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.

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