In a historic ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware certified a ’bout class’ of over 1,200 fighters in a lawsuit against the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The claim states that the UFC illegally foreclosed rival MMA promotions and suppressed fighter pay through the use of long-term exclusive contracts, coercive conduct, and the elimination or acquisition of competitors.
According to Forbes, this landmark decision is a significant step in allowing retribution for the fighters affected. According to Judge Boulware, the UFC’s market share of ‘Elite Professional MMA Fighter services’ within the United States is between 71-99%, depending on the time frame and how they are measured.
The ruling additionally cites a specialized method in which the UFC pressures fighters into remaining with their promotion. They use what Judge Boulware describes as “ruthless and brutal coercive tactics,” such as forcing a fighter into a difficult match-up if they decline a contract renewal. Former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s statement “I always renegotiate before the last fight”, spoke to this practice, and it was validated by former welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch’s quote, “They do that to everybody. We’re going to hold your bout agreement until you sign your extension. We won’t allow you to become a free agent.”
Michael Merch, UFC’s former Vice President of Business, Legal and Government Affairs, implicitly attests to this practice. “If a fighter is successful under a 4 fight deal, we typically negotiate a new agreement after the 3rd fight so he never will see the end of his contract and, assuming the fighter is successful, or at least competitive, that is the process that will continue thereafter.”
The ruling also declined to certify an ‘identity class’ which claimed the same UFC conduct had anticompetitively reduced licensing rights compensation, resulting in the removal of former middleweight title challenger Nate Quarry from the case.
The long-term implications of this ruling remain to be seen, but the implications of this landmark decision in terms of MMA fighter’s rights and pay are undeniable and will be felt for years to come.