What is a UFC Fighter's Union? | Explained
Chances are that you've heard of MMA fighters mentioning the word 'union' and 'unionization'.
In this page, we'll go over what this means, the pros and cons of a union, failed unions in the past, and what would have to happen in order for fighters to form a union.
Table of Contents
Pros of Unions
Unions become the middlemen for fighters and sports organizations, and they negotiate on the behalf of the athletes for important matters including pay, working conditions and their rights as athletes.
Major sports that have unions are able to successfully negotiate revenue splits. This means whatever the company makes, the athletes in these sports are able to get 45%-51% of the revenue.
Currently in the UFC, fighters receive 16%-19% of the revenue.
To put it into perspective, in the NBA players receive 50% of the revenue.
In the NFL, players receive 48% of the revenue.
In boxing, fighters are able to receive giant earnings mostly thanks to the Muhammad Ali act.
The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act is a U.S. federal law that came to pass May 26, 2000. It was brought about to halt widespread abuse (via exploitation, rigging of bouts and unfair mismatches) against licensed boxers by promoters.
With a union, fighters will easily be able to at least triple their earnings, and receive similar shares that athletes of major sports do.
Gone will be the days of $10k to show up, and $10k to win. For most fighters, even if they win, it won't cover their training camp fees, diet, management fee, and coaching fees.
It's unclear specifically how working conditions would be negotiated with a union.
In the NFL for example, they mainly focus on what they're able to do in their training camp (before the season), such as how many live physical contact practices they're able to have, how many mandatory workouts, and things of that nature.
Seeing as MMA is an individual sport, this portion is yet to be determined.
However, it could definitely be impacted as far as COVID-19 protocols in the arenas that they arrive to a week prior to the fight, what fighters must receive when they arrive (hotel rooms, equipment, expenses that can be written off etc).
Athletes have certain rights, and with a union this will be one of the biggest impacts for fighters.
Specifically, the UFC has massive leverage in being able to 'convince' fighters to take certain fights, even champions.
If champions are not keen to the idea of fighting a certain opponent, or fighting at a certain price tag, they're threatened to be stripped of the title, or an interim title will be made.
Regarding today’s interim news, you’d be shocked how often they threaten this &/or how often they threaten to strip. And while most of the criticism has been directed towards Dana White - he is the face after all - it’s really been the M.O. of Hunter Campbell since he took over.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 28, 2021
Plan After Fighting
Receiving a pension and/or health insurance long after fighting is something that would be a major step forward for the athletes of the sport.
Dillashaw: It would be nice to have a plan after fighting. I have to pay for health insurance for myself right now— Jason Floyd (@Jason_Floyd) November 30, 2016
Currently, everything that they earn they have allocate as their salary, retirement and health insurance. Add taxes on to that and their earnings quickly disappear.
Almost all major professional sports have plans in place to take care of athletes, long after they've participated in the sport.
In the NFL
The NFLPA (NFL Players Association, the union of the NFL) in particular is in charge of representing all players in matters concerning wages, hours and working conditions and protects their rights as professional football players.
Cons of Unions
Two major aspects, the first one is that unions aren't free. They will be paid by the athletes, and these fees can't be opted out of.
The second major aspect is that at times, athletes may not agree with what the union wants to do.
For example, if a fighter really wants to negotiate getting their training camp paid for, but the union opts to push for a larger percentage in revenue.. Regardless of which options is better, the athlete and the union will be at crossroads.
You can find more information on the cons of unions below and this link.
- Unions do not provide representation for free. Unions aren't free. ...
- Unions may pit workers against companies. ...
- Union decisions may not always align with individual workers' wishes. ...
- Unions can discourage individuality. ...
- Unions can cause businesses to have to increase prices.
Failed Unions in the Past
In 2016 there was attempt to set up a fighters union featuring some of the biggest names in the sport such as George St-Pierre, TJ Dillashaw, Tim Kennedy, Cain Velasquez and Donald Cerrone.
The Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association is here. #MMAMovement pic.twitter.com/U1alwC0uWm— The MMAAA (@Themmaaa) November 30, 2016
Kennedy: what we are doing today isn't about me or the other fighters here, it's about yesterday's and today's fighters.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) November 30, 2016
It appeared on the scene with lofty goals only to seemingly vanish within 2 months with no explanation.
What it Would Take to Form a Union
Luke Rockhold was recently on the MMA Hour and he made some great points regarding a union.
How about the fire @LukeRockhold was spitting yesterday? My word. https://t.co/eSIr3WNOkf— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) September 14, 2021
He explained that fighters only get 18% of revenue when it’s 50% in other sports, and even touched on how a great opportunity to form a union just passed.
With the UFC and Francis Ngannou at odds during negotiation, the UFC decided to create an interim heavyweight belt.
Rockhold explains that this would've been the perfect opportunity for his 'brothers' (champions Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya) to stand up for Ngannou and band together to demand their worth.
Lastly, he alluded that some managers value their relationship with the UFC more than their actual clients.
If you've been following the UFC for some time, you'll have noticed that some managers are absolutely favored more than others, which leads to certain fighters receiving bigger fights.
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