16 for 16: No. 4 Legislation to Amend Ali Act Introduced

December 29, 2016

In May 2016, Oklahoma Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin introduced an expansion of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to include MMA.  A Congressional Subcommittee hearing was conducted in December to discuss the issues related to mixed martial arts and how the introduced law would help fighters.

In addition to Congressman Mullin, it is co-sponsored by Democrats including Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Mark Takano of California.  Overall, 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats have put their name to the bill.

The UFC opposes the expansion and hired a lobbying firm to influence legislators into voting down the amendment to the existing law.  Several op-eds have come out to oppose the law citing government overreach among other reasons.  It attempted to strong-arm the December hearing by indicating it would not participate if Randy Couture testified.  It backed off and Jeff Novitsky represented the UFC at the hearing.

The amendment to the Ali Act mirrors the current law with few changes but for the inclusion of combat sports.  Earlier this year, I outlined the issues with the expansion of the Ali Act which included a variety of cases where boxers sued promoters and came up with a loss.  Notably, there could have been more done with the Ali Act to ensure functionality to allow fighters an alternative to needing to file a lawsuit under the Act.

Currently, the Ali Act is in the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee.  There is no word on whether there will be additional hearings on the subject or what the next move will be on the bill.

With the new UFC ownership and its previous relationship with the incoming administration in January I do not know how successful passage will be.  At this point, there seems to be a lot more work to do before it comes to a vote in the House.

16 for 16

5.  UFC 200

6.  The year of Conor McGregor

7.  Bellator signings

8.  UFC pulls credentials for Helwani after breaking news

9.  Legal troubles for Jon Jones continues

10.  WSOF legal woes continues

11.  Ronda Rousey returns

12.  Alliance MMA goes public

13.  GSP declares himself a free agent

14.  Bellator 149

15.  CM Punk debuts

16.  Former Bellator employee sues company, organization sues back

Ali Act sponsor claims UFC attempted to influence witness list of congressional hearing

December 6, 2016

Bloody Elbow reports that the UFC threatened not to participate at a Congressional subcommittee hearing on MMA and the possible expansion of the Ali Act set for Thursday.  The power play was due to Randy Couture’s participation as a witness at the hearing.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Republican congressman Markwayne Mullin, the UFC attempted to influence the hearing by refusing to participate at the hearing.  The hearing is before the subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

The witness list is now public and it appears that based on Congressman Mullin’s statement, the UFC threatened to withdraw the presence of Jeff Novitsky from the hearing.  Novitsky, who is the Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance will be speaking on behalf of the UFC.  The UFC denied Mullin’s statement that they attempted to rescind its participation via Novitsky.

Payout Perspective:

It will be an interesting hearing on Thursday as Couture, Novitsky, Lydia Robertson (Treasurer of the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) and concussion researcher Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University will be testifying.  Mullin’s assertion that the UFC did not want Couture to testify could be true.  The UFC and Couture have had contentious past and the UFC likely does not want him to speak about his side of the story.  Whether or not the UFC attempted to get Couture off of the witness list is another issue.  Certainly, the company has lobbyists working on its behalf and they have talked to legislators including co-sponsors of the Ali Act Expansion Act.

Congressional hearing on Ali Act Expansion set for December 8th

December 3, 2016

The Congressional subcommittee on energy and commerce will have a hearing this Tuesday on the Expansion of the Muhammad Ali Act.  According to the notice, the hearing is entitled, “Mixed Martial Arts: Issues and Perspectives.”

No witnesses have been announced and are by invitation only.  A webcast will be available for public viewing.

Republican Oklahoma congressional representative Markwayne Mullin was the primary sponsor of the bill introduced last May.  Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors to the bill which seeks to expand the current Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to combat sports.  Specifically, the bill is addressed to help mixed martial artists.

Zuffa has employed lobbyists to combat the passage of this bill.  The bill will likely meet stiff opposition despite the bill coming from a Republican.  Current UFC exec, Ari Emmanuel, met with President-elect Donald Trump last month.  While no specifics of the meeting were revealed, Emmanuel and the President-elect have a past business relationship.  One might suspect that Emmanuel’s relationship may influence support to quash the expansion of the Ali Act.

Since the sale of the UFC to WME-IMG, more and more fighters have come forward to discuss their need for better pay and benefits.  Two organizations, the Professional Fighters Association and the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association have come forward seeking support to organize in hopes of negotiating with the UFC on behalf of the contracted fighters.  The two join the MMAFA as organizations that continue to seek better conditions for fighters.  The MMAFA is an active advocate for the expansion of the Ali Act.

Payout Perspective:

The hearing should be interesting as to who will testify and what will be said about the expansion of the Ali Act.  The sale of the UFC will likely come up as well as the current antitrust lawsuit.  The question is whether the expansion of the Ali Act would truly help MMA fighters.  What will interest me is how educated the legislators will be on the sport of MMA and how the application of the bill to MMA will have on the sport.

President-elect meets with UFC owner

November 21, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump met with his former Hollywood agent, and current UFC owner Ari Emanuel on Sunday.

Emanuel met the President-elect at his New Jersey golf course.  Trump touted Emmanuel as “the king of Hollywood.”  The substance of the meeting was not revealed.

Despite being a longtime Democratic fund-raiser, Trump called Emanuel a “great friend.”  Dana White spoke on behalf of Trump at the Republican National Convention and was seen at an GOP party on election night.

Perhaps the meeting included some talk about Emmanuel’s new venture as head of the UFC.  He is one of the new faces of the organization since WME-IMG took over from the Fertitta brothers in July.

One of the relevant issues that the President-elect may deal with is the attempt to amend the existing Muhammad Ali Act to include combat sports.  The UFC has lobbied vehemently against it.  It has enlisted Farragut PR to monitor the Ali Act on behalf of the UFC.

The bill was introduced in late May by Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin.  In late September, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protection as set forth by the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Payout Perspective:

With the new administration set to come in this January, the likelihood that the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act passes is low.  Certainly, having President-elect Trump as an ally will help Emmanuel and the UFC.  Moreover, one would think that a Republican dominated House and Senate would persuade Representative Mullin to shelve the bill or amend it to make it more friendly for promoters.

Show Money Episode 11 talks about the UFC sale

July 17, 2016

I hopped on with Paul Gift and John Nash of Bloody Elbow to discuss the UFC sale and the future impact.  We also learned at the end of the episode that Brock Lesnar was flagged for a potential UFC anti-doping policy violation.

Muhammad Ali Expansion Act revealed

June 17, 2016

The initial draft language for the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act was made public last week.  The language, while likely not the final version, amends the existing act which protects boxers.

The UFC opposes federal regulation of its sport.  Lawrence Epstein, the company’s Chief Operating Officer told ESPN, “We continue to believe the federal government would have no productive role in regulating MMA promotions or competitions.”  This is not the first time the company has lobbied against regulation.  According to Fox Sports.com, Zuffa hired lobbyists to help them oppose Senator John McCain’s proposed amendments to the Ali Act.

Officially the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 amends the Muhammad Ali Act.  It was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Energy and Commerce in late May.

Muhammad Ali Expansion Act by JASONCRUZ206

Payout Perspective:

The language essentially expands the current law to include combat sports.  The language and sections are changed but there is nothing wholly different from the existing law other than combat sports are now a part of the proposed law.  Certainly, the expansion of the Ali Act could cause the UFC, Bellator and other organizations to change its business practices to ensure that it is in compliance with the law.  However, the utility of the law has proven to be a difficult obstacle for fighters that have sued under the Ali Act.

The UFC has retained a lobbying firm to oppose the regulation.  A letter to the committees which will evaluate the proposed law, signed by mainly Republican-backed groups, has been circulating opposing the expansion.  On the other end, MMAFA has released a letter in support of the law.  The letter is signed by many fighters in support of the bill.

UFC hires Farragut Partners to address Ali Act expansion

June 11, 2016

According to a PR industry web site O’Dwyer’s PR, the UFC has retained a Washington D.C. lobbying firm Farragut Partners to combat the expansion of the Muhammad Ali Act.

The D.C. based firm was formed this year.  They are an offshoot of partners from another firm.  They have a list of clients in the telecommunications, energy and healthcare industries.  Earlier this year, T-Mobile chose the firm to help it push support for the “Wireless Tax Fairness Act.”  The bill would enact a five-year moratorium on any new state or local taxes imposed on consumers for wireless service.

The firm also represents Comcast Corp., Altria Group (Tobacco Industry) and Blue Cross/Blue Shield according to opensecrets.org.  Thus far this year, it has reported $950,000 in lobbying income.

Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin introduced the bill late last month.

The bill would introduce measures to expand the Ali Act protecting boxers to all pro combat sports athletes.

A three-person team at Farragut Partners will handle the UFC account including federal legislative staffers for Republican politicians.

Payout Perspective:

Clearly, the UFC opposes federal regulation of MMA and specifically its business practices.  It should not surprise anyone that it has hired a lobbying firm to represent its interests and gain support in opposing the expansion of the Ali Act.  This year it has already spent $110,000 on lobbying firms.  Last year it spent $410,000.  Look for the total for this year to increase due to the Ali Act lobbying efforts.  We shall see if it is money well-spent for the company.

Amendment to Ali Act introduced on Thursday

May 28, 2016

The much-anticipated bill seeking to amend the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act was introduced by Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin this past Thursday.

No text of the act which would amend the current law is available for the public but one would think that this should be available soon.  Democrat Joseph Kennedy is co-sponsoring the bill.  Thus, there is bi-partisan support for the bill as Mullin is a Repbulican.

The congressman is a former MMA fighter and is in support of legislation to protect all combat sport athletes.  Information about the amendment language has been vague.

Despite the intent of the Ali Act, there are issues with the law and its enforcement.

Payout Perspective:

This will be an interesting piece of legislation to track as it makes its way through committee.  While I think the intent is there, the details of the amendments will be the most interesting thing.  The UFC would oppose this Act and despite Bellator advocating for this, allegations in a recent lawsuit against the Viacom-owned company may say otherwise about its business dealings.

Bellator MMA sued for wrongful termination

May 25, 2016

Zachery Light has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Bellator MMA and Viacom citing wrongful termination based on public policy.  Light, a former MMA fighter and employee of Bellator, claims various wrongdoings while working under Scott Coker.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Light’s attorney, William Crosby.

Light, a former amateur wrestler and MMA fighter, was hired by Bellator and worked under Bjorn Rebney.  He became Bellator’s Talent Development Manager.  The lawsuit states he was soon promoted to Talent Development Director.  He was praised for his work and “received the highest ranking on his annual reviews.”

The Complaint notes a shift of business culture when Viacom acquired Bellator and Scott Coker took over.

Light alleges that in September 2015, he became aware of a number of instances in which Bellator “failed to observe and knowingly disobeyed laws enacted to protect the health and safety” of MMA fighters.  Notably, the California law requiring a medical clearance examination by a licensed physician for participants in a MMA fight.  Light claimed that “a reliable source” at Bellator 126 noted that Ryan Martinez’ blood and eye medicals that were submitted to the state of Arizona “were admittedly forged.”  Martinez lost his fight to Nick Rossborough.

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At Bellator 131 in San Diego, Light learned from “reliable sources” that “a number of fighters on the card had submitted California state-required medicals” by Adam Rendon.  Rendon, the lawsuit claims, was not a licensed physician and this was in violation of California law.  Bellator 131 was the first “tentpole” event of the Coker-era which featured Stephan Bonnar fighting Tito Ortiz.

The lawsuit claims that Light talked to Rich Chou, Bellator’s Vice President of Talent, prior to Bellator 126.  Chou indicated to Light that he would follow up but when he did not here from Chou he approached Scott Coker.  According to the Complaint, “Coker told plaintiff (Light) “to do what Chou told you to do,” without addressing these issues.”  Light went back to Chou who, according to the lawsuit, stated he would be terminated if he (Light) “kept pushing the issue.”

Light went back to Coker to question about Rendon.  According to the Complaint, Coker told plaintiff, “a lot of people at Bellator are going to lose their jobs next week.  Do you want to keep yours?”

In addition, the Complaint claims that Coker pressured Light into promoting collusive fights in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  The lawsuit alleges that Coker disliked manager Anthony McGann.  Rampage Jackson and Cheick Kongo were managed by McGann at the time and the Complaint claims that Light was instructed to “convince Kongo to fire McGann as his manager.”  Light was influenced by Coker to have Kongo fire McGann and have him sign a new promotion agreement or he (Light) would be fired.

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Light was instructed to arrange fights for McGann-managed fighters under contract in Bellator with opponents “who would convincingly defeat them.”  This would apparently allow Coker the pretext to cut ties with McGann and his fighters.  The lawsuit makes a point of indicating that “[s]uch collusive matches were tantamount to fight fixing…”

Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower provisions, employees in privately held subsidiaries of publicly traded companies who assist in an investigation into an employer’s violation are protected from employer retaliation.  Under the California Business and Professions Code, there is a similar provision claimed by Light.

Light also indicates that in “late 2014 and early 2015,” Mike Kogan was hired by Bellator in an executive capacity.  Kogan, who Light alleges is a “close friend” of Coker claims that Kogan was “paid management commissions for fighters he represented in bouts that occurred with defendant Bellator.”  This would be a “serious conflict of interest” and violation of California law.

The lawsuit states that due to stress-related to Coker and Chou refusing to follow laws and regulations and “requiring plaintiff to engage in illegal practices as a condition of keeping his job,” Light suffered an anxiety attack.  The health scare occurred on April 10, 2015 after Bellator 136 on the campus of UC Irvine.  He was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.  Light had to take an extended medical leave.  He was cleared to return to work without restrictions on March 10, 2016 but was terminated on March 17, 2017 via a letter.  He was advised that “his job was no longer available.”

Payout Perspective:

This will be an interesting case as it goes forward.  Since it was filed just yesterday, there’s still a lot to digest about the claims.  As with many wrongful termination lawsuits, the allegations are salacious and may or may not be true.  One would expect Bellator to deny the claims and file a motion to dismiss – none of which is earth-shattering.  Obviously, the claims present a public relations issue as the company in support of amending the Ali Act to include MMA fighters are accused of doing things that oppose the protections claimed in the Ali Act.  Also, the conflict between promoter and manager rears its head in another MMA promotion.  We shall see about the veracity of the claims and how will Bellator address them.

MMA Payout will continue to follow.

UFC contacts legislator seeking to amend Ali Act

May 22, 2016

Last week, ESPN ran an article on the proposed amendment to the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act which would cover mixed martial artists.  Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin has indicated that he would spearhead the effort to amend the law to extend to all combat sports including MMA.

While Bellator has indicated it would support such an amendment, the UFC is not in favor of one (although no specifics have yet to be discussed).  The ESPN story reports that the UFC has met with Congressman Mullin on at least on two occasions.  One would surmise the meetings would be to lobby the congressman not to amend the current Ali Act.  It should be noted that the UFC has not seen the proposal that the congressman seeks to amend.

For his part, the congressman has been vague with what he would do to the Ali Act aside from making it applicable to combat sports.  He’s stated that promoter disclosure of revenues to fighters would be one of the reasons why the bill should be amended.  Of course, the Ali Act, as it stands, has posed its own problems with this disclosure as the current law is not specific as to when the promoter must disclose financial information which makes it difficult for a fighter to negotiate.  A recent example of this problem is boxer Chris Algieri.

One of the concerns from the UFC is the rankings component of the Ali Act which would assess ranking fighters.  Section 11 of the Ali Act gives the Association of Boxing Commissions the right to develop guidelines for rating pro boxers.  Of course, the UFC has its own rankings.  It is not clear on how, or what governing body would have the right to develop guidelines for mixed martial arts. This part of the law would take control from the UFC.

Payout Perspective:

If you wondered how fighters have fared when suing under the Ali Act, you can check this out.  For the UFC, amending the Ali Act would mean having to abide by outside regulators and subject them to the possibility of litigation under the Act.  But, as we’ve seen, litigating under the Ali Act is not as easy as it might seem.  Mullin has yet to reveal his proposed amendments to the Ali Act.  This is likely done on purpose so as not to tip off opposition.  One would hope the amendments would be advantageous to fighters so that if they are an aggrieved party, they can seek assistance under the law.