Former UFC middleweight contender and Season One Ultimate Fighter contestant Nate Quarry has been busy in his retirement. Not only is he one of the named plaintiffs in the class action anti trust lawsuit against Zuffa, he is also a very active member of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Associations (MMAFA), whose recent efforts seem to be dedicated to getting the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act expanded so that it also covers MMA fighters.
While working on an article about these efforts to expand the Ali Act and what it would mean for MMA I got a chance to speak at length with Quarry on his post fight career as a "labor activist".
Your group, the MMAFA, is currently trying to expand the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to martial arts. Why do you think it needs to be applied to MMA fighters?
Because promoters have way too much power in MMA and we think athletes in our sport deserve the same protection as those in boxing. We face the same problems they did. The exact same things are happening in this sport as happened in boxing.
Do you have any examples?
Promoters in boxing and MMA are supposed to be concerned with just putting on the show and they don't own the right to these boxers. They may have it in the contract that says if you win the belt you have to fight again but they don't own the belts. In mixed martial arts they own the championships and they own the fighters. They dictate everything to the athletes.
On "owning the belts," the Ali Act is supposed to do is create separation between a promoter and a sanctioning body. In effect it means the promoter can't make their own titles, like you see in MMA. That an independent sanctioning body is the ones who crown champions and determine challengers.
Do you think this would be good for MMA? A lot of fans seem to like the promotions having their own titles.
What would be wrong with someone being the Bellator champion and the UFC champion holding both belts? That would be great for the fans. Now you would know who is the absolute best. Who is the world champion as opposed to who is only the UFC champion or Bellator champion.
So you don't think a promotion should have any say in who fights for its title?
A promotion is supposed to simply put on fights.
This is going to be a hard thing to sell for fans, who are used to the current promotional titles. How would the expanding the Ali Act make this better for MMA fighters.
If you're a fighter you want a chance to prove you're the best without a promoter controlling everything, without having to just accept whatever the promoter tells you. If they control everything you have to go along with them, sign whatever they ask you to sign, otherwise you will be cut out. If the promoter doesn't back you how do you make a name for yourself? How do you become a draw?
Right now they can almost choose who is a star, who is the champion and who isn't. If they want to make it easier for someone they can manipulate the rankings, pick and choose who they fight and give him the best fights so they look the best because they want to make him the champ. And if they don't like you then they can make sure Joe Silva gets you the worst fights on the worst part of the card.
Reminds me of the situation Aljamain Sterling was bringing up, when he compared his lack of promotion to Sage Northcutt's.
It reminds me of the Kardashians. Why is this person famous? Because they're on TV. Why is this person on TV? Because they're famous. Why are they famous? Because they're on TV. Works the same in MMA. If they don't want to promote you then you'e going to have a hard time making it.
That gets us back to the Ali Act. The purpose behind it was to weaken the leverage of the promoters. To prevent something like a Don King from demanding you sign a contract with him in order to get a shot at Larry Holmes and the Heavyweight Championship
Exactly. And that's the problem. Do you want to see the best fight the best? Then you should want this. One of the greatest fights that didn't happen was Fedor versus Couture but the UFC wouldn't let Couture leave to fight him and they would only let Fedor fight Couture if it was in the UFC and he gave up everything that they demanded. Why didn't Fedor ever sign with the UFC? Because they wanted his rights, they wanted everything. Everyone had to agree to everything the UFC wanted or it wasn't going to happen.
It should have gone to a bid. You had Mark Cuban wanting to put on the fight. If the UFC wanted to they could have outbid him on a purse bid and everyone would have made a lot of money. But they're not happy unless they're in complete control.
One section of the Act requires promoters to disclose how much "compensation or consideration" they received from a match. What would this mean for fighters?
It would be huge for the fighters to actually see how much money was being made off their backs. Right now you don't know. They tell you "you don't understand how much this costs" or they say "we can't pay too much because we're losing money."
I heard from the day I started fighting for [the UFC] "we just can't afford to pay you that much, do you know how much in the hole we were?" I was hearing about that $44 million in the hole my entire career. "You guys just don't understand we are $44 million in the hole, we have to dig ourselves out." Really?
Were you really in the hole? Show me the money, don't tell me. If you were, how much of that money actually went to the athletes? What was it spent on? They claim to have lost all this money. OK? What did you lose it on? Let's see.
They don't want to disclose anything. They don't want us to know how much they are making and then they also always say these fighters don't want anyone to know how much they're making because every relative will be coming out of the woodwork. But the truth is they don't want us to know what other fighters are making so we won't start comparing and knowing we're making less than this other person who's not as good.
And since no one really knows anything they can make these claims that are so ridiculous but we have no way of backing it up. Like when Lorenzo fighter said the average mid-tier fighter makes two hundred thousand a fight and six hundred thousand a year. Are you kidding?
What are some examples for fans of the fighters not having enough power or leverage with regard to promoters?
Zuffa and the UFC are the biggest in the sport so lets focus on them. Zuffa wants to pick and choose what they think is in their best interest. Like the uniforms, they'll say "in the NFL everyone has to wear a uniform, everyone has to be exactly the same and we're just like the NFL." Well, no you're not. How about we pick and choose a different example? How about we use an individual sport? Tennis doesn't do that. Golf doesn't do it. Nascar doesn't do that. Going back to boxing, I see boxers with their own sponsors.
Every time they say "what's best for the sport". If it's that good why didn't you run it by the fighters to let them vote on it. Because they knew they'd shoot it down. And this is part of the systematic weakening of fighters rights. When I started you could have any sponsor you want. Then it was you couldn't have these sponsors. Then it was your sponsors had to pay $50,000 to sponsor you. Then it was $100,000. Then it was you couldn't have any sponsors.
How is this best for the sport and the athletes? Unless the athletes get a say in it and say they want it, it's not.
What about the argument that the Ali Act doesn't do anything because it's never enforced?
It has to do something otherwise why aren't we seeing these things in boxing? You don't see promoters giving out their own titles. You see boxers making these huge paydays without having to sign over all their rights like in MMA.
I think the argument is that its never been enforced on the Federal level. At least not often. It has been used in several lawsuits by boxers against their promoters though.
And that's where the association comes in, to make sure it's enforced.
So an association plays a part in this?
So does the lawsuit. It's all connected.
Interesting. Are you aware that the National Football League's Player Association used to file antitrust suits against the NFL as a strategy to get the owners to make concessions?
As I said, it's all connected.
Speaking of the MMAFA, one of the reasons given for why an association won't work in MMA is that the top fighters have nothing to gain from it. That the stars won't go along with it because it'll take money from them and give it to the guys at the bottom.
That's not true.
But how do convince someone making millions to join the MMAFA if he thinks all it will do is help the guys on the prelims?
For me its not fighters versus fighters. It shouldn't be champions looking down on contenders saying you just need to be better to get paid. It shouldn't be contenders looking at champions saying I should be getting paid what you get paid. No, we should all be fighting together to get what is rightfully ours. Because this is one of the few places where we are not just the workers but we are also the product. Without us there is literally nothing to sell.
One person on their own, it's easy to get them to shut up. But if everyone stands up together, and we are now starting to see it with guys like Benson Henderson. As these guys stand and start to band together we will see things change
So how do you envision the MMAFA working? How will it help fighters?
It's a mirror image of the Screen Actors Guild. You have your movie stars and you have the actors in the small parts. They both get something from being in the guild.
Lets say Spielberg comes out tomorrow and says "I am going to make this movie" but he also says "I ain't going to use union workers and I ain't going to pay anyone anything." People would be crawling over each other to work with Spielberg. Associations protect the workers from themselves. Because without that you can always find people who do something for nothing.
It benefits everyone up and down the line. It's so funny how near sighted some of these guys are. Thinking they are getting paid well? They may think they're making a lot, but not if they see the books. If you look at boxing promoters they pay 80% to the boxers, In MMA, it's what? Around 10%? If you're a star in MMA wouldn't you rather be making what they make in boxing? What did Klitschko and his opponent make?
I believe the split on the purse bid was $18 million for Klitschko and $5 million for Fury.
And there's just as much money in MMA only it's not going to the fighters.
We know the motivation of the CEO and the guys at the top. It's to make as much as possible. We fighters have very limited careers. It could be over in a round so we need to make as much as possible in a very limited amount of time.
In the NFL and other sports it used to be that the owners got all the money. And the owners said the same thing, "you're greedy. You're living other peoples dreams. You should be happy playing a game." Well then, you mind putting on a few shows for free? If it's a dream why are you charging for tickets?
When we talked to one of the players of the NFL Players Association he told a story where the owner, and it was one of these generational owners, was yelling at the players for being greedy. So he looked at the owner and told him "Look, you got this team from your father and you're going to give it to your son. I can't give my position to my son. I need to make as much as possible now for me and my family."
Is pay then the primary concern for the MMAFA?
It should be about money. You get into this sport because you love it. But if you don't treat it like a business you will end up broke and broken when you're done. But no, its about having someone look out for you. Look at the NFL. The players association is always on stepping in to protect the players when the league is trying to punish them. It looks out for them no matter what, otherwise the owners could get away with whatever they want. They make sure the players have rights.
Look what they did with Jon Jones. The punished him by suspending him. They would have cut anyone else, but if they did that to Jones he'd sign with someone else. So they suspend him for as long as they want. Why is a promoter able to decide if someone can work or not?
I imagine you also think an association should help fighters have a say in things like drug testing.
The fighters should have a say in everything. It's our livelihoods we are talking about. Look at the judges. We hire hacks to decide who wins the fights.
So an association would want to make sure there is better judging in the sport?
What do you think the reaction amongst managers is to expanding the Ali Act or organizing an association?
Once again this is how short sighted people are. They should be the loudest guys who should be supporting the Ali Act. These are the ones who should be the loudest guys supporting the MMAFA. But they are so afraid that Dana or Lorenzo will put them on their list. "Ok who's that agent? OK, none of his guys can fight for us anymore."
As an manager and as an agent, they have the most to make from this. It's no secret that Dana and the UFC have been trying to get rid of all the agents, because the agents are the bane of his profits. Over and over again. He hated Randy Couture's manager because he tried to make sure Randy got paid as much as possible. Dana wants to go directly to the fighters so when they say they don't want a fight he can say ‘Oh that's OK I didn't think you were man enough to face him." And in the fight world that just plays on a guys emotions.
If a manager or an agent wants to make more the best way is for us to succeed so that his clients will start making more. Otherwise, if Zuffa gets to dictate everything, why even have an agent?
There are some fans that are going to worry that you are just out to hurt or even destroy the UFC with the Ali Act or an association. What do you say to them?
That's like saying the NFL players association wants to shut down the NFL. What would be the motivation in that? Why would we want to shut down the larges promoter on the planet that represents 90% of all the MMA dollars worldwide? We represent the fighters. We have nothing against the UFC. And honestly, as ridiculously as the UFC has treated the fighters, to me I look at it as it's just business. They are going to make as much as possible until they are forced, by either the law or by an association, to share some of the income with the workers. I have nothing against them. And I even said in interviews how much I personally owe Dana for paying for my back surgery. That's incredible. I can't thank him enough. Of course the flip-side of that is I was paid more than $10,000 for a title fight at the MGM Grand main event on pay-per-view, which at the time was like the 3rd highest gate in UFC history. So maybe if I was paid like a boxer or if I had something like the minimum pay of a NFL player or NBA player I could have paid for it myself. But, that being what it is, I am so grateful to be where I am at. And the UFC has played a big part in that. I am very thankful for the UFC and the sport of MMA.
People always talk about how much they love America. "Oh, I love America." And I always ask them what they love about America. Is it our politicians? You love our politicians? When you think about our congress you get a warm and fuzzy feeling? No. People are always "I love America, but the government - the management - are abusing us. Look at how much they are taking advantage of us." Well, that's how we feel about the UFC. We love the UFC, we're just not fans of Zuffa. Zuffa specifically bought the UFC to get the name. Zuffa is not the UFC. The U.S. is not the congress. It's the people that live here that still believe in the dream. I still believe in the dream of MMA, where the UFC provides for so many fighters. But now that dream is becoming a nightmare as they one by one take away the opportunities.