In 2016, the Ultimate Fighting Championships (“UFC”) set the record for the largest sale in sports history. The UFC, the primary promotion company of the once fringe sport of mixed martial arts (“MMA”) had matured into a mammoth 4 billion dollar promotion, but not without some growing pains. The league is replete with controversy, mostly dealing with disgruntled athletes over compensation. Athletes of the UFC feel that they are being financially exploited and they may be correct. The athletes are choosing different routes to remedy their pay disparities but they are misguided.
The first course of action chosen by the fighters is litigation, as a group of former UFC fighters have filed a class action antitrust suit against the UFC. Fighters are also lobbying for legislation in an attempt to expand the Muhammad Ali Act to regulate MMA as another method of resolution. While both will ultimately fail to appease the aggrieved athletes, the process may injure the UFC brand, something fighters may want to avoid. By reviewing similar antitrust disputes in sports and entertainment, the failure of the lawsuit against the UFC becomes apparent. As for the legislation, the Muhammad Ali Act fell short in protecting fighters in boxing as it was intended and will have the same ineffectualness in MMA. When the UFC was purchased in 2016 by WME-IMG, an immense international entertainment conglomerate, it is not likely the company was ignorant to these unsettled issues. This leads to the conclusion that the league’s prospects are still bright. It is in the fighters’ and the league’s best interests to quell their innate divisive temperaments and negotiate a compromise internally.
Part II of this paper discusses the history of MMA, the sport of mixed martial arts. It also evaluates the evolution and current state of the UFC, the premier league that arranges and promotes the competition of elite MMA athletes. After a brief explanation of relevant antitrust laws, Part III analyzes the merits of the class action lawsuit against the UFC. Part IV explores the distinct nature of MMA and why antitrust enforcement will have varying results from what the athletes hope to achieve. Part V addresses possible effects of the proposed federal legislation amending the Muhammad Ali Act. Finally, Part VI summarizes that the antitrust litigation and proposed regulation will fail to redress the fighters’ affliction of their income but may injure the UFC brand. Thus, imploring the league to be proactive in resolving this issue.
The Justice of Unequal Pay in the UFC: An In-Depth Analysis of the Fighters’ Antitrust Class Action Lawsuit Against the UFC and the Misplaced Support of the Proposed Muhammad Ali Expansion Act,
8 Pace. Intell. Prop. Sports & Ent. L.F.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/pipself/vol8/iss1/1