In a landmark ruling, a US judge in Nevada has ruled that a class action lawsuit against the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will be allowed to move forward. The suit, which was brought against the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion by almost 1200 fighters, alleges that the UFC has abused its market power to acquire or block rivals and used exclusive contracts to suppress fighter wages.
According to ESPN, Judge Richard Boulware II certified the class to any fighter who competed in the UFC from Dec. 16, 2010, to June 30, 2017, meaning that all of the affected fighters will be able to sue the UFC as one collective group.
Lead attorney Eric Cramer from Berger Montague said the UFC only pays its athletes “only 20 percent” of its event revenues compared to boxing and other major sports, which he claims pay well above 50 percent.
Among the prominent plaintiffs are former UFC fighters Cung Le and Jon Fitch, who are seeking between $800 million and $1.6 billion in damages from the UFC in what they claim to be an illegal monopoly or monopsony. Judge Boulware did not grant certification for the ‘identity class’ part of the suit, where fighters claim the UFC suppressed licensing fees associated with identity rights.
Reacting to the news, plaintiff’s attorney Eric Cramer stated, “Thrilled to announce that the court in the UFC case has certified the class of MMA fighters. We look forward to demonstrating our allegations that the UFC has abused its market power to suppress fighter pay before a jury in Las Vegas. The fight for fighter justice continues!”
William A. Isaacson, lead counsel for the UFC, stated, “We have anticipated this decision, and as we have previously communicated to Judge Boulware, we plan to appeal. This is just one step in a long legal process, and we are confident that the Court will ultimately recognize that the claims outlined in this lawsuit are legally and factually meritless. UFC’s own continued growth accompanied by the growth of other established MMA promoters and the prevalence of successful new market entrants all demonstrate the existence of a healthy and competitive MMA market which benefits athletes, promoters, and fans alike.”
The suit has the potential to be one of the largest of its kind in US sports history and could potentially set a precedent for other big-name promotions to operate more fairly and transparently. For the 1,200 fighters eligible to file lawsuits against the UFC, the ruling is a landmark victory in their fight for fighter justice and fair pay.