The Champion's Clause: An MMA Comparative
September 7, 2009
A few weeks ago MMAPayout.com examined how Anderson Silva might avoid the “champion’s clause” in his UFC contract in order to seek the oft-rumoured boxing match with Roy Jones Jr. While Silva’s manager, Ed Soares, has since cleared the air with regards to Silva’s intentions, the situation nonetheless has provided an opportunity to shed more light on the champion’s clause – it may surprise you to know that the UFC isn’t the only organization with such a contractual obligation.
“if, at the expiration of the Term, Fighter is then UFC champion, the Term shall be automatically extended for a period commencing on the Termination Date and ending on the earlier of (i) one (1) year from the Termination Date; or (ii) the date on which Fighter has participated in three (3) bouts promoted by ZUFFA following the Termination Date (”Extension Term”). Any references to the Term herein shall be deemed to include a reference to the Extension Term, where applicable.”
The initial term of this Agreement shall commence upon the date of this Agreement is signed by Fighter (Effective Commencement Date”) and shall expire two years from the date that Fight er signs this Agreement or two years from the first bout in which Fight er fights hereunder whichever is the later date, unless terminated or unless extended or suspended in which case this Agreement shall expire no later than seven years from the Effective commencement date hereof. Fighter grants EXPLOSION the option and the right but not the obligation to extend the term of this Agreement (“extended term”) upon the same terms and conditions except as hereinafter set forth for an additional one year if Fight er at any time during the term hereof holds or held a Strikeforce Championship Title.
“If, at any time during the term, FIGHTER is declared the champion of his weight class, a Tournament winner, or a Tournament runner-up, the Term shall be automatically extended for a period commencing on the Termination Date and ending on the earlier of (i) eighteen (18) months from the Termination Date, or (ii) the date in which FIGHTER has participated in three (3) bouts promoted by PROMOTER following the Termination Date (“Extension Term”). Any reference to the Term herein shall be deemed to include a reference to the extension term where applicable.”
The UFC’s clause is the most controversial because it lacks the clarity to be definitive. The consensus seems to be that most courts would interpret the clause to stipulate a one-term only extension of the contract. However, a very strained interpretation of the clause – one where “Term” could also refer to Extension Term – might allow the UFC to automatically renew the contract in perpetuity, so long as the fighter holds the belt at the end of each term.
The wording is so difficult that the matter would likely end up in court should the UFC choose to contest the issue; something that would effectively serve the purpose of the champion’s clause in keeping a fighter away from rival organizations. The wording also raises many interesting questions such as whether the UFC could appoint someone as champion in order to trigger the clause, or whether a champion could in fact resign or relinquish the belt to avoid the clause.
If, indeed, the UFC’s clause is interpreted to be a one-time extension of the contract, it would appear to be far less restrictive than both the Strikeforce and Bellator clauses. Whereas the UFC clause might only be triggered if a fighter holds a championship at the time of his contract’s “Termination Date,” both the Strikeforce and Bellator clauses are triggered if and when a fighter wins a championship at any time.
Are these restrictions a bad thing? It depends on your perspective.
MMAPayout.com’s Robert Joyner has tackled the subject previously when looking Inside the Bellator Contract, and he highlighted a very important point: champion’s clauses are a necessity from an organizational standpoint, because they’re “self-fulfilling” talent retention mechanisms (particularly in the case of Bellator whereby not just champions, but even contenders are re-upped for an additional term).
It’s simply in an organization’s best interest not only to avoid having a fighter leave with a belt or gain substantial negotiating leverage, but also to help retain top-level talent for competitive reasons.
However, from the perspective of the fighter, these types of clauses hinder their ability to cash-in on their in-cage or in-ring success. The fighter isn’t able to immediately hit the open market, or use the leverage of such a potential scenario, to establish contract terms and sell his services for fair market value.
Not surprisingly the rest of MMA’s stakeholders will take sides according to their own positions within the community. Sponsors will side with the UFC, because more stars mean a better product which attracts more attention to their advertised brand. Fans will side with the fighters as the public seemingly always does when it comes down to employer vs. labour. The government is left somewhere in the middle, hoping that nothing becomes too restrictive or too lax that control is lost and regulatory equilibrium thrown out of balance.
…thus it would appear these MMA organization’s aren’t the only ones looking out for their best interests.