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Prospective UFC fighters union chief takes aim at Dana White, Ari Emanuel at press conference

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — Jeff Borris stepped onto UFC turf and fired the first salvo against promotion brass Thursday night.

The well-known baseball agent is attempting to organize UFC fighters to start a union. And Borris started off a press conference for the Professional Fighters Association (PFA) here with direct shots against UFC president Dana White and new company owner Ari Emanuel of WME-IMG.

Borris said he invited White, Emanuel and WME co-CEO Patrick Whitesell to the press conference and for a further dialogue about a fighters union. White and Whitesell, Borris said, didn't return messages.

Borris said White was "disingenuous at best" when he said Wednesday at a press conference that he had not heard about movement for a union. The longtime agent of Barry Bonds and others said he did manage to reach Emanuel on his cell phone and didn't get the response he hoped he would.

"He, in a tone only my wife speaks to me in, says ‘Don't ever call me again. I don't want to speak to you. I don't want to have anything to do with you,'" Borris said.

Borris said he then texted Emanuel: "I think that's unprofessional. I'll let you get away with that now. But once we become a union and we're certified by the National Labor Relations Board, you're gonna have to take my phone call and you're gonna be forced to."

That is the goal of the PFA. Borris and Lucas Middlebrook, known in MMA circles at Nick Diaz's attorney, are hoping to get 30 percent of UFC fighters to sign an authorization card allowing for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. The PFA would then need a majority of the more than 500 fighters in the UFC to vote "yes" for the PFA to collectively bargain for them with the promotion.

Of course, all of these things would be contingent on a court ruling that UFC fighters are employees and not independent contractors. Middlebrook said that burden of proof would be on the UFC.

At the press conference, Borris spoke about fighters' needs for things like a pension, full-scale health insurance, a grievance process and fighter input in an anti-doping policy.

This week, Borris and his team are in Las Vegas attempting to speak with fighters about the union process and how it would work. Borris attended the UFC 202 media day today at Red Rock Casino Spa and Resort to talk to fighters, but was then asked to leave by UFC security. He was also at the UFC 202 pre-fight press conference Wednesday — the same one in which White said he didn't know anything about a prospective union.

"I'm finding out that I don't need to educate the fighters," Borris said. "The reason why I I don't need to educate the fighters is because they're already educated on the issues. When I talk to them, they know they need these things. They know they need these protections."

Leslie Smith was the only contracted UFC fighter to attend the press conference. Matt Mitrione, a UFC veteran who now fights for Bellator MMA, was also at the event. The PFA only wants to unionize UFC fighters for now. Borris explained that the UFC has established itself as the "premier league" like MLB or the NBA and has nearly 600 fighters.

Borris unveiled the PFA's credo as, "Take from the rich and give to the poor." He said, according to estimates, that UFC fighters make 15 percent of promotion revenue, whereas fighters in the other major sports make close to 50 percent of league revenue. Borris said fighters are getting "bullied" and it's "almost embarrassing."

"The UFC is laughing at these fighters," Borris said.

Borris also took shots at the MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA), which is embroiled in an antitrust lawsuit with the UFC and has support from legends like Randy Couture. The MMA does not support a full-on union, but wants boxing's Ali Act to extend to MMA. Borris said fighter conditions have not improved since the MMAFA began in 2009.

"The MMAFA has had seven years," Borris said. "Let's see what we can do."

Borris said the main first priority of the PFA if it was able to collectively bargain for fighters would be to raise the purse minimums. Right now, the minimum purse is $10,000 to show and another $10,000 to win. The second priority would be to get the fighters full medical coverage. Currently, they have coverage for injuries sustained in fights, but not if they got an illness or anything for spouses and children.

Over the next few months, Borris will be hitting the road in an attempt to educate fighters about potential unionization. No one has signed an authorization card as of yet and there is no official timetable the PFA is setting. But Borris believes this is something fighters want and need.

"The system is lopsided, grossly unfair and at the whim of the UFC," Borris said.