When Nate Quarry signed on to be one of the original three plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit filed against the UFC, he knew some sort of backlash was inevitable.
Quarry, along with UFC veterans Jon Fitch and Cung Le, filed a complaint last December alleging that the UFC had engaged in unlawful antitrust practices. That lawsuit has since broadened into five separate lawsuits from a total of 11 past or present UFC fighters. As the case marches forward to the gradual beat of the legal drum, Quarry has found himself surprised by the increasing frequency of criticism he hears from fight fans who view the suit as nothing more than a cash grab from a handful of disgruntled fighters.
"What we're trying to do is we're trying to shape MMA for future generations so these up-and-coming kids have a legitimate shot of having a career and following their dreams. But we can't do that when we have one company that's completely dictating the terms of the entire sport," Quarry told MMAFighting.com.
"It always shocks me when people say, ‘oh, these athletes are just spoiled athletes.' Really? So the guys who trained for 10 or 15 years, not just for free, but paying for their lessons at the gyms, and then started fighting for free on the amateur circuit, turned pro and fought for a couple hundred bucks here and there, whose dream is just to be a fighter that loves this experience, they're the greedy ones compared to the billionaire owners of the corporation?
"[The same people who are] standing here saying, ‘nope, all of this money is ours. You're just greedy. Oh, by the way, you can't have anymore sponsors unless we say you can. Oh, by the way, you have to fight here. You have to fight then. You have to fight who.' It's just ridiculous, and we're seeing a big change in climate."
The next step for Quarry and the rest of the plaintiffs comes in May, when a California judge rules on Zuffa's motions to not only relocate the suit from San Jose to Las Vegas federal courts, but also to outright dismiss the complaints entirely.
The plaintiffs allege that the UFC has created a monopoly over the professional mixed martial arts market, one which limits fighters' earning potential through a variety of anti-competitive practices.
Quarry has long been a critic of the UFC's business practices since exiting the promotion with a 7-3 record in 2010, writing extensively on the subject on MMA forum The Underground. The TUF 1 veteran fought for six years in the UFC, challenged for the middleweight title in 2005 for a purse of $10,000, and was one of many fighters to sign his likeness over in perpetuity for a nominal fee. He warns young fighters that the fight game "isn't a charity, it's a business," and acknowledges that in the early stages of his career, such practices may have been necessary to help a struggling company to stay afloat.
But those days are over, Quarry says, and with many of the fighters of his era trickling out of the sport "broke and broken," he's stunned by some of the vitriol he's received from the same fans who reveled in the blood and sweat he and his comrades sacrificed over their fighting careers.
"Everyone is so forgetful of the journey that everyone has gone through," Quarry said. "It used to be there were no requirements for smoke alarms or fire exits. This was brought along because of the labor union. Back in the day with the baseball players, the NBA, the football players, they had no rights whatsoever. They'd go to work in the offseason while they're living their dream of being a professional football player, then they'd go work at a gas station in the offseason, while the owners are making millions and billions of dollars and telling the fans out there, ‘These guys are just so ungrateful. Wouldn't you love to be a professional football player too?'
"The fans don't know any better, they just want to see a good fight. The other fighters, they aren't going to say anything because they'll be blacklisted, they'll be put on the undercard, now they're not ranked as high, or whatever it may be. There's a million ways that the UFC can completely screw with your career without outrightly saying you're fired and cut."
Quarry knows change won't come overnight, so regardless of which way the May ruling swings, he acknowledges that this case "is going to be a really long process," one which could stretch over the span of several years.
In addition to the complaint filed by he, Fitch, and Le, UFC veterans Brandon Vera, Dennis Hallman, Mac Danzig, Kyle Kingsbury, Darren Uyenoyama, Javier Vazquez, Pablo Garza, and Gabe Ruediger have joined their name to separate but largely identical suits, and Quarry believes that over time, the final tally may approach anywhere from 500 to 1,000 fighters.
"It's time for everyone to band together," Quarry said. "We're just the ones who are in a position who can come out and do so. I get messages from fighters constantly saying, ‘as soon as my career is over and I'm no longer dependent on that paycheck, I'll be right there with you.' I say, I understand you can't say anything now because you have a family to feed and this is your dream, and you're going to try and make it work as long as you possibly can. But they know at the end they're going to be left with nothing, so they've gotta do what they can to make what they can right now."