In the 90s, it became clear that boxing had a problem. The largely unregulated sport featured regular exploitation of the boxers, as well as scandals involving rigged matches and rankings. Congress stepped in and passed the Ali Act in order to combat the worst of these problems.
Today, MMA fighters are largely in the same place as boxers were decades ago. The sport has quickly gained national prominence, but many of the problems that plagued the pre-Ali Act boxing industry have repeated themselves in mixed martial arts.
In addition, MMA fighters are treated as independent contractors even though their behavior and attire are tightly controlled. And any attempt to unionize has been met with retaliation and firing.
Because of the lack of a strong private sector organization to establish uniform and appropriate business practices and ethical standards, it’s necessary for Congress to step in to ensure that the fighters are protected from exploitative situations while also ensuring that fights and rankings are fair. Also, fighters should be empowered to organize an association or union and should be treated as athletes and employees instead of independent contractors.
Mixed martial artists are among the most highly trained athletes in a dangerous sport, and the UFC is a multi-billion dollar business with a broadcast partnership with ESPN. Meanwhile, fighters are left fighting for pennies on the dollar–they receive only 10-15% of revenues versus 50% with other sports–and they live by arbitrary rankings and are fired if they breathe the word ‘union.’ We should apply the Ali Act to MMA and enable fighters to organize and unionize. It will be good for the sport long-term by attracting higher-level athletes and giving the fighters more opportunities to train for more sustainable careers. If you’re going to be a major league sport, you need to act like it.
Problems to be Solved
- Mixed martial arts fighting doesn’t have a strong private sector organization to establish uniform ethical standards or business practices.
- MMA fighters often end up in exploitative contracts, resulting in dangerous situations.
- Any attempts to unionize or organize have been met with firing or retaliation (See Leslie Smith).
- Empower MMA fighters to push back against exploitative situations
- Protect consumers from fixed fights and rankings
As President, I will…
- Work with Congress to extend the Ali Act to mixed martial arts organizations.
- Have the National Labor Relations Board treat MMA fighters as athletes and employees as opposed to independent contractors as consistent with the law.
- Empower MMA Fighters to organize into an association or union.
- Point out the hypocrisy of William Morris Endeavor, whose celebrity clients are now shareholders of the UFC (Conan O’Brien, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, Cam Newton) while it engages in union-busting activities to exploit MMA fighters; at the same time, those clients are the enormous beneficiaries of union membership in their respective industries.