The depositions the MMA world has waited for are about to go down, one starting tomorrow.
Key depositions in the class-action antitrust lawsuit against the UFC by six now-former fighters are scheduled to take place in the next 40 days, with former UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta testifying under oath tomorrow, according to a motion to extend the discovery deadline filed yesterday by the plaintiff fighters.
In an effort to push back the current fact discovery deadline of Apr. 30 – and all future case management deadlines – by 60 days, Plaintiffs detailed their “difficulty” in obtaining compliance with document subpoenas and scheduling depositions in a 20-page filing with the District Court of Nevada.
From the filing, former UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and former matchmaker Joe Silva appear set to be deposed on Mar. 23 and Apr. 7, respectively. Dana White was originally confirmed for Apr. 26, but had to reschedule for May 2. Statements under oath from these top executives, along with former CFO John Mulkey (scheduled for Apr. 19) and former General Counsel Michael Mersch (TBD), could be a critical part of the case for both sides. They will almost surely be repeatedly questioned about the UFC’s dominance in the industry, thoughts about competitors, efforts and strategies to put competitors out of business or buy them up, strategies regarding fighter compensation, restrictions on sponsors, and other elements of Plaintiffs allegations.
Just as critical could be the depositions of the six named plaintiffs in the case: Cung Le, Nate Quarry, Jon Fitch, Brandon Vera, Javier Vazquez, and Kyle Kingsbury. Everyone except Le has already testified under oath, with Le’s deposition currently scheduled for Apr. 11. Expect fighters to be questioned about their MMA compensation, the restrictions or lack thereof in their contracts, offers from other promoters, extensions they signed, and so on.
Current UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby was described as a “busy” person who offered two Mondays in Las Vegas to be deposed which Plaintiffs’ counsel could not make. He “remains unavailable,” according to Plaintiffs, and will need to be deposed after the Apr. 30 discovery deadline.
Third parties also played a prominent role in Plaintiffs’ filing.
Deutsche Bank, the Lead Arranger for past UFC loans and underwriter for WME-IMG’s $4 billion UFC purchase last year, and Moody’s, the credit rating agency who has covered the UFC for years, have both been subpoenaed for depositions. According to Plaintiffs, Moody’s indicated it “will resist” their deposition subpoena, but has offered to instead produce documents. Deutsche Bank has been subpoenaed twice, once in March 2016 and again in August 2016 following WME-IMG’s purchase of the UFC. The company has produced three batches of documents to Plaintiffs and has a proposed deposition date in April.
The remaining potential deponents on Plaintiffs’ list are current or former MMA promoters: Scott Coker of Bellator and formerly Strikeforce, Shannon Knapp of Invicta FC and formerly of Strikeforce and just about every other MMA promotion one can think of, Mark Cuban and Andrew Simon from HDNet and HDNet Fights now known as AXS TV, and Jeff Aronson of Titan FC described as a “’minor league’ MMA promoter.”
When Randy Couture resigned from the UFC in 2007, Cuban founded HDNet MMA 2008 LLC in Nevada, signed Couture to a contingent fight contract (believed to setup a fight with Fedor Emelianenko in fall 2008), and sued for a declaratory judgment in Texas to determine the end of Couture’s UFC contract. When that process was stayed in July 2008, Couture re-signed with the UFC in September and HDNet Fights was soon out of the MMA promotion business.
Counsel for Cuban and Simon have stated they will “likely move” to quash the deposition subpoenas, according to Plaintiffs, but AXS TV recently produced roughly 174,000 documents. Plaintiffs also believe Bellator will oppose efforts to depose Coker.
In total, Plaintiffs claim to have obtained and reviewed more than 1.1 million documents.
The “unanticipated and surprise” sale of the UFC to WME-IMG in the summer of last year introduced “additional sources of potentially relevant information.” The sale “increased the scope discovery” and a WME-IMG subpoena will be issued by the end of the week, per Plaintiffs’ filing.
The current, tentative deposition schedule is as follows:
Plaintiffs are seeking expedited consideration of their motion to expand case deadlines by 60 days and the UFC opposes the extension. Since the fact discovery deadline is near, a judge’s ruling should be coming very soon.
Paul is Bloody Elbow’s analytics writer and former provider of expert witness support in antitrust cases. Follow him @MMAanalytics.