Tito Ortiz may not have stepped into a cage for almost two years (last seen in gloves being interviewed by the emotional roller coaster that is Forrest Griffin post fight), but he's been an almost omnipresent figure in the sport since his short lived retirement. Of course, now he's coming back. After a scrapped bout against Rampage Jackson last fall, Tito Ortiz will take on current Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko on the upcoming pay-per-view event, Bellator 120. The event takes place this Saturday, May 17th. Ahead of his upcoming bout, Ortiz sat down with Middle Easy to cover a whole mess of topics, but the subject of MMA promotions covering injuries steered the former light heavyweight champion to a real hot button issue, unions. (all transcription provided by Middle Easy)
Ortiz went on the record about the UFC's generosity toward medical coverage, stating "Lorenzo always took care of me and the UFC always took care of us when it came to doctor stuff," but that with "fighters making 2% of what they're worth" the real issue at stake is contractual. In Ortiz's words, "We go in there and fight for ten years, and make them 30-40 million dollars, and we make a million? What are we doing that boxers are doing different?" By his own calculation, he estimated that the UFC could make as much as $100 million dollars on Jon Jones' last PPV, all while cutting him in for $2 million of that total.
And it's that kind of math that has apparently led him to believe that the best answer available is unionization because, "There has to be something where it says - you're getting paid for being a main event, a co-main and everyone gets cut into the piece of the pie." Ortiz stressed that fighters need to be putting their interests in fighting as a business ahead of their competitive drive. "You don't go out there and fight someone just because you want to be a fighter, you want to be the best competitor out there and make a million dollars and make a big payday." Eventually he turned to former (almost) title contender Matt Lindland as a cautionary tale for what can happen to fighters who go after big money contracts in the current promotional landscape, stating, "How many people know who Matt Lindland is right now? At a time, he was one of the best. But he negotiated too high and was thrown to the wolves and were forgotten about."
Ortiz's math may be fuzzy (it may not, I can't honestly speak to it) but it's not hard to see where he's coming from as a former star. Unfortunately for him and many of the stars of his generation, MMA hasn't looked much different from other sports in terms of its early legacy of owner/athlete relations. Pro sports has a long history of sticking it to the players especially because supporting a major pro sports league is so precarious a task that long term compeition (especially nationally) is rare. Major players may come and go for brief stretches and create a market that offers more to athletes, but we've already seen that come and go in MMA.
That said, unionization remains something of a pipe dream. Fighters' status as independent contractors would be the first of many major hurdles to a strong labor organization, not the least of which is the fact that it's just not something that many (any?) current stars are talking about. As long as that's the case it's hard to see any future in which the athlete/promoter dynamic changes in MMA.