UFC: Will Fighters Ever Have Collective Bargaining Like the NFL, NBA and MLB?

William ReynagaContributor IMarch 5, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 13: Scott O'Neil, Frankie Edgar, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta during a press conference to announce commitment to bring UFC to Madison Square Garden and New York State at Madison Square Garden on January 13, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen/Getty Images

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have extended the deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement for another seven days, subsequently moving the deadline to March 11.

As they hammer out the details on health care, an 18-game schedule, and how to divvy up $10 billion in revenue, people tend to overlook a not-so-minor detail that public employees of Wisconsin are fighting over: collective bargaining. 

The UFC has made its living and can thank its growth due to the centralization of power that is concentrated within the hands of President Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, Frank and Lorenzo, who control Zuffa—UFC’s parent company. 

Dana White has expressed his sentiments with regards to how he likes to operate the UFC in a 2007 interview with The Baltimore Sun conducted by Pramit Mohapatra, who asked Dana, “Are there any plans for taking Zuffa public?”

Dana White made it clear, “Never. Never, ever, ever. At least not while I'm here. Because I don't want to deal with [the hassles]. I have enough [hassles] to deal with every day, running this company.” 

Now imagine if NFL, NBA, and MLB owners had control over the league and decision making in the manner that Dana White has…oh wait, they've all had similar powers and the players of those generations earned jack compared to today’s standards. 

Typically, elite players could fend for themselves and find other means of earning income such as endorsements.

But it’s customarily the fringe players that bear the brunt of the difficulties such as the story of Kalib Starnes, who claimed in a press release covered by CageToday that after paying all his mandatory expenses to fight in the UFC such as medical exams conducted by the athletic commission, training, travel, accommodations, corner-men, and coaching that he basically earned nothing. 

The question is: Could the UFC survive a fighters' union at this stage of development?

More likely than not, the UFC and Zuffa would not be able to meet the real demands of fighters in accordance with equipment, health care, and the distribution of revenues while still furiously marketing the sport and organization without taking a major hit to its business operations. 

The NFL, NBA, and MLB took decades to expand into the massive organizations that we've come to know so well today.

It’s clear that the UFC has cornered the MMA market and is on the verge of establishing a business not unlike the big three—with respect to monopolizing a sport.

Perhaps, the UFC will experience a comparable evolutionary process as the three major American sports. 

But it could also be the case that the UFC is the beacon of neoliberal economics in sports where the rich continue to grow rich and the employees must not only fight each other in the Octagon, but must fight the heavyweight odds to reach the elite payday—if even for just one big fight—to earn a healthy living off of the sport in hopes of supporting themselves for the rest of their lives.