The world of mixed martial arts competition and its athletes appear to be in the midst of change. With the UFC under new management (WME/IMG) it appears that a fighter union will come to fruition sooner than later as a team of powerful and experienced sports executives have come together in the name of collective bargain. Only time will tell on whether or not the Professional Fighters Association will be successful in their objective, however it’s important to recognize the athletes and events that helped shift public opinion as it pertains to a fighters union.
MMA journalists including Jeremy Botter, Jonathan Snowden, Ariel Helwani, Kevin Iole, Loretta Hunt, Luke Thomas, Thomas Myers, etc. have been at the forefront of stressing the importance of fighter pay for many years. Then there are the class-action lawsuits filed against the UFC on alleged monopoly by fighters like Jon Fitch, Cung Le, Kyle Kingsbury, Nate Quarry, etc. The Loretta Hunt-Dana White Feud, which resulted in the mainstream media turning sour against Dana White and company definitely put his leadership and character into question many years ago.
Ariel Helwani recent short lived ban after breaking UFC related news before the company got a chance to reveal the news during the UFC 199 PPV was also beneficial in turning public opinion even further away from the UFC. Then of course was the Reebok uniform deal, which was followed by the sponsor tax, which all led to a significant decrease in the potential earnings of athletes.
It’s also important to recognize some of the sport’s pioneers who lent their voice in support of their peers. Those include the Diaz brothers who have continued to complain about their lack of pay, lack of promotion, lack of communication and the UFC’s bully-like mentality when it came to announcing fights. Then there is the greatest welterweight the sport has ever seen, Georges St Pierre. His refusal to return to the sport until the revamping of the UFC’s drug testing system sparked the USADA movement. His refusal to return until he received equal or close to equal pay prior to the Reebok deal has effectively shifted power towards the athlete. His candidness in regards to fighter pay and brain trauma in general has done wonders in the smallest of ways.
Then there is the potential of free agency. Fighters like Gilbert Melendez, Aljamain Sterling, Rory MacDonald and Ben Henderson have made it be known that their top priority is to maximize their earnings over the opportunity to continue fighting in the UFC. Unwarranted firings of longtime UFC employees, Jacob “Stitch” Duran and Burt Watson have also played a major role in turning the tide against the MMA corporation and although the frustration from the fans and media has died down, it slowly but surely appears that the changes necessary in order for the sport to grow will finally come to fruition sooner rather than later.
Despite the talks of the fighter union being solely focused on the UFC and not organizations such as Bellator, World Series of Fighting, and One Fighting Championship, it should be known that this is the first major step in the right direction. What better way then to tackle the biggest obstacle in their way? It might not seem all that great for smaller organizations, but there is some solace in the fact that their fighters are allowed to wear their sponsors in the cage and work their way up to the UFC.