As many of you know I did production work for the UFC over the course of 6-7 years, and wrote for their magazine as well. Along the way I got to know many fighters on a very personal level, and a lot was shared between all of us. These days I'm completely uninvolved with MMA/UFC.
A number of years ago I had a conversation with a former champion about the idea of a union, about which he spoke openly to me. He had just lost his belt, but was signed to a 6 fight deal because as he claimed "they are worried I may go elsewhere." Even though they had no plans on him competing anymore. At the time we were discussing writing a book together, but chose not to do so, and this was before my book with BJ Penn. After our talk in his hotel room, he said to me, "You should represent the fighters!" I laughed it off at the time, but he continued, "You know everyone, most people like you, and you have seen what goes on..."
Cannot say I was not intrigued, nor was it the last time I heard this suggested. But it was not my place, or my journey.
I do believe the fighters should unionize for a variety of reasons, but also think it's difficult for them to do because they're not part of a league. Unless, of course, you consider the UFC a league with one owner, which on some level I think it is. But I absolutely believe these fighters, especially the best of the best, need to protect themselves longer term. Whether that takes the form of a union, or something else, I have no idea. Yet these guys need protection. Just look at the retirees in the NFL.
A union would be very difficult for UFC fighters alone, so it would have to be offered to all MMA fighters. Membership and structure would be somewhat problematic because there are so many low-level fighters filling up cards these days it would be hard to bring them all under an umbrella, although I'm sure it could be done. Which brings me to another point...
The reason there are so many low level fighters, with combatants coming in and out of the company, is because the UFC is in fact attempting to monopolize the sport. They schedule their events to coincide with every boxing match, or other promotion's event(s). Certainly they're attempting to monopolize the sport, but who can blame them? Because of this practice of having so many lackluster events, we've reached a point where fight-cards are lined with filler fights with one cherry on top. And if that cherry happens to fall off because of an injury, like when the Jon Jones / Dan Henderson event was scrapped, an entire event is cancelled. In previous years any number of undercard fights could carry a PPV, but not anymore. Again, this is because the UFC has spread it's product so thin in an attempt to keep other promotions out of the space.
Is that a monopolistic practice? Absolutely. Does that make them a monopoly? Probably not. Surely this will be part of the argument regarding a "monopoly", but I'm not lawyer.
All of this said, irrespective of the fact I think fighters need a union, is I don't think the UFC will be declared a monopoly by the Department of Justice, which is where this probably ends. I say this because of the argument surrounding the 1994 case involving Ticketmaster, wherein the Justice Department failed to bring action against a company which was much more a monopoly than the UFC, at least that's my opinion.
It was argued then that Ticketmaster didn't have a monopoly because even though they controlled a substantial number of major venues in America (the majority of them), there were still countless other venues for artists to perform at. That TM did not control a majority of concert spaces in America, even if they controlled the marquee properties, meant Pearl Jam (petitioner) had many other options, both in the selling of tickets and spaces to perform.
The same can be said in this situation. There are a number of outlets for fighters to perform, some of which are even on cable television. Considering these fighters are individual actors, they have the right to fight in any promotion, and take the risk he/she is popular enough to garner an audience, which in turn would result in higher pay. It would even result in the rise in popularity of a separate promotion.
So no, I don't think the fighters will be successful in claiming the UFC runs a MMA monopoly.
I do think it's quite possible any case made against the UFC will take a bite out of the company, and this is probably the greater point. The recent deal with Reebok was probably a bit too much to chew after a number of fighters feeling they have less earning power because of company practices. This has been happening slowly for many years.
I think one thing to look out for is the structure of fighter contracts, and whether a fighter will more easily be able to leave the UFC for another promotion, if in fact the UFC is claiming each fighter is an individual actor. The contracts are very restrictive.
In summation, I don't see the UFC being labeled a monopoly, but I do think the fighters will make gains from any suit/case going forward.
Pardon my haste in writing this. Sloppy, I know.