Much of what we know about fighter contracts is second hand. Most of what we hear from the UFC, and UFC fighters, is that we don't know half as much as we think we do. Now, finally, the veil has been lifted, the unknown has become known, and the next time we hear what the UFC says it's fighters are contracted for we can separate fact from fiction. After Eddie Alvarez recently posted his contract "match" from Bellator on twitter, Jeremy Botter, at Bleacher Report was able to acquire a copy of the original UFC document.
20130509155154189.pdf - docs.google.com/file/d/1Aqij1O…Heres the revised version I signed !! after We caught the Added term— Edward Alvarez (@Ealvarezfight) May 12, 2013
Now, former Bloody Elbow writer (and current head MMA writer for Bleacher Report) Jonathan Snowden, has gone through the contract piece by piece to provide fans and fighters a detailed look at what the UFC has to offer.
"When you look at who gets the money, at the end of the day, it's disproportionately Zuffa and disproportionately not the fighter," Northwestern University labor law professor Zev Eigen told Bleacher Report, calling the UFC contract the worst he's seen in the sports or entertainment fields. "None of these fighters are represented by a professional association or a union. There's nothing that sets a minimum or basic standard below which the company can't go. It makes sense—in any relationship like this you would expect the contract to favor the more powerful actor.
"That should be intuitive and it's universal. If you're contracting with Apple, you shouldn't be surprised that Apple takes as many rights as possible. If you use iTunes in anyway they don't like, hell, fire will rain down on you. That's what you can expect anytime you're contracting with an entity more powerful than you are. So too with the UFC."
The fighter's main responsibility is to show up and fight. But there is more to it than that. Zuffa requires the fighter to "cooperate and assist in the advertising, publicity, and promotion of (i) the Bouts, (ii) any and all rebroadcast of the Bouts in any media whatsoever, (iii) other UFC bouts, (iv) other UFC events and broadcasts, and (v) the sale of UFC merchandise, including making appearances at a reasonable number of press conferences, interviews and other sponsorship and promotional activities (any of which may be telecast, broadcast, recorded or filmed) at times and places reasonably designated by ZUFFA, without additional compensation therefore. For such promotional activities, ZUFFA will arrange and pay for Fighter's reasonable travel, hotel and meal accommodations."
Here's a look at their actual bout agreement with Eddie Alvarez. While most of the language is, as expected (8 fights/40 months) what's worth noting is the "Champions Clause" which automatically extends the contract if the fighter should win a UFC title.
4.1 The duration of the Promotional Rights provided herein (the "Term") shall commence on the Effective Date and end on the earlier of (i) forty (40) months after the first bout promoted by ZUFFA involving Fighter under this Agreement; or (ii) the date on which Fighter has participated in at least eight (8) Bouts promoted by ZUFFA pursuant to this Agreement (the "Termination Date"), unless terminated sooner or extended further pursuant to the provisions of this Agreement.
4.2 If, at the expiration of the Term, Fighter is then a UFC champion, the Term shall automatically be extended for the period commencing on the Termination Date and ending on the later of (i) one (1) year from the Termination Date; or (ii) the date on which Fighter has participated in three (3) bouts promoted by ZUFFA, regardless of weight class or title, following the Termination Date ("Extension Term"). Any reference to the Term herein shall be deemed to include a reference to the Extension Term, where applicable.
Snowden draws heavily from Northwestern University labor law professor Zev Eigen for analysis of the legal details of the piece, here are a few of Eigen's responses to the various UFC clauses.
On fighter confidentiality:
"The employee has to keep confidential how much he's making. That's a complete violation of the National Labor Relations Act on its face. Imagine if a union came out to organize these fighters. To do that they'd need to know how much they were getting paid."
On the "Champion's Clause":
"I think it's potentially a violation of the 13th Amendment, the prohibition against slavery or involuntary servitude. You can't force someone to work for you. I don't know how, under contract law, that would be enforceable. But I don't think it's been challenged."
On cutting fighters:
"This is an unconscionable term. The term unilaterally benefits the employer with no reciprocal benefit to the fighter. It's completely one-sided, completely unfair and seems to suggest that any term is a material term for purposes of the employer. Every breach could be a material breach for the fighter, but nothing is for the UFC. There's an argument there that it's unconscionable and unenforceable."
There's a lot more in there than this; details on the "matching clause," image rights, and the UFC code of conduct. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, as it is incredibly thorough and gives a better look at how the UFC runs it's internal affairs than ever before. Check out the entire article on Bleacher Report here.