Will UFC’s Belfort gaffe at UFC 152 help Hunt’s RICO claims?
March 11, 2017
As Vitor Belfort heads into the Octagon to face Kelvin Gastelum on Saturday, we take a look at one of the issues brought up in Mark Hunt’s lawsuit: the UFC had information regarding Belfort’s testosterone levels prior to UFC 152.
As we know, Hunt filed a lawsuit against the UFC, Dana White and Brock Lesnar with a variety of legal claims. Among them was a claim for violation under the civil RICO statute which carries with it treble damages (3x actual damages) if proven at trial.
In his Complaint, Hunt points out that at UFC 152, Zuffa allegedly “willfully concealed” Belfort’s TRT use exemption and that Zuffa allowed him to fight at UFC 152 despite prior knowledge that he had elevated testosterone levels.
In its Motion to Dismiss Mark Hunt’s Complaint, Zuffa addressed the issue of Vitor Belfort’s retroactive TUE use ahead of his fight against Jon Jones in 2012.
The revelation of Belfort’s high testosterone levels was due in part to an inadvertent e-mail blast from a UFC paralegal.
Under federal RICO claims, the e-mail communications constitute acts of wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. sec 1343. The wire component is an inextricable part of the civil RICO claim.
In addition to the use of emails, Hunt’s attorneys argue that Lesnar’s ESPN appearance with Hannah Storm on June 6, 2016 and also promotions via the internet and television promoting UFC 200 satisfy the wire fraud component of 18 U.S.C. 1343.
Hunt claims that when the UFC allowed Belfort to fight it was in violation of state and federal laws. Similarly, he claims that his UFC 200 bout with Brock Lesnar was in violation of state and federal laws when it allowed Lesnar to compete against Hunt when it “caused or willfully permitted a doping fighter to compete against HUNT.” They also cite to Hunt’s fights with Antonio Silva and Frank Mir when both failed post-fight drug tests for banned substances.
According to Hunt’s lawsuit, the conduct represented a “pattern of liberally granting purported use exemptions and other drug testing exemptions, without any additional safeguards to prevent abuse.”
In the UFC’s response to the Belfort claims, it argues that the email has nothing to do with Hunt’s current claim for damages. Since Hunt was not one of the unintended recipients to the emails, nor did he see it at the time or rely on the emails. The UFC argues that the communications stemming from Belfort in September 2012 at UFC 152 has nothing to do with Hunt citing he had “zero involvement.” Thus, it argues that there is no proximate cause to Hunt’s claimed injuries. Moreover, the UFC argues that the ESPN interview and similar communications were not intended for Hunt, nor did he rely on them to his detriment. Essentially, UFC frames the communications as “random” and did not “directly cause” Hunt’s alleged personal injuries or lost opportunities.
Hunt argues that the Belfort incident is a part of the pattern of conduct which jeopardize fighter health and safety for the UFC’s profit and shall satisfy the claims under RICO.
Hunt’s attorney citing and re-telling of the Belfort test and the UFC erroneous email is likely a jab at the company to embarrass and color its reputation. It does create the backdrop for which Hunt brings his lawsuit. It’s undeniable that Hunt’s last 3 fights have taken PEDs. It is also clear that Hunt had nothing to do with the Belfort issue at UFC 152. But, it is not certain whether the incident involving Belfort will be taken as a part of a pattern of conduct by the Court.
Here, the UFC is seeking to dislodge Hunt’s grasp of his RICO claim on the procedural component that Hunt is not directly engaged in these communications, a requisite for his RICO claim. Thus, the underlying legalities of Belfort’s exemption does not matter, nor does the UFC want to have to explain the situation.
From Hunt’s perspective, they will likely argue that the Belfort situation creates a pattern of conduct that allows fighters using PEDs to fight clean fighters. This does seem like a hard argument to make but we will see how Hunt’s legal team responds.