The Professional Fighters Association, a new union attempting to appeal to UFC athletes, announced its launch today. “The MMA business is a billion dollar industry where all fighters, even the ones at the top, receive only a fraction of what they deserve,” its statement reads. “This will continue unchecked until there is a unified front on the part of the fighters in order to level the playing field and stop those at the top from taking advantage of the fighters in the Octagon. Remember – the fighters generate the revenue.”
The PFA is being spearheaded by former MLB agent Jeff Borris, National Basketball Referees Association (“NBRA”) counsel Lucas Middlebrook, and the economist Andrew Zimbalist. Higher-ups at the MLBPA, NHLPA, and NFLPA have pledged solidarity.
The PFA’s release also includes this graphic:
UFC fighters would all benefit greatly from a strong union. However, this does not mean it’s something that is likely to happen in the near future. Last October, MMA Junkie detailed the extensive difficulties that fighters have faced in organizing their labor. Given that UFC just sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion, it’s natural that a new attempt to collectively bargain better fighter pay would spring up.
While there are obvious differences between WWE and UFC — most notably the scripted nature of the former and shorter earning windows of performers in the latter — a conversation I had with Steve Austin about two years ago is relevant. Before he became hellbent on shilling for Wendy’s BBQ in every answer, he provided the reason WWE would, in his opinion, never unionize:
“The word ‘union’ came up many times in my career, but the deal is that top guys get taken such good care of and middle guys are okay,” Austin told me. “Guys at the bottom, you know, are the guys at the bottom. So, you’re never gonna get true unity because the guys on top are making too much money to side with everyone else and forego their well-being. The thought of a union is intriguing. But, will it ever happen? I think not.”
Philosophically, one would certainly imagine that UFC fighters should get paid similar revenue percentages of professional athletes in other sports, especially when you consider the physical risks involved with cagefighting. While the UFC has plenty of churn programming in between its major events, it thrives (or will struggle later, maybe) on the basis of the drawing power (or lack thereof) of its biggest stars.
Conor McGregor realized this a couple months ago; however, when he attempted a power play, his rematch with Nate Diaz was pulled from UFC 200. If Dana White and UFC granted any concessions for McGregor to sign on for the fight to happen at UFC 202 instead, we haven’t heard anything about what they were.
However, McGregor is just one star, and his contractual status already meant that UFC could beat him in a game of chicken. A union would need to obtain the buy-in of everybody along the lines of McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, Amanda Nunes, Nate Diaz, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and so on and so forth. (Yes, Lesnar and Jones are currently embroiled in USADA turmoil, and CM Punk has not proven anything in UFC, but all three are major draws.)
While it would not be painless, UFC can afford to wait out their rank-and-file. Where they would really be in trouble is if the union was able to achieve solidarity amongst the sport’s biggest stars. For this union to crack the UFC in any meaningful way, it means convincing them to sit out months and months of immediate paydays, and exposure. Could this happen? Sure. Is it likely anytime soon? Probably not.