The sport of mixed martial arts will be discussed at a Congressional committee hearing Thursday in Washington, D.C., and the UFC almost declined to participate.
U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) confirmed with MMA Fighting on Tuesday morning that the UFC threatened to pull its participation in the hearing in front of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce committee if Randy Couture was the witness representing fighters. Bloody Elbow's Amy Dardashtian was the first to report the news Monday night.
Mullin, a former MMA fighter himself, serves on the committee and is the congressman who sponsored the bill proposing an extension of boxing's Ali Act to MMA earlier this year. Mullin said he was initially going to have former UFC fighters Nate Quarry and Cung Le, both members of the MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA), speak at the hearing, but the UFC balked because both Quarry and Le are involved in an antitrust lawsuit against the promotion.
The UFC then said it would not participate if Couture was a witness, Mullin said, but eventually backed off that threat. Couture is a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the most well-known names in the history of the sport. He's also had a combative relationship over the years with UFC brass, particularly president Dana White. Mullin said the UFC only wanted current contracted fighters to speak at the hearing.
"Randy is not part of that lawsuit, so I couldn't really understand what their argument was on that one," Mullin told MMA Fighting. "And they wanted us to use their fighters. I get it. The UFC is used to controlling the publicity and the marketing that comes out of their organization. The problem is is this isn't the UFC, this is the hearing. You have to understand everybody's perspective. I felt as though it would be a very biased point of view if we only used fighters under current contracts."
The UFC did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday. A UFC source told Bloody Elbow that Mullin's interpretation of the situation was not true.
The witness list for the hearing was released Tuesday and includes UFC vice president of health and performance Jeff Novitzky; Boston University professor of neurology and pathology Dr. Anne McKee; Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) treasurer Lydia Robertson; and Couture.
Mullin said the hearing, which will be before the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, is to give a briefing on the sport to those representatives who might not know much about MMA in advance of the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act being brought to the forefront.
"This is to inform the committee of the mixed martial arts world," Mullin said. "You take it for granted. I've been around it and been in it for over 15 years now and you just assume that people understand it, but I guess if you haven't lived in it, haven't been involved in it, I guess you wouldn't get it. This is to inform the members of Congress on the UFC perspective and the fighters perspective and the boxing association, their perspective on it.
Congress goes into break Dec. 8 and reconvenes Jan. 3. Mullin says that's when he hopes the ball will get rolling on the Ali Act extension to MMA. That bill would give MMA fighters the same protections boxers currently have, including promoters having to divulge their full amount of revenue, a ban on oppressive contracts, and an independent ranking system.
"This is just to get a jump start on getting the bill through Congress," Mullin said. "This time next year, I think we've got a real good opportunity to have it taken care of. My argument up here has been, if it's good enough for boxing, why isn't good enough for combative sports? And people understand that."
The UFC has spent more than $100,000 lobbying against the Ali Expansion Act, per reports.
"I wish the UFC would use that money to pay their fighters instead of lobbying against them," Mullin said. "When they're out here trying to influence their point of view, this is outside of their normal world. Don't read me wrong. I'm not trying to bring down the UFC. I think the UFC has done a phenomenal job at promoting the sport that I feel deeply about. What this is about is also taking care of the fighters. If we want the sport to be sustainable, then the fighters and promoters need to be on equal ground. And the promotion has to be taken care of and the fighters have to be taken care of. That is not the way it is right now. It's a one-sided deal. It's a take-it-or-leave-it mentality."
Last week, five prominent UFC fighters, including all-time great Georges St-Pierre, announced the launch of the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA). The MMAAA wants a settlement from the UFC for current and past fighters, equal revenue between fighters and promoters, and eventually a collective bargaining agreement between the UFC and fighters.
The MMAAA is the third such organization out there hoping to organize fighters. The MMAFA, which has been around the longest, has thrown its support behind the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act.
Mullin does not think a union or collective bargaining will be needed if this bill passes.
"I think if we passed the Ali Act to combative sports, which includes all combative sports, the need for that won't exist," he said. "Right now, they're getting bullied around. They're getting bullied and they feel like the only way to do it is to speak in one large voice."