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Randy Couture: It's a no brainer that the Ali Act be expanded to MMA

MMA Legend and UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture gives his thoughts on expanding the Muhammed Ali Boxing Reform Act to include MMA fighters and if there is a need for a fighters association.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Randy Couture is a legend of the sport. A three-time UFC heavyweight and two-time UFC light heavyweight champion, he helped usher in the TUF era as a coach on the very first season and was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2006. He's also someone who's name has been attached to a whole host of fighter issues over the years: be it a fighters union or having the Muhammed Ali Boxing Reform Act expanded to MMA (and even possible renamed the Randy Couture Act.)

With talk of a fighters association heating up and a petition being launched to expand the Ali Act (text of Act here), I thought it would be a good time to talk to Couture and get his take on the current MMA landscape.

Do you think the Ali Act should be expanded to include MMA fighters?

I think it's a no brainer that the Ali Act be expanded to MMA. The similarities in the individual combative sports across the board, and the way the promoters deal with the athletes, is exactly why the Ali Act was formed. And to amend it a little bit and to expand it to mixed martial arts is, I think, a very simple thing to do.

So you see promoters acting in the same way in MMA as they did in boxing? One of the major motivations behind it was that promoters had all the leverage and were forcing boxers to sign extremely one-sided contracts.

This is the problem. The exact thing that went on in boxing, and the reason why the Ali Act was formed in boxing, is exactly what is going on and what has happened in mixed martial arts.

As much of this sport has grown and how much some of these promoters are making off these athletes, it's a travesty how far the balances of power has shifted in one direction.

Some would argue that MMA and boxing are such different sports that you don't find those same problems in MMA. Or is it that people just choose to ignore those problems when they pop up in MMA?

Even though the commissions frown upon that, we just had that situation with the World Series of Fighting where Mr. Ali was representing a few fighters that were fighting for his promotion. And it's one of the questions that is on the questionaire. That comes directly from the Ali Act and it's supposed to be enforced.

I get why technically people look at mixed martial arts and boxing as different sports. Of course the rules of engagement are very different but as a promotion, from a business stand point, they are exactly the same. Objective ranking criteria, exploitive and coercive contracts, the promotion is controlling who is ranked where and who gets title fights, those were exactly the things the Ali Act was designed to take care of.

What would it take to expand the act to also cover MMA?

I don't think it takes much language to expand it, to amend it to cover mixed martial arts, they're that similar.

It's a Federal Law though, so it would require Congress taking action, right?

Yes.

Some have suggested to me petitioning the Association of Boxing Commissions.

The ABC is certainly involved with the Unified Rules, the governing body for boxing, and they're involved in the Unified Rules for MMA. I think the ABC should step up and do the lobbying, make the written proposals to amend the Ali Act. I think it should include all the combative sports. Why not kickboxing? Why not Metamoris, the grappling promotions?

How much support do you think there is amongst the fighters for expanding the Ali Act to MMA?

I think, like the general public, many of the fighters don't understand what the Ali Act does for them. They are too busy training and getting ready for the next fight and just don't know. They're not that different from the general public in that regard.

So there needs to be some education process with many of them?

Absolutely.

How do you think the promoters will react to any efforts to bring the Ali Act to MMA?

I think there will certainly be some pushback. I know I've seen interviews with Scott Coker that said he thinks it should be expanded to include mixed martial arts, and he's one of the biggest promoters in the sport. I haven't seen anything from the World Series of Fighting but I can guarantee you there will be pushback and resistance from Zuffa.

What would the Ali Act do for MMA?

It would allow the top promoters, regardless of promotion, to compete against each other. An independent ranking system so we know regardless of promotion who is ranked what and make those fights happen. Eliminate some of those gray areas and some of the control promoters have. They can overlook a fighter or pass a fighter by because of what makes better business sense for them. In that regard it would level the playing field. It would eliminate some of the coercive and exploitive contracts fighters are forced to sign now because they want to fight in the top promotions and there's nowhere else to go. It would clean up a lof of the language and increase the balance of power right now and level that playing field.

Your career is kind of example of what the Ali Act was intended for, no? Your fight with Fedor never happened partly because promoters can operate as a sanctioning body in MMA.

Yes. To make that fight happen when he was ranked number 1 and I was ranked number 2, I chased that fight for 13 months and the only way that fight was going to happen is if the UFC agreed to co-promote which they wouldn't do.

One part that many have told me would make a surprisingly big impact is the fact that promoters would have to disclose to the fighters how much revenue they make off an event. How big of impact do you think that would have?

It creates some transparency. The promoters have to disclose what is made and paid on a fight, be it a verbal agreement or a written agreement, which is something that is written into the Ali Act. A big thing that goes on is these side deals with these independent contractors that the public doesn't know about. And it's a way the promoter can protect himself from having a fighter going somewhere else and getting bigger pay.

There is a petition right now for the Ali Act to be expanded to MMA. What do you think of that and have you signed it yet?

I have signed it and I think the more we fighters unite and come together to put some pressure not only on the promoters but also how things are done on a legal level the better it is for us. The more in control of our own destinies we have.

What about the argument that the Ali Act doesn't do anything because it's never enforced?

I don't know if I agree with that. It certainly has been enforced in boxing. It certainly has curtailed a lot of the problems and abuse that were rampant in boxing for a long, long time.

It hasn't been enforced on the Federal level but it has been used in several suits filed by boxers against their promoters or managers, correct?

Yes. The precedent has been set in some instances. There's been incidents were they had been called on the carpet on it and they know they have to comply by it. That's what the law is for.

What do you say to those fans that worry the Ali Act would hurt the sport of MMA.

It doesn't make any sense. Expanding the Ali Act will help the market flourish.

What's your view on an association for mixed martial arts fighters? Is it something the fighters need?

I think it makes sense, every other professional sport has representatives, collectively bargaining tool. Usually it's those first guys that get together to put those together that really get hammered.

Maybe a union isn't always neccessary but when you got companies taking advantage of their athletes then a union or association is necessary.

Seems like we've been talking about an association for years. Do you see any movement towards it actually happening?

I definitely think with the current climate in this sport and all the things being done, especially with the lead promotion, the UFC and Zuffa, there is a stronger movement than I've ever seen. It's been talked about since I got into this sport in 1997, but I've never seen a stronger movement towards it then there is right now. Ultimately it takes those top tier guys to want to put it on the line and affect a positive change on their sport and they're the ones actually making money from the promotions and they're risking damaging that relationship and their ability to make a living doing what they love to do. Risking being blackballed, a whole bunch of things.

What about the argument that an association could never work because it would help fighters at the bottom and not those at the top?

I don't agree with that statement. It only helps everyone in the sport. To give them the power to control their own destinies.

Controlling your destinies doesn't have to be limited to just contract with promoters right? I'm thinking about all the rule changes that have been implemented, such as the IV bans and drug testing protocols, from both promoters and commissions, without any fighter input.

That's the problem. There's not a single voice in any of those discussions, in any of those rules being written and implemented on us. There's no athlete reps, no one from the athletes side of the table to be involved in that process.

What do you say to those fans that don't want to see any of this come about? That they think the sport is better off when the promoter has a lot more leverage than the fighters?

I think someone is drinking Dana's Kool-Aid. I don't think they understand the sport, they don't understand what it's like to be an athlete.