The battle lines continue to be drawn in the ongoing standoff between the UFC and welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre.
St-Pierre stunned the mixed martial arts world Monday when he announced that his lawyers had terminated his old UFC contract following months of failed negotiations to reach a new deal with Zuffa. The announcement effectively made St-Pierre one of the most coveted free agents in the sport's history, and St-Pierre's lawyer, James Quinn of New York firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges, told MMA Fighting on Wednesday that he was "blown away" by the language he discovered in St-Pierre's deal.
"I've done a lot of work in sports. When I read that contract, I was blown away by how restrictive it is," Quinn said.
"They're basically tying him up for life. They have no rights and they own all of his licensing and all the other things. It's unheard of in the other professional sports. And they won't get away with it forever."
Quinn, an attorney who has successfully led cases against the NBA, NFL and numerous other major entities in the past, compared the terms in St-Pierre's UFC contract to "something out of the 1940s." He said he hasn't seen language that restrictive in a sporting contract in 30 years, and that all past examples of similar deals have been found to be illegal once placed under the scrutiny of the law. He also cited the ongoing antitrust lawsuit currently being waged against the UFC by several former fighters.
"You couldn't get away with any old contract in any of the other sports," Quinn said. "There is litigation in that aspect of a class-action lawsuit that challenges the contract as being illegal under the NHS laws. That case is ongoing, and I think that under the law's terms, I don't think the contract -- that formal contract -- is likely to stand up. Not in today's world. It's a pretty nice form of slavery."
The UFC on Monday released a statement indicating that St-Pierre remains under contract with the promotion and that "Zuffa intends to honor its agreement with St-Pierre and reserves its rights under the law to have St-Pierre do the same."
To that, Quinn disagrees. He reiterated that the contract, which served as the same contract St-Pierre was under when he walked away from the sport in 2013, has now been terminated after the UFC refused to uphold the 10-day deadline imposed by St-Pierre which mandated that the promotion offer him an official fight.
"He notified them earlier this year that he was ready to fight again," Quinn said. "He wanted to arrange for the terms of the fight, and that did not happen in a timely fashion. They were required to actually schedule a fight, the time and place with a bout agreement, and we gave them -- because there's a 10-day notice period in the contract, in the old contract -- we gave them the 10 days to do that, and they didn't do it before the time period. And therefore we terminated the contract."
St-Pierre said Monday on The MMA Hour that he first signed his contract in 2011, prior to the advent of the UFC-Reebok partnership along with several other changes to the UFC. He said he had been in negotiations with ex-UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta on hammering out a new deal for several months, however talks broke down in July when the UFC was purchased for a record-breaking $4.2 billion price tag by WME-IMG.
From there, negotiations hit a standstill, with UFC president Dana White insisting in countless media appearances that St-Pierre did not actually have the desire to want to fight, despite that claim being publicly refuted several times by St-Pierre.
Tensions eventually reached a head, causing St-Pierre to enlist the services of Quinn, who informed the UFC that the promotion had 10 days to fulfill the terms of its contract and formally offer St-Pierre a fight. Quinn said the UFC then sent St-Pierre a message immediately prior to the deadline inquiring about a fight against former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, however that was not long after Lawler withdrew from a fight at UFC 205.
"They offered the fight at a time when Lawler had said he was unable to fight," Quinn said. "We take the position that we believe the contract has been terminated. They have their hand, we have our hand, we'll see how it plays out. Georges still wants to fight and he's perfectly happy to fight under a new UFC contract, if we can negotiate one. Or if not, he'll look at other options."
Quinn also pointed to the UFC-Reebok deal as an issue that could be challenged in litigation, as specific language in St-Pierre's contract was written well before the Reebok deal was enacted. St-Pierre has a high-value sponsorship with Reebok competitor Under Armour and would be losing significant income if he were forced to forgo that in order to compete under the terms of the UFC's exclusive partnership with Reebok.
But Quinn also noted that the relationship between the two sides is not irrevocably damaged on St-Pierre's part, and that the welterweight great would be willing to re-approach the negotiation table if asked.
"It's really up to the UFC, whether they're willing to negotiate another contract or not," Quinn said. "We'll have to see. I can't really predict that."
Ultimately, St-Pierre's situation is another instance in a long line of fighter grievances against the UFC to emerge over the last several months.
St-Pierre repeated several times on Monday that he was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in and that his unique position as one of the most decorated athletes to ever compete in the sport afforded him the opportunity to rally for fighter's rights in a situation where others may not.
St-Pierre also noted that it was "up to guys like me, Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, guys that are big names" to stand up for fighters in less fortunate positions and push for same rights athletes in many other major international sports are afforded.
"That's eventually going to happen in this sport as well, whether in the context of Georges' situation or with the other litigation that's pending," Quinn said. "We just have to see how it all plays out. I'm not in the prediction business."