The issue of fighter unionization has long been an elephant in the room when it comes to the UFC.
Just within the past year alone, the Professional Fighters Association (PFA), a fledgling organization led by former baseball agent Jeff Boras, and the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA), a group led by several current UFC athletes including Georges St-Pierre and T.J. Dillashaw, appeared on the scene with lofty goals only to seemingly vanish without making much progress in the Sisyphean task of bringing MMA fighters together under one banner to wage the war for fighter’s rights.
And in the eyes of MMA super-fan Michael Carter-Williams, a point guard for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets who is a member of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the issue of unionization is one that should remain front and center in the minds of every UFC fighter.
“They absolutely should. I think it’s crazy that they already don’t have a union,” Carter-Williams said Monday on The MMA Hour. “And I know it’s hard, but come on, they put their lives on the line every time they step in the ring. There’s no reason why their payouts are [what] they are now. And it’s because they don’t have a union.
“Dominick (Cruz) and I were talking about it, and I was like, ‘How don’t you guys have a good enough union to where you guys don’t have health insurance, or you guys don’t get paid more?’ To me, that’s beyond crazy, and it is — it’s going to need to take the top guys of the UFC to not fight until the payments are what they should be, and [the benefits] are where they should be. It’s going to take the Conor McGregors, it’s going to take the Diazs, it’s going to take the Stipes. It’s going to take those guy to hold out so that everybody else can get what they deserve.”
Another likeminded group in MMA, the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA) — led by Arizona-based attorney Rob Maysey — has spearheaded a campaign for fighters’ rights on behalf of all MMA athletes, not just those in the UFC, since 2009. The MMAFA’s biggest focus of late has been introducing an amendment to support MMA fighters through the Ali Act. A fiery debate regarding that issue reached the floor of Congress’ Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection last week.
Still, the situation in MMA continues to vastly differ from the one shared by the four major sports in the United States.
Invariably, athletes in football, basketball, baseball, and hockey are protected by a players union of some kind. In Carter-Williams’ case, the NBPA — which collectively bargains with NBA owners on the behalf of the players — was founded in 1954 at a time when the league offered athletes no pension plans, minimum wage, health benefits, or per diems. The league has gone through four lockouts since 1995, each championed by the NBPA, and today conditions for NBA players are better than they ever have been before.
It’s still unclear whether a similar strategy would work in MMA, simply because fighters have never been able to band together under one group and threaten to sit out until a change was made. Such a task would involve garnering the support of the biggest stars in the fight game, names like UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. And as fan, Carter-Williams hopes to see it happen one day.
“Who knows (if it ever will)?” Carter-Williams said. “I’m not going to say [McGregor] would or he wouldn’t. He’s made a bunch of money. He’s made a bunch of money off the Floyd (Mayweather) fight, so maybe. Maybe that’s what it takes. It definitely needs to be done. You look at other sports, there’s always talk of a lockout. So, you never know, there may be a UFC lockout.”