The MMA Fighters Association started up nearly a decade ago. The Professional Fighters Association kicked off in August. And last week, the MMA Athletes Association launched via a conference call with significant buzz.
All the groups want to represent the interest of fighters against promoters. Most have similar goals, though there are many conflicts on how to achieve them. The MMAFA and MMAAA are associations, while the PFA is a prospective union.
On Wednesday, a group of lawyers representing fighters in an antitrust case (many of whom are in the MMAFA) against the UFC sent a cease-and-desist letter to the MMAAA. The MMAAA responded with a statement hours later.
The MMAFA and PFA have been at odds, too, on social media. The conflict between the groups have been public. And none of that is good news for the fighters, according to PFA founder Jeff Borris.
"I think that although the heart and the intentions of all three factions might be in the right place, all this does is setback the movement because I think it muddies the waters and provides confusion for the fighters," Borris told MMA Fighting on Wednesday.
The lawyers representing fighters in the antitrust suit are alleging that the MMAAA, particularly former Bellator front man Bjorn Rebney and agents from the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), met with them a year ago, wanting to be part of the case and hoping to reap the benefits of a potential financial reward. The MMAAA said in its statement that the lawyers were the ones who reached out and then "made clear that they did not share the MMAAA's vision.
"They are focused on a short-term monetary recovery, of which they will seek 33%, and then they are gone from this sport," the MMAAA statement read. "We parted ways at that point."
The MMAFA is focused on the antitrust case against the UFC and bringing boxing's Ali Act protections to MMA. The MMAAA wants a settlement from the UFC for past and current fighters, a more even share of the UFC's revenue, and eventually a collective-bargaining agreement. Both, for now, want to be trade associations.
The PFA, on the other hand, is holding firm that a union is the correct way to go. To do that, it will likely have to argue in court that fighters are employees and not independent contractors, which is the UFC's insistence. Rebney said on the MMAAA's call last week that it's a process that could take four or five years. Borris still believes that is the correct way to proceed, because the UFC would have to legally negotiate with a union.
"The difference between the associations and a union is the associations have no teeth," Borris said. "Unless you're recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, where the employer is compelled to bargain in good faith with the employees, the associations have no teeth. They're voluntary. You can join, you don't have to join. Being a part of a union that's certified by the National Labor Relations Board is totally different."
Rebney did say that the MMAAA would become a union eventually, once the UFC reached out to it voluntarily to get itself an antitrust exemption.
Borris said he has no plans to contact officials from the MMAFA or the MMAAA. He did seem to agree with the MMAAA's public-relations strategy. Five prominent fighters — Georges St-Pierre, Tim Kennedy, Donald Cerrone, Cain Velasquez and T.J. Dillashaw — were a part of their conference call announcement. All will be part of the association's first board, though Cerrone backed off that Wednesday.
"What's interesting about the fighters and the anonymity, this overwhelming fear the fighters have of retaliation from the UFC, eventually they're gonna have to stand up to these bullies," Borris said. "I know that after speaking with many mixed martial artists, many of them actually went into these disciplines because they were bullied as small children. This was a way for them to learn self defense and protect themselves. They understand what it is to be bullied and to stand up. Well, there comes a time and a place for these fighters to have to stand up. So the anonymity is gonna have to go out the window sooner or later."
All three organizations do have the same basic belief, that fighters are not getting their fair share from the UFC and are being mistreated. Borris said he will soon be releasing a statement about the current state of the PFA amidst all the recent drama involving new groups.
"Right now," he said, "the fighters are in a rear-naked choke from the UFC and they can't even tap out."
The UFC has not commented officially on any of the organizations, though UFC president Dana White lashed out at Rebney and the MMAAA during the UFC Unfiltered podcast Wednesday.
"Listen, I don't know enough about it to really speak on it," White said. "The only thing I need to know is the biggest scumbag in the history of combat sports — Bjork — is involved in this thing.
"And if you're a fighter — listen, there's three unions out there now all battling against each other. And if you're a fighter, these guys are all looking to get in your pocket. It's another business, it's a business where guys are going to make money. And if you're a fighter and this is what you want to do, you've got to figure out whose hand you want in your pocket. And I guarantee you, you don't want Bjork's hand in your pocket. You know what I mean?"