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With support of major sports names, new group forms to get UFC fighters unionized

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A new organization, founded by influential names in the sports world, has formed in an effort to get UFC fighters unionized.

The Professional Fighters Association (PFA) has been established with a goal to get collective bargaining for UFC athletes, it was announced Thursday in a press release. The PFA is hoping to get recognition of a fighters union through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the release stated. And the group has the support of many of the major sports unions, like the MLPBA and NFLPA.

"PFA will not only be a union of fighters, but it will be governed solely by fighters," the release said. "It is the fighters who will control their own futures."

The group is being led by longtime baseball agent Jeff Borris, labor attorney Lucas Middlebrook and economist Andrew Zimbalist. Borris once represented the likes of Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. Middlebrook, best known in the MMA space as Nick Diaz's lawyer, is counsel for the Major League Soccer referees union, NBA referees union and the unions for Southwest Airlines employees. Zimbalist is a highly regarded and oft-published sports economist.

The PFA has also received the support of the MLBPA, NFLPA, NHLPA, NBAPA and MLSPU.

"I have been privileged to represent elite athletes for nearly 40 years, and believe now more than ever in the benefits of collective bargaining to secure and enhance terms and conditions of employment," said Donald Fehr, current NHLPA executive director and former longtime MLBPA executive director, in the PFA release. "That is why I fully support and encourage efforts of the fighters to organize a union to represent them."

Fehr was the MLBPA head from 1983 to 2009 and led the players during the baseball strike of 1994 and 1995. The MLBPA is regarded as one of the most powerful unions in the world.

"I support the efforts of the fighters to organize," said Tony Clark, former MLB player and current executive director of the MLBPA. "The solidarity and commitment of the group will be essential to their ability to protect and advance their workplace rights."

The PFA release also includes quotes from NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and MLSPU executive director Bob Foose.

"As a strong labor union, the NFLPA recognized the need for athletes to have a collective voice and supports the efforts of the UFC athletes to stand together as a team to advocate for their rights as men and women," Smith said.

New York-based law firm Lichten and Bright has also made overtures toward getting representation for fighters, per MMAjunkie. There is also the presence of the MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA), led by Arizona lawyer Rob Maysey, that is supported by the likes of Randy Couture, Cung Le and others.

UFC fighters are independent contractors and would need to challenge that status legally in order to form a union.

Multiple fighters publicly spoke out about fair treatment and pay after the Fertitta brothers sold the UFC to a group led by WME-IMG for $4 billion last month. Estimates have put the percentage of UFC revenues going toward fighters at 14 or 15 percent. Athletes in other sports earn 40 percent or more of revenue.

"The scales have been tipped in favor of the UFC for too long," the PFA wrote in its release. "It is time for the fighters, the one's responsible for the UFC's success, to receive their equal share."