clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

However it plays out, the process of the antitrust lawsuit against the UFC bound to get ugly

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Chris Wilson was getting set to fight Jon Fitch at UFC 82, back when Fitch was Fitch and Wilson was just some dude, I can remember asking the kindly "Professor" if he was intimidated stepping in there against an established contender. "No, not at all," Wilson said. "What is Fitch going to do, summon the wind?"

Cut to six years later, exactly 100 pay-per-views removed as we near UFC 182, and Wilson has his answer. Here is Fitch summoning the wind.

On Tuesday a class action antitrust lawsuit was filed in California by a group of fighters against Zuffa for monopolizing the MMA industry. Among the plaintiffs taking matters into their own hands from San Jose federal court were retired fighter Nate Quarry, still not-yet-retired-fighter Cung Le and the exiled man himself, Jon Fitch.

Rather than rehash the details again, you can read MMA Fighting’s Dave Meltzer’s thorough breakdown here, or this SI column here, both of which lay it all out in the open.

But the crux of the action is this: The UFC has eliminated competition through illegal means, which makes servants of its fighters while greatly diminishing their prospects, all while back-pocketing their identities (in "perpetuity") and owning their very souls (with a million contractual bindings that lawyer Benjamin Brown called "exclusive arrangements"). The reason for the suit is to stop this "dictatorship," as Carlos Newton referred to it, from continuing on, and to restore healthy competition in the marketplace.

Le, Quarry and Fitch -- along with an untold grumbling many who are hitherto anonymous -- are seeking justice. Not for themselves, they say, but for future fighters. There are economists involved to calculate financial deprivations for what would be vs. what actually is.

It’s a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff, and this thing’s been in the works for a long time. That there are classically monotone superlawyers involved -- the kinds who aren’t strangers to nine-figure settlements and use big-game ampersands (Berger & Montague) -- only serves to emphasize the idea that these cats aren’t jacking around.

Now, what it all comes to remains to be seen -- the monopoly could easily turn into a game of charades. The UFC has lawyers, too, shrewd ones who make things go away. Zuffa has always been very good at dousing little fires when they break out. In fact, it’s so early in what is guaranteed to be a lengthy process that the UFC has yet to even properly respond, other than to say it will, "vigorously defend itself and its business practices."

Damn right it will.

In the meantime, it’s the process itself that could get ugly. Because, brother, how else to say it -- it’s weird to see fighters stand up to the UFC…as a collective…with high-powered back-up and the high-beams set for interrogation…poking around at the private side of the UFC, the business end with the percentages and numbers, with an intention to expose.

Dogfights are made of these.

Here are high-powered lawyers trying to use a magnifying glass over the fine print, to examine each and every motive, every entrapment, every instance of tyranny.

And when you’re dealing in alpha people, as the UFC is, you’ve got to wonder how many fighters will grow upset at the dawning idea that they just might not be governing themselves -- that they just might not be maximizing their potential financially. How many more will join the chorus? How big of a divide will this become? Is there potential for outright mutiny? Will it grow big at all? Is it, indeed, a historic step to "right the wrongs" of a company that is responsible for making MMA what it is today, from its insane run to glory down to whatever it is they keep in the basement?

Is this, in the grand scheme of the sport, a necessary step?

Quarry, who is a "fighter’s fighter" in the way John Fante was a "writer’s writer," made mention that there are plenty of disgruntled UFC employees out there who silently support the antitrust suit. Some are already beginning to pop up publicly on social media. Former lightweight champion Sean Sherk asked where he could sign up. Current UFC fighter Ryan Jimmo chimed in, too, calling the suit a "game-changer" on Twitter -- though it’s hard to know if he’s still just bummed out about the nose-bleed comp tickets the UFC gave him recently. There will be others who’ll look at this as an opportunity to act. The word "injustice" attracts people like the changing colors of a mood ring. Injustice is a fluid word that can always be aimed at you, if you only want it to be.

Martyrdom has stayed in business a long time.

Then again, let’s keep things in perspective. There are plenty of fighters, from the lowest rung to the highest, who are beyond happy to fight in the UFC. Many -- perhaps the vast majority -- don’t see despots, so much as they see a league in which to become something. A league that has given them a platform to play out their dreams.

And look at the parties bringing the antitrust suit to life. Though he says it has nothing to do with being involved in the suit, the 42-year old Le was recently defamed and suspended when the UFC -- acting as its own commission for a fight card on Macau -- popped him for the use of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for his fight with Michael Bisping. When it was revealed that the test was botched, his suspension was lifted but, given the damage already done in public perception, animosity remained.

Fitch has a long history of butting heads with the UFC, going back to the video game licensing rights dispute in 2008. He didn’t want to sign a lifetime contract that would give exclusive rights to the UFC to use his image. He was cut, then, days later, brought back. He was cut again while still competing at a high level in early-2013. This time, safe to say he ain’t coming back.

These fighters are the catalysts for this lawsuit. They want a change.

Who knows how this thing plays out, but one thing feels certain: The winds being kicked up feel a little uncomfortable.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting