As WBO seeks to move case to arbitration, Trout points out why it should not

March 19, 2018

The Austin Trout case continues in Puerto Rico and MMA Payout gives you an update on the case in which the former contender is suing his promotion including violations of the Ali Act.  The World Boxing Organization is trying to move this case into arbitration citing the fighter contractual agreement.

Trout originally filed this lawsuit in 2015 and due to jurisdictional issues, the case was moved to federal district court of Puerto Rico.

Once in Puerto Rico, the WBO moved the case to arbitration pursuant to the fighter agreement.  Trout argues that the WBO had waived their chance to move the case to Arbitration but failed to do so when the lawsuit commenced.  The lawyers for Trout argue that the WBO did not include this move to arbitration until its Answer to the Amended Complaint which included a Motion to Compel Arbitration.

Trout argues that the arbitration clause that the WBO is seeking to enforce is invalid and thus, not binding.   He also claims that the WBO cannot use arbitration in this case because it would effectively “be both a party and a judge.”

Trout points to the section of the WBO Championshp Regulations Section 34:

Any WBO Participant, including, but not limited to a Boxer, Manager, or Promoter who is or could be affected by a determination of the World Championship Committee who wishes to contest such a determination must, as his or her sole and exclusive remedy, file a Complaint pursuant to the WBO Appeal Regulations.

In all cases the complaint shall be referred to the WBO President, who may attempt for a reasonable period to resolve the complaint amicably. The WBO President may reject a complaint or he may refer it to the Complaints and Grievance Committee which shall determine the complaint or grievance in accordance with the WBO Appeals Regulations.

As Trout points out, this is inappropriate as it would go through two layers of the WBO (President and Grievance Committee) before determining the viability of the dispute.

The appeal process according to the WBO states: “Three persons designated by the President will constitute the WBO Grievance Committee.  They shall not be members of the Executive Committee.  The Members of the Grievance Committee shall be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Executive Committee.”

The committee would determine whether the fighter’s case would go to binding arbitration according to the WBO Agreement.

Trout points out the issue it has with the WBO attempting to move the case to Arbitration:

In a claim in which, apart from the obvious fact that it is a defendant, it is alleged that Defendant WBO engaged in a pattern of corruption by illegally manipulating its ranking system, allegations that could carry criminal charges under the Muhammad Ali Act, defendant WBO pretends to be party and judge.

There is simply no way the arbitration forum would provide a fair opportunity to plaintiff to pursue his claim. There can be no presumption of fairness, to the contrary. This is not a claim between to [sic] boxers or between a boxer and a manager. This is a claim between a boxer and the WBO.

Payout Perspective:

The case presents the issue of whether a violation under the Ali Act could simply be contracted out of through the use of the Arbitration clause.  In this instance, Trout’s lawyers argue that the WBO have waived their right to arbitration and that the clause is invalid.  As outlined by Trout, the process created by the WBO makes it appear unfair for the aggrieved party since they would have to first take up the issue with the President and then a WBO-appointed committee.  The committee would then decide whether the case would go to Arbitration.

Examining the differing clauses, it would seem that Trout should not have signed this agreement as presented.  If not else, he should have sought that the case be tried in court if the WBO Committee could not come to an agreed settlement/resolution of the matter.  This is a case to keep an eye on as the Court has yet to determine whether the case will be sent to arbitration.

In the future, this case may serve as a template if the Ali Act Expansion is ever passed to include combat sports.  One could foresee MMA promotions including contractual language which would allow for the promoter to seek to have any disputes with fighters go to binding arbitration.  One need only look to the UFC Anti-Doping Rules to see that if there is an appeal it goes to binding arbitration.

MMA Payout will keep you posted on the outcome of the Austin Trout case.

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