Five well-known UFC fighters, three of them former champions, gathered in a room in November for a conference call. The grouping was to launch the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA), a group that wants to gather and organize fighters for better treatment from the UFC.
Hearing the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrone, Tim Kennedy and T.J. Dillashaw air grievances about the UFC and explain why they feel like fighters need to be better represented was jarring. Fighters have complained about the UFC before, but never this many big names all in one room in a concerted effort.
In most years, the MMAAA’s launch alone would be one of the biggest stories, if not the biggest. In 2016, it seemed to just be following a trend.
The Professional Fighters Association (PFA), headed by baseball superagent Jeff Borris, formed in August with a mission to unionize UFC fighters. The MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA), which has been around for about eight years, gained steam in 2016 with proposed legislation for an Ali Act extension to MMA in Congress and progress in an antitrust lawsuit against the UFC.
None of the three bodies have necessarily pulled far ahead of the others in their goal for organizing fighters. Some have the same objectives; other goals differ. The one key link, though, is acknowledgment among many athletes that they are not getting as much as they could or should be.
Estimates say that UFC fighters make between 8 and 15 percent of the promotion’s revenue, though those numbers are disputed by the UFC. Athletes in other sports make up to 50 percent or more of revenue. The PFA and MMAAA are both in favor of eventually getting fighters benefits like full-scale healthcare and retirement funding, as well.
Outside of these associations, there was considerable unrest among fighters, too.
St-Pierre, the former welterweight champion and one of the biggest financial draws in MMA history, declared himself a free agent in October, though the UFC said he is still under contract. The two sides might have to fight it out in court.
That same month, Fabricio Werdum posted a protest Instagram post against UFC apparel partner Reebok. The Brazilian heavyweight lost his job as a UFC commentator in Latin America because of it.
Al Iaquinta refused to fight at UFC 205 in November because he felt he wasn’t getting paid enough money. Mark Hunt is currently threatening a lawsuit against the UFC due to the way a situation with Brock Lesnar’s positive drug test at UFC 200 was handled. Anderson Silva complained of mistreatment.
Cole Miller said he couldn’t even get a meeting to explain his issues with brass. Luke Rockhold said he might take time off to pursue modeling, because he wasn’t getting paid enough. Paige VanZant, a darling of UFC president Dana White, admitted she felt like she wasn’t getting paid enough.
Jose Aldo, one of the best fighters of all time, threatened to retire if he wasn’t given his UFC release after being passed up for a title fight with Conor McGregor.
Matt Mitrione and Rory MacDonald actually left the UFC as free agents for Bellator, in part because of what they felt was unfair conditions. Both blasted the promotion on the way out.
There are many more. Even McGregor, the biggest MMA star in the world right now, went toe-to-toe with the UFC over how much promotion he had to do.
The UFC yanked McGregor from the scheduled UFC 200 main event against Nate Diaz because he would not fly from his home in Ireland to go on a multiple-city media tour in April, just weeks after he lost to Diaz at UFC 196 in March. McGregor threatened retirement, though things have mostly been patched up now. “The Notorious” did ask for a share of the company after beating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 to win his second UFC title, the lightweight belt.
More than in any years past, a high volume of fighters took their battle outside the Octagon in an effort to get more for themselves, whether it be pay or benefits, or both. The MMAFA, MMAAA, PFA all have pros and cons. But fighters willing to speak up for themselves seems like a trend that will continue well into 2017.