Could UFC Fighters Unionize?


(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Patrick Cummins is slammed in to the cage by Corey Anderson, back, during the third round of their Mixed Martial Arts Light Heavyweight bout Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Atlantic City. Anderson won the bout in a decision.

Mixed-martial-arts fighters – including those in the Las Vegas-based UFC – are considering unionization efforts.

If you talk to some of them, though, they'll argue the UFC isn't exactly thrilled with the idea.

One fighter alleges it's the reason why a scheduled fight of hers was scrapped.

Patrick Redford covers the UFC for Deadspin. He told State of Nevada the unionization effort is being headed by a group called Project Spearhead.

The issue for the group is that fighters are defined as independent contractors, and not full-time employees.

"Right now, you have every fighter -- at least in the case of the UFC, which is where it’s working -- fighters are all under contract, so they’re technically independent even though in Project Spearhead’s eyes they are treated like employees," he said.

Those behind the union effort argue fighters have the responsibilities of full-time employees, but not the protections. 

The goal of the group is to take their case to the National Labor Relations Board and have it rule on whether fighters are full-time employees and can unionize.

It will take 150 fighters to sign a union card to form a union. Redford believes there's a chance that fighters will sign the cards.

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"I think there is a decent chance that 150 fighters could sign," he said. "I think enough fighters are underpaid by enough that they see that it is in their best interest to organize."

As for the UFC, Redford said there is no question the organization is against the idea of unionized fighters.

"UFC has vehemently opposed any sort of unionization or organization efforts among fighters, especially because their business model is built on underpaying and undercutting fighters and then selling the roster as a whole, rather than trying to support the organization from within and developing and paying for everyone," he said.

Fighter Leslie Smith is the interim president of Project Spearhead and she said she is being pushed out because of her efforts to unionize.

Redford said Smith is a top fighter who has been drawing a crowd, but her contract was recently bought out by UFC. 

"To shuffle her off when she’s on a two-fight win streak doesn’t quite make sense unless it’s for ulterior reasons," he said.

Redford said Smith was not surprised by the move, but it is not going to stop her from organizing. 



Patrick Redford, Deadspin

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