On Monday, a judge granted Bellator MMA a preliminary injunction against Quinton Jackson. This would prevent him from fighting not only opposite Fabio Maldonado at his scheduled UFC 186 appearance on April 25, but for the time being, any promotion save for Bellator.
By Tuesday, MMA Fighting obtained a copy of Judge Karen Suter's order in the case. Judge Suter did not decide the full merits of the case as this was merely a preliminary hearing. While she does not make any final declarations about what either party did or did not do, a reading of the text finds she founds Bellator's arguments significantly more persuasive.
First, let's recall what a preliminary injunction actually is. "A preliminary injunction is just a decision, before the merits of the legal case are decided, to see if one party can be restrained from doing something. Plenty of times a party can win on the injunction and lose on the overall case," I wrote last week.
More than that, certain conditions have to be met to win a preliminary injunction, namely:
- There is a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the case
- That they face a substantial threat of irreparable damage or injury if the injunction is not granted
- That the balance of harms weighs in favor of the party seeking the preliminary injunction
- That the grant of an injunction would serve the public interest
This is where we turn to Judge Suter's order. She finds Bellator would suffer irreparable harm because unlike the case of a boxer who might sign a promotional agreement in addition to an existing managerial or promotional agreement, the exclusivity of Bellator's agreement with Rampage changes the equation.
"Defendant signed an agreement to fight exclusively in bouts arranged by Plaintiff, all of which were against other fighters also under contract with Plaintiff in similar agreements," she writes.
"In other words, Plaintiff will lose a fighter in whom it has invested significant resources as part of an effort to raise the quality of its league in an overall strategy to better compete in the MMA marketplace. Indeed, one important benefit to Plaintiff under the Agreement is that, given the limited pool of successful and well-known MMA athletes, any fighter that defects from one promoter to another not only deprives the former promoter of a benefit, but also boosts the latter promoter's reputation in the process. Both parties agree that Defendant is a unique asset in MMA athletics, the loss of whom is significant. If Defendant is permitted to fight outside of his contract, then the harm will be done. This constitutes irreparable harm that cannot be rectified by monetary damages alone. Accordingly, the court finds that irreparable harm will occur if Defendant in not enjoined in this matter."
As aforementioned, a judge in a preliminary injunction hearing is also required to evaluate whether the plaintiffs have a reasonable probability of success in the larger case. They don't decide the full case, but whether there's enough merit there to see an outcome in their favor "when the material facts are not in dispute". Here Suter argues Bellator satisfies that condition. She notes both parties agree to many facts about this case, namely, that a written agreement was reached and that the terms of those agreements are largely and mutually understood. She concedes, "Defendant contends there are factual issues about Plaintiff's compliance with the written contract," but that "the court finds that Plaintiff has clearly and convincingly shown a reasonable probability of compliance with the contract's material terms."
Judge Suter also found Bellator has a reasonable probability of success to win at an eventual trial when it comes to whether it properly satisfied the entertainment opportunities portion of the agreement with offerings like the Rampage reality show on Spike TV or feature film script treatment.
What's most notable, though, is the section on fight location and promotion. Jackson claims his fights were not promoted properly. Bellator obviously disagrees and the judge agrees here Bellator has a reasonable chance of winning on these terms, too. But, she notes, "to the extent Defendant contends Plaintiff did not adequately promote his fights, including the May 2014 fight with King Mo Lawal, the court finds that it is reasonably probable that Plaintiff will prevail on this claim because the contract cited above provides Bellator may promote 'in any manner Promoter chooses [.]' This is consistent with paragraph 12D of the Agreement, which provides that 'all Bouts shall be on dates and at sites to be designated by Promoter, in its sole and absolute discretion.' Further, Defendant's only 'evidence' as to Plaintiff's alleged inadequate promotion is his own self-serving opinion. This is not an adequate basis."
This is important, not simply because Bellator prevails on this issue, but also how it affects Jackson's claim that Bellator breached the agreement by not providing a copy of the pay-per-view reports.
Judge Suter again sides with Bellator, noting Jackson never challenges the actual buyrate figure. Instead, he wants a copy of the report to see how much money was spent on promoting the event, information Jackson believes the report contains. Judge Suter notes, "Defendant's claim for breach of contract is not that he should receive additional compensation because the numbers given to him by Bellator were wrong; rather, he appears to want the reports for what he believes is evidence of his claim that the fight was not adequately promoted or that he was not adequately promoted."
However, as she noted previously, Bellator has the sole right to determine how, when and where fights are promoted. "There is no marketing agreement set forth in the Agreement requiring, for example, a minimum or maximum amount to be spent on the promotion of Defendant's fights." Therefore, she argues, Bellator has a reasonable probability to win on these terms because "the buy numbers that drive Defendant's compensation figures are not in dispute. Moreover, logically, Defendant offers no rationale for why Plaintiff would not want to market and promote one of its primary fighters."
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Suter believes Bellator has a reasonable probability of of prevailing on its claim Jackson breached the contract when it comes to following the termination procedures. For Jackson to be able to terminate the contract, Bellator would have to not pay him or Jackson would have to believe in "good faith" Bellator had somehow breached. If that happens, Jackson has to give written notice to Bellator so it can cure the breach. Jackson has a fourteen day cure window for compensation issues (not in play here) or forty-five for all other issues. If Bellator does not cure in that window, Jackson has to provide written notice of termination.
But here's where things get tricky for Jackson. Even with a written notice of termination, Bellator gets five days to match any other offer made by a promotional entity. Jackson doesn't dispute he never gave Bellator a chance to match, so Suter sides again with Bellator's reasonable probability to win at trial.
There's more to the story, which requires reading the full order. In addition, attorneys contacted by MMA Fighting believe the judge's order here is likely to spark a settlement between Rampage and Bellator, so any outcome is possible. Attorneys contacted also tell MMA Fighting a trial judge could see matters entirely different than Judge Suter.
Notwithstanding, Suter notes Bellator has expressed a willingness to arrange future fights for Jackson should this matter be resolved, something their statement on Monday echoes. Whether Jackson would be eager to seek such an opportunity rather than continued litigation remains to be seen.