A group of mixed martial arts fighters held a press conference today to announce that they had filed an antitrust suit against the UFC, alleging that fighters "are paid a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace." The suit, filed by fighters Nate Quarry, Cung Le, and Jon Fitch, seeks class-action status to include all fighters who have ever fought in or had their identities used to publicize a UFC-promoted bout.
The suit alleges that Zuffa, LLC—the UFC's parent company—controls 90% of "all revenue generated by MMA events from the Relevant Output Market in the U.S. and North America, and upon information and belief, throughout the entire world," and that this control was obtained through illegal anticompetitive tactics. It argues that the UFC created a monopoly by buying competitors like Strikeforce and Pride FC, and through language included in the contracts it signs with fighters, promoters, and venues, and that in all this violates a variety of laws intended to keep markets competitive.
To fight in UFC bouts, fighters must sign incredibly controlling contracts that can significantly hamper their career. The lawsuit details how these contracts hurt fighters—they need written permission to use the term "UFC"—as well as (allegedly) unfairly prevent competition:
Thus, although a single loss could allow the UFC to terminate a UFC Fighter's contract, the Ancillary Rights Clause remains in effect in perpetuity. As a result, the UFC can restrict a UFC Fighter's ability to promote himself or herself for profit even after the UFC Fighter's career with the UFC has ended. Further, a separate clause in the agreement prevents a Fighter from ever referring to himself or herself as a "'UFC fighter'" or "using the term 'UFC' without written permission." Among other anticompetitive effects of this provision, even if a would-be rival promoter could get access to a current or former UFC champion, those champions cannot advertise their status as UFC champions. Accordingly, a potential rival promoter would be impaired in attempting to contract with the former UFC Fighter to headline live MMA bouts.
The lawsuit also includes some funny examples of the UFC reveling in its dominance, like this image of UFC president Dana White and the two biggest owners of Zuffa, LLC at a sports conference standing in front of a screen that reads "World Fucking Domination Reshaping the Sports World" (the suit says the image presented was altered because of offensive language):
Morally, these fighters have an unquestionably just cause—the UFC has used a variety of sketchy and shady strategies and tactics so as not to have to pay athletes as much as it might, and to generally alter the competitive landscape. Whether all of this has actually violated the law is a much more ambiguous question, but that's what the courts are for.
According to AP, at the press conference announcing the suit lawyers wouldn't name the amount of monetary damages being sought, but if it achieves class-action status and includes hundreds of UFC fighters, you can bet it'll be a lot—almost certainly reaching into the nine figures.
You can read the suit below, and our pal Josh Gross has some valuable background on all of this over at his site.
Photo via Anthony Kwan/Getty