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UFC Moves Against Fighter Management

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Loretta Hunt reports:

Zuffa, the company that owns and operates both promotions, has notified select fighter representatives that they will no longer receive credentials from the promotion to sit with their clients backstage on fight night.

Of five separate fighter representatives and their firms that spoke to, two said they were told that credentials would no longer be doled out to them shortly after UFC 94 on Jan. 31. These firms were also denied backstage access in person at UFC Fight Night 17, UFC 95 and UFC 96, as well as WEC 39, which took place March 1 in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“They’re divisively trying to split management and fighters,” said one representative. “They’re trying to de-power the managers and agents to create a wedge between them. They give locker room bonuses and say, ‘This is from Dana [White] and the UFC -- nobody else.’ They’re telling fighters they can go directly to them. They’re telling fighters they’ll be doing sponsorships themselves in the near future that will put the managers and agents out of business. They’re trying to minimize the managers’ and agents’ role in the fighter’s life so they can better control salaries.”

Zach Arnold comments:

Let’s call a spade a spade right now. In the MMA scene, most MMA agents and managers are powerless to Zuffa. They show little-to-no backbone. There’s no united front. What are they going to do to stop Zuffa from getting fighters to sign ‘backstage deals’ without legal representation? Nothing, that’s what.

The scenario much more likely to happen is that fighters start to ditch the ‘old guard’ of MMA agents and managers and start making their move towards big sports agents/agencies like The Poston Brothers, Scott Boras, Leigh Steinberg, Drew Rosenhaus, or the William Morris agency. Once that starts happening, then UFC will face a labor relations strain that could jeopardize its business model. You would also face the prospects of bigger agents getting together to form a players association-type group for MMA fighters (similar to what Rob Maysey is trying to accomplish right now), which would bring us down the road to breaking UFC’s ability to hire fighters as independent contractors instead of actually treating the men like employees. Put yourself in the shoes of someone like Leigh Steinberg looking at a UFC fighter contract — the fighter is an ‘independent contractor’ yet Zuffa basically treats the fighter as their exclusive property, has rights to their likeness for video games and merchandising, has clauses for champions involving static salaries for title defenses once a contract runs out/expires and the fighter is still the champion, and the company doesn’t pay the fighter a salary when they’re not fighting.

As far as what the blogs or web sites say, it’s white noise as far as Zuffa is concerned. As far as the broadsheet media goes, they don’t give a damn about Zuffa’s business practices. If UFC can sell copy or bring in new ad revenue for them in exchange for coverage of events, then it will be performed without remorse. The real revolution needs to start amongst the fighters and the representation they choose to use to manage their careers. You get what you pay for, and right now the old guard of MMA agents and managers are looking pretty powerless. Once the current crop of agents are replaced by the David Falks of the world, then we’ll see Zuffa start to react more favorably towards their talent when it comes to business practices outside of the cage.