Leslie Smith’s Unfair Labor Charge against Zuffa

May 9, 2018

Last week Leslie Smith filed a Complaint with the NLRB citing her dismissal from Zuffa based on her activities in trying to organize fighters.

The Charge Letter, states that Smith was ranked 9th in the world in the women’s UFC bantamweight division and won 3 out of her last 4 fights in the UFC.  According to the filing, Zuffa “misclassifies its fighter employees as independent contractors.”  Smith created Project Spearhead which sought to collect authorization cards from a minimum of 30% of the pro MMA fighters under contract with Zuffa.  She sent approximately 350 public tweets “tagging” fighters with the request that they sign an authorization card to determine whether they were employees and able to get benefits.

The Charging Letter also states that she had communicated with Zuffa to discuss changes to Zuffa’s “UFC Promotional Guidelines.”  Reed Harris set up a meeting with Smith to discuss the queries but, according to Smith, Harris “failed to honor the scheduled meeting.”  She then received an email from Zuffa’s Chief Legal Officer Wm. Hunter Campbell stating that he’d meet with Smith.   However, after multiple attempts, the two could not meet due to Campbell’s schedule (according to Smith).

An interesting fact is that Smith sent pictures of a mouthguard she planned to used for her April 21, 2018 fight against Aspen Ladd.  It contained the words “Project Spearhead” with the organization’s logo on it.  The Charging Letter states that Zuffa took adverse action against her.

Leslie Smith Charging Letter by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

The Complaint states that Smith attempted to negotiate an additional two fights to her UFC contract if she took her fight with Ladd.  At the time, Ladd was over the 135 pound weight limit.  The offer was rejected by the UFC and she was paid her show and win purse instead.  Smith stated that she did not believe that the payment was a quid pro quo to fulfill the end of her contract.  But, instead the UFC had told her the fight was off and soon thereafter received notice that the company was waiving their right to match clause in Smith’s contract which allows her to immediately sign with another organization.  They also let her know that her name had been taken out of the USADA testing pool, a requisite of fighting in the UFC.

Smith argues that the animus that Zuffa had to her efforts to organize fighters via Project Spearhead was a motivating factor in not renewing her contract with the company.

Payout Perspective:

According to Smith’s attorney, the law firm of Morgan Lewis and Bockius will be representing Zuffa in this matter.  The factual information included in this Complaint is interesting and clearly there are two sides to how Smith’s contract ended.  What would have happened if Smith took the fight despite Ladd being overweight and fought with the Project Spearhead mouthguard?  What was the thinking in providing Smith with both win and show money when the UFC has traditionally not given fighters whose fights fall out due to their opponent’s injury/failing to make weight show money?  Is there are other evidence Smith has to show that she was being pegged as someone that UFC no longer wanted due to her efforts to organize fighters?  MMA Payout will continue to follow.


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