More unredacted document notes shows fighter discontent with…finding fights

August 9, 2019

In our third installment of looking into the newly unredacted expert report of Hal Singer, we take a look at issues with getting fights in the UFC.

Fighter pay has been the topic of much discussion when it comes to the UFC.  While it is one of the topics driving interest in this lawsuit, it is not the linchpin to the plaintiffs’ case.  But an impactful part of it.

Yet, the fight to actually fight in the UFC is an ongoing problem.  Anecdotally, UFC Middleweight Julian Marquez recently tweeted out that he is awaiting his next fight.  Marquez has only fought twice in the UFC with his last fight happening on July 6, 2008.  The middleweight stated that he doesn’t know when he’ll fight next.

Marquez’s plight is not the only one.

One of the documents cited by Dr. Singer in his expert report includes Angela Hill’s text to Sean Shelby asking if she would be ‘shelved again for 6 months?’  She told Shelby that she is ‘strapped for cash.’

Despite fighter frustration on not knowing when their next UFC appearance and pay will come from, Dr. Singer’s report reflects a roster filled with athletes ready for action.

Kyle Kingsbury, one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, noted at his deposition that Dana White controlled their careers and could either give you a tough opponent or put you on the undercard so you could make far less.

Former UFC Heavyweight Josh Barnett’s agent expressed frustration with the situation. Leland Labarre, Barnett’s rep, wrote to Sean Shelby and Michael Mersch, “As you know, a fight every 4 months or so would be typical for MMA fighters, whose career primes are generally short. Conversely, a 4-fight deal with a 5-year exclusive term is unheard of. The interpretation you have provide is simply unreasonable.”

Even if a fighter retired, Zuffa would not release them from their contract if there were fights remaining. A footnote reveals texts concerning Mark Bocek wishing to be released from his contract after he announced his retirement. Zuffa refused due to the potential of Bocek going to another organization. Bocek was told that he would not be released with a reply by Lorenzo Fertitta stating, “Every fighter from Chuck Liddell, Mark Coleman, etc that retired in the middle of their contract are still under contract. You can do anything to make money you just can’t fight anywhere else.”

 The footnote also discusses how it suspended Rampage Jackson’s contract when he informed the UFC that he was going to retire. Even if Zuffa did not receive a request from the fighter, it would threaten the promoter. That is what happened in the case of Melvin Guillard when he attempted to fight on a Combat Fighting Championship event. Even if the combat sport was not MMA, Zuffa would step in. This is what happened when Zuffa denied one of its athletes whether they could participate in a judo match.

Dr. Singer cites documents which supports the position that athletes were not able to obtain fights and this was due in part to a full roster. In August, 2011, Joe Silva stated that there were “too many guys.” Dana White stated in February 2013, “We have 470-something guys under contract…We have over 100 guys too many.”

Dr. Singer identifies Zuffa’s exclusivity provisions in its contract as conduct which prevented athletes to go to other promoters. “Zuffa was consistently able to keep Fighters bound by the exclusionary provisions in its contracts—and thus unavailable to other MMA promoters—while simultaneously promoting an insufficient number of bouts given the unumber of Fighters on its roster.” He went on to argue in his report that this ‘Challenged Conduct’ of limiting the options for fighters prevented them from earning pay as fighters. “In the absence of the Challenged Conduct, Zuffa’s ability to restrict Fighter career paths would have been curtailed, because these Fighters would have had more viable paths for pursuing their careers with other MMA promoters.”

The fighter discontent on the amount of activity coupled with Zuffa’s exclusive contracts and policy of not allowing athletes to fight elsewhere is an issue that Dr. Singer has highlighted as ‘Challenged Conduct’ which attributes to the anti-competitive scheme which is a part of the lawsuit.  How much will this information persuade the Court will be interesting to see in a couple weeks.

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