For years, talk of a fighters’ union had been circulating around the MMA world as a way for the fighters to get back some negotiating power against the UFC, but nothing much ever happened. Then, after the UFC sold for $4.2 billion, a number of fighter-led organizations popped up. Those efforts all seemingly failed but though the battle has been lost, the war is not over. At least, so says Kevin Lee.
Speaking recently with Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience MMA Show, “The Motown Phenom” addressed the subject of a fighters’ union, saying that he believes one is has to happen eventually.
“I think it’s inevitable,” Lee said. “Eventually it’s gonna happen. I think it’s once the UFC - the UFC is gonna change a little bit, I feel like. It’s the same way I’m looking at the way Facebook has been doing stuff and all these other companies, these large private companies but they’re so big.
“The UFC is a sports organization but it’s so big now to where it’s damn near public. Once that kind of changes and once they open up the books and people really start to pay attention to it, then maybe somebody on the outside who is way smarter than anyone of us - because we’re fighting, we ain’t really worried about the legalities of it. I’m just signing a contract, I don’t really give a f*ck. But once somebody who is smarter kind of takes a look at it and sees what’s going on and how it is, then they’re gonna start up something. They have to. It’s kind of crazy.”
That kind of already happened though. After the UFC’s $4B sale, a group of high profile fighters attempted to start the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association, including Georges St-Pierre, Donald Cerrone, and T.J. Dillashaw. It petered out quickly. Rob Maysey - an Arizona-based attorney - also helped start up the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association with the support of some big name fighters. It is still going but is focused on implementing the Ali Act in MMA, a battle that has yet to gain much traction. Perhaps the most notable effort to unionize came from Leslie Smith who headed up Project Spearhead. Smith lobbied hard but was unable to sway most of her fellow fighters. She left the UFC last year and is now planning on legal action against the organization for “encouraging a climate of fear” to prevent fighters from publicly organizing.
All of these efforts have had the same goal though: increase fighter power in the UFC. Currently the UFC takes home the lion’s share of the profits of their product and are at liberty to make sweeping changes that directly affect the lives and income of fighters, and the fighters can do little to combat that. And, according to Kevin Lee, the little leverage they do have is often undercut by other fighters only looking out for themselves in the short term. Take Lee’s effort to force the UFC’s hand with a 165-pound division.
“It’s kind of a shame on our part almost,” said Lee. “It’s the same way I said [to Rafael dos Anjos] ‘Let’s meet at 165.’ We already don’t have a lot of leverage, bro. There’s only so many things that we can do.”
Dos Anjos refused the offer and the fight was contested at 170 pounds.
All that being said, Lee says he is not the one to spearhead such an endeavor because he’s mostly happy with how things are and his few complaints aren’t really that big.
“Yeah. Honestly, I have no real complaints about it,” said Lee. “I’m signing on the line, I know what I’m signing up for. Anytime I do and I say I’m gonna do something, I always make sure I hold up my end and I’m gonna do it. [The UFC has] afforded me so much to where my life is so much different than I thought it would be. I truly thought that everything would just look different. It provided a better life for my family. It’s just afforded me so much that any negatives on it, I can’t really . . . it’s just like grievances, almost.”
That’s not so say he’s perfectly happy. And with so many other fighters recently testing free agency and leaving the UFC for other opportunities, Lee also says that one day that may be him.
“Competition is always good,” said Lee. “It’s just building even more and bigger and better. And it’s really the sport that we’re looking after. I’ve been in a contract with the UFC for a long while now but if another organization was to ever, you never know. I never know what the future can hold.”
Kevin Lee is coming off of a loss to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Rochester. It was Lee’s debut fight at 170 pounds. He does not currently have a next fight planned.
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Proper Twelve!— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) June 6, 2019
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Next up is the 12th.
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I’ve said it 100 times: if selling for $4B didn’t get fighters to wake up and unionize, nothing will. Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.
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