A potentially ground-breaking lawsuit headed by three current or former UFC fighters against the organization was filed last week. Cung Le, who is currently under contract with the UFC, is the face of the suit and ex-UFC competitors Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry are also named. There are reasons to believe other athletes could join, too.
For the most part, though, those on the UFC roster have remained quiet about the class-action litigation, which alleges antitrust violations and unfair compensation for fighters.
Ryan Jimmo, a UFC light heavyweight, is one of the few who have been vocal. Jimmo wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that he believes the lawsuit could be a game-changer and that it's "time for change." In his mind, many of the middle-of-the-pack or lower-level fighters don't have that much to lose by speaking out since they aren't making significant money anyway.
Today is a game changer if your a fighter. Hopefully this improves the quality of life if you choose to fight as a profession— Ryan Jimmo (@RyanJimmo) December 17, 2014
"The fighters as a group, we have more to gain by pushing this envelope a little bit than we do to lose," Jimmo told MMA Fighting. "I know the UFC has been very short-tempered about fighters speaking out about things that aren't fair. But now is the time, I think."
Jimmo said he has had conversations with dozens of his peers and they share his belief that the UFC is not fairly compensating fighters and that reform is needed. Others, though, don't put their views out publicly, fearing retribution. He thinks that needs to change and the lawsuit could spur it on.
"For those that don't know, this is a conversation that goes on all the time amongst fighters," Jimmo said. "This is something bubbling under the surface. It's like an iceberg. We're seeing the tip now."
Jimmo, who has fought six times in the UFC since 2012, doesn't necessarily want the UFC to lose the lawsuit and have to give up hundreds of millions of dollars, crippling its business. In the long run, that would be bad for fighters. He just wants the case to make the UFC realize the err of its ways and improve things for competitors.
"I hope they look back and they say, let's change this so it doesn't happen again," Jimmo said. "Let's treat everyone fairly and give them a good quality of life as a fighter. I'm in full belief there is more than enough money to do this and give everyone an appropriate slice of the pie."
He doesn't know all the details, but Jimmo is also lukewarm about the UFC's new uniform deal with Reebok. Even if all the money from the deal goes toward the fighters as promised, Jimmo wonders if it will actually be more than what fighters are getting now from sponsors they will inevitably lose. He said the UFC has been "starving guys out of sponsors" for years with the sponsor tax.
And even if Reebok will pay slightly more than current endorsement income, will it actually be a fair rate? Jimmo said a fellow fighter raised that previous point and he agrees with it.
"Some fighters will look at it like, 'Hey I get a pay raise,'" Jimmo said. "Actually, you changed your diet from bread scraps to a Mars bar. But it's still just a Mars bar. You should be getting more for doing this very dangerous sport."
Jimmo knows that some people, especially fans, will denounce his words because he is not a champion or a top draw. But he thinks his opinion should hold more water since people at his level -- the mid-tier -- and lower are being hurt the most. He hopes he can be a spokesperson for the middle-of-the-pack fighters.
"I think people have lost sight of how important the fighters are," Jimmo said. "I'm going to compare this to basketball. If you took away the NBA, the coaches, the teams, the fans and everything else, people would still get together on the weekends and play basketball. Take away the players, there's no such thing as basketball. Somewhere along the lines, we lost touch with that. The real people keeping the machine chugging along are the fighters. They're being pushed aside and disrespected. They're seen as pawns on a chessboard for someone to use."
Jimmo is unsure if he'll take part in the lawsuit himself. But he will look into the possibility and weigh his options. The Canadian is in favor of a fighters union, and thinks if the UFC supports it, something like that could happen quickly. It would just need "a couple of guys to go out on a limb." Jimmo thinks someone like Quarry could be a good leader.
"I want to be paid appropriately for putting 20 years into a craft," Jimmo said. "People say, 'You're not a champion, why should we listen?' The champions are being compensated. If you're giving me $20 million, I'll let anyone say something bad about me."
Jimmo said he believes the time is right for fighters to speak up. He thinks 2015 has a chance to be a significant year for how the UFC and the sport of MMA grows and evolves. There just needs to be a few fighters to "fall on their swords a little bit to make a change."
"People are a little afraid to say anything," Jimmo said. "It's almost like the dark ages. It's like the 14th or 15th century in France. If you say bad things about the church, you're probably going to get burned at the stake as if you were a witch."