

  19. […] …by how loud a person squeals. Dana White understands what is at stake as far as labor relations in UFC is concerned. […]

  20. 45 Huddle says:

    Ivan,

    “Monte Cox doesn’t want to do anything to upset Mother Zuffa.”

    Don’t you think talking, in any capacity, for a story like this, has more potential to upset Mother Zuffa?

    The fact that Monte Cox basically said: “Not a big deal”, and you ignore that fact, just shows how much hatred you have for Zuffa.

    As for talking about Fortune 500 Companies…. They can’t talk like that because almost all of them have shareholders and Board of Director’s to report to. Dana White does not. Not to mention that even if you are a private company, and sell soap, your image isn’t going to be too good if you lay a bunch of F Bombs down. If you run a fight company, it kind of speaks to your fanbase and the average American. That’s not saying MMA fans are trash, but they like more realism then is in typical everyday life.

  21. 45 Huddle says:

    And the first time I saw a UFC event, I didn’t like it. As a Pro Wrestling fan at the time, their is definitely an initial shockvalue to get over when seeing a fighting event for the first time.

  22. Ivan Trembow says:

    “Don’t you think talking, in any capacity, for a story like this, has more potential to upset Mother Zuffa?”

    Fantastic logic skills there, 45 Huddle. Cox defends Zuffa’s new policy and tries to defuse the controversy, and that would have MORE potential to upset Mother Zuffa than not saying anything at all?

  23. Scott Whitt says:

    Meltzer has been a champion of MMA especially when no one else was covering it. I would be willing to bet that many hardcore fans now were first introduced to MMA via his newsletter. The speculation about it being a work was that since many people had never seen MMA before that having Shamrock, who had a pro wrestling background, tap to Gracie would have made since.
    Dana is going to have to get thicker skin and learn to deal with criticism.

  24. 45 Huddle says:

    Not having your name attached to a hit piece…. Is the best.

    Either way, Monte Cox said it wasn’t an issue. So why all the complaining?

    I swear people make issues out of nothing.

    I know you will now tell me that Monte has to keep Zuffa happy. But you have exactly ZERO proof of that. What he said is what is out there. And based on that, it’s a non-issue. Problem solved.

  25. Ivan Trembow says:

    Yeah, the AKA debacle doesn’t demonstrate what happens to fighter managers who upset Dana White…

    lol, 45 Huddle, you’ve really outdone yourself this time.

  26. 45 Huddle says:

    Once again… Monte went on record to give his opinion. He didn’t have to do that.

    Here is what you are basically saying:

    “Monte Cox is lying. Monte Cox said nice things only to keep Dana White happy. Monte Cox really thinks what Zuffa is doing is wrong.”

    And you have ZERO proof of this. If anything, YOU have outdone yourself. You continue to make things up in your head, without any proof, and then get mad when people disagree with you.

  27. Ivan Trembow says:

    I don’t know if Monte Cox thinks what Zuffa is doing is right. But if he did think that, he would certainly be inclined to keep that opinion to himself, based on the example that has been made out of other fighter managers in the past.

  28. 45 Huddle says:

    Exactly. You don’t know anything. You don’t know what he is thinking.

    At least I am basing my opinion on reality. On something he has actually said.

    You are basing your opinion on a fantasy. On what you assume he is thinking.

    I will stay in the real world, thank you very much.

  29. Ivan Trembow says:

    … says the person who just said in the other thread that it’s “refreshing” to have heard a company president call a female reporter a “fucking bitch”

  30. Chris says:

    45 Huddle,

    You can tap now.

  31. […] best analysis of the situation is from Zach Arnold, so go there if you want to read that. The worst analysis, that’s my […]

  32. ilostmydog says:

    If anyone is tapping out, it would probably be Ivan. His last post completely ignored the argument at hand. That’s pretty much conceding.

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