Don’t question Andrew Yang’s UFC fan bonafides. The New York native planned his bachelor party around the TUF 12 Finale in Las Vegas back eight years ago. He’s been a hardcore enthusiast of mixed martial arts for more than a decade and remains so.
What can be questioned is why Yang — a potential U.S. Presidential candidate in 2020 — has taken to Twitter recently to slam the UFC’s labor practices and how much (or how little, if you ask him) the promotion pays fighters.
Yang told MMA Fighting that he was scrolling through Sherdog a few weeks ago to find out the results from UFC Lincoln when he stumbled upon an article with UFC president Dana White talking about how the UFC is now worth $7 billion. Of course, the promotion was sold by the Fertitta brothers to WME-IMG (now Endeavor) for $4 billion in 2016.
White’s braggadocio turned Yang’s stomach, the entrepreneur said. Yang believes that the UFC is only worth as much as it is, because the share of revenue that goes to fighters is kept relatively low compared to other sports.
“I just found it disgusting, because the reason why it’s supposedly worth $7 billion is because they are underpaying fighters by a factor of four, relative to what they should be paying by any common sense standard,” Yang said. “And also by the standards of other major sports. So Dana White is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He’s like, ‘MMA is going to be the biggest sport in the world, MMA is the biggest thing,’ and then he’s paying people 10, 12 percent of revenues when every other major sport is paying between 47 and 51 percent.
“So, I just got angry about that. That Dana White is such a moron, honestly. Because if you’re going to exploit workers, you might want to keep that valuation under your hat. That to me is fairly common sense.”
Yang, 43, said he has been staying updated on Leslie Smith’s case against the UFC with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Smith claims she was released by the UFC, because of her role as the president of Project Spearhead, which is seeking to organize fighters and determine if they are legally employees. Yang said he actually donated a few months ago to Smith’s gofundme, which she started to raise money for legal fees.
“This is a national story, but it’s getting buried because it’s MMA,” Yang said.
When WME-IMG bought the UFC, it sold some shares of the MMA promotion to its celebrity clients — people like Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Ben Affleck, LL Cool, The Weeknd, Serena Williams and Cam Newton. Yang said those famous names probably have no idea about the UFC’s pay structure and labor situation. The UFC has said publicly that its share of revenue is similar to that of other sports.
“They’ve benefited themselves from really significant industry bargaining power and then they’re passively siding with centimillionaire Dana White, who is nickel-and-diming the Leslie Smiths of the world,” Yang said. “It’s deeply screwed up. … I see that most of these fighters are working their ass off to make chicken scratch. They should be getting paid four times more.
“Their agents are certainly complicit. In my opinion, these agents did not do their jobs by pitching this investment to these celebrities knowing that the valuation is based upon a clearly exploitative labor market.”
Yang believes that White’s recent meeting with Donald Trump in the White House has played a part in the stalling of Smith’s case. Smith’s attorney Lucas Middlebrook has said that Region IV of the NLRB determined that Smith indeed had a case before the complaint was usurped by the NLRB general counsel in Washington, D.C. The NLRB has declined to comment on the case.
“UFC fans may or may not care,” Yang said. “A lot of folks at WME may or may not care. But a lot of these celebrities would care a lot. And a lot of these celebrities know that if it was the case that their fans knew that they were personally profiting from Donald Trump screwing individual fighters, like Leslie Smith, out of their livelihood, that would be a huge problem. Then they would look at their agents and be like, ‘What did you get me into?’”
The UFC declined to comment on Yang’s critiques and theories.
Yang’s presidential campaign is based heavily on his theories on labor. The Democrat wants to enact a universal basic income for all U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 64 to stave off the dawn of computer automation.
If he were president, Yang said his task with the UFC would be very simple: just apply what’s already on the books. He believes fighters are clearly employees and should receive the benefits as such.
“All it would take is enforcing the given law,” Yang said. “All it would take would be saying to the National Labor Relations Board, ‘Hey, you have this complaint.’ The UFC, by any legal standard, is employing these fighters.”
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