Deron Williams has a unique perspective on the possibility of a UFC fighters union.
Williams, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a member and major proponent of the NBA Players Association (NBAPA). He’s also a longtime UFC fan. And now he’s closer than ever to the sport of mixed martial arts as the co-owner of Fortis MMA in Dallas.
In viewing the fighters who train at his gym, Williams sees what he describes as a a high-risk-and-low-reward situation. He sees fighters who are “putting in a lot of work — blood, sweat and tears — for very little money,” Williams told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour.
“It’s just tough on them,” Williams said. “You talk about the UFC, it’s not like basketball. We have a players union that’s fighting for us and helping us better our contracts and things like that. These guys are kind of just on their own and it’s whatever [the UFC says] goes. So, it’s a tough situation.”
Recent attempts to start a fighters union have been futile and associations have had a hard time gaining a foothold as well. The MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA), which has been around since 2008, has had the most success, spearheading an antitrust lawsuit against the UFC that is currently in litigation.
Talk of some kind of organization of fighters hit a fever pitch when the Fertitta brothers sold the UFC to WME-IMG for more than $4 billion last summer, but have cooled down since then. While NBA players see an increase in salaries when the league signs a new broadcast deal — as mandated by the collective-bargaining agreement with the NBAPA — UFC fighters don’t get a percentage of the promotion’s broadcast money. And that money is likely to expand exponentially when the UFC’s deal with Fox is up next year.
“I don’t know what’ll happen,” Williams said. “I think there’s definitely some changes need to be made, because it’s kind of taking a lot of money out of their pockets the way things are going. It’s working for the UFC, obviously. The business model is working. I don’t know.”
Williams has been a fan of the UFC for years and has been training in MMA himself, too. Williams said he has trained on and off for about four years, but has really gotten into it in the last 18 months, especially Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He trains with his coach and partner Sayif Saud at Fortis MMA, with Rob Handley in Utah and with UFC veterans Josh Burkman and Steven Siler, too. Williams said he’s usually in the gym three to four times per week in the offseason.
When his NBA career is over, Williams said he’d love to compete in jiu-jitsu competitions. He is, after all, a former wrestling youth state champion in Texas.
“I’m gonna do some jits tournaments, for sure,” Williams said. … “I’ll probably have to [after retirement]. It’ll probably be the smartest thing to do.”
Right now, Williams has plenty on his plate. The 12-year NBA veteran is the backup point guard for the Cavaliers, who are currently in the NBA Eastern Conference finals. Williams is a three-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Still, if a basketball game comes on at the same time as an MMA fight, Williams will choose MMA every time. He said he watches every UFC card, from Fight Pass prelims to the main event. Williams calls his favorite fighter Jon Jones, but since he has been inactive Demetrious Johnson is Williams’ second choice.
“Jon Jones was my favorite fighter,” Williams said. “He hasn’t fought in two years, it’s hard to say somebody that’s not out there. But I love watching Mighty Mouse. He’s amazing. He’s just so technical. He’s great standup, wrestling, he’s slick on his back. He can do it all.
“Not a lot people like the 125ers. There’s not a lot of knockouts, to be honest. But watching him and what he does, it’s so crazy. He’s so patient, he’s so smart.”
Williams, 32, is definitely a student of MMA. And he’s got a stake in it now, too. He’s not sure if there will ever be a union like NBA players have, but he’ll surely be keeping a close eye on the developments.
“I know guys have talked about it,” Williams said. “You’ve seen fighters talk about it in the past. It seems like when they talk about it, they end up in Bellator.”