For years there has been a debate as to whether the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act should be expanded to also cover the sport of mixed martial arts. While some argue it is unnecessary and would harm MMA, others counter that the lack of protection offered to fighters has left them at an extreme disadvantage when dealing with promoters. Up until now that debate has been academic, but that may change very soon.
Following a concerted public campaign by a group of professional fighters, staff members for U.S. Congressman Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma have confirmed to Bloody Elbow that he plans to introduce legislation, perhaps as soon as this month, that would amend the Act so that it would also cover the sport of mixed martial arts.
The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, or Ali Act for short, was enacted in 2000. It amended the 1996 Professional Boxing Safety Act by including protections for boxers financial interests in addition to the previous bill's minimum health and safety standards. According to the bill itself the purpose was:
(1) to protect the rights and welfare of professional boxers on an interstate basis by preventing certain exploitive, oppressive, and unethical business practices;
(2) to assist State boxing commissions in their efforts to provide more effective public oversight of the sport; and
(3) to promote honorable competition in professional boxing and enhance the overall integrity of the industry
There has been plenty of discussion over its effectiveness since then. While federal enforcement has been almost nonexistent, it has been used numerous times by boxers in civil suits against promoters and managers. The general consensus from the boxers and boxing promoters that I have spoken to is that while it hasn't had the dramatic impact some had hoped for, it has nonetheless had a positive impact.
It has had no impact on MMA though. Since little consideration was given to prize fighters that compete in mixed martial arts at the time it was passed, they have been left outside its purview. Many would like it to remain this way. Several MMA journalists, including Brent Brookhouse, here at Bloody Elbow, and Sam Caplan, when he wrote for Five Ounces of Pain, have expressed their opposition to any inclusion of MMA under the Act. It's little secret that the biggest promoter in the sport, the UFC, is also opposed to efforts to include MMA in any Federal legislation aimed at boxing, having spent large sums over the years lobbying to make sure this doesn't happen.
While some are against expanding the Ali Act to MMA, there are also plenty of individuals that support it. For example, former UFC Champion Randy Couture, AXS TV owner Mark Cuban, and Bellator Promoter Scott Coker have all expressed support for it. Of course, almost all this support has been limited to vocal support only. An organized, concerted lobbying effort on behalf of amending the Act is something we hadn't seen in MMA. That has changed within the last few months.
For almost a year now there has been an ongoing effort led by Nate Quarry, Jon Fitch, Ryan Jimmo, Vinicius Queiroz, Rob Maysey, and others - the same individuals attempting to organize the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA) - to have the Ali Act amended.
Their efforts have included an appearance at the Association of Boxing Commissions summit last year, social media campaigns directed at fellow fighters, and a petition launched by a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that, according to Rob Maysey of the MMAFA, has includes the signatures of over 300 professional fighters amongst the 1700 total signatures they've collected.
Earlier this year, members of the MMAFA, including Maysey and fighters Cung Le and Nate Quarry, travelled to DC to meet with potential allies. Amongst the various lawmakers they met with was Rep. Markwayne Mullin. The Republican representative from Oklahoma's 2nd District would seem to be a natural ally for the MMAFA. A former mixed martial artist himself, Mullin has apparently wanted for some time to expand the Ali Act to MMA.
The introduction of any legislation that would expand the Ali Act to mixed martial arts would be an incredible step forward for proponents, but it wouldn't be the end of the process. The new legislation would still have to go to committee, survive any alterations that might render it toothless, then pass the House and Senate before being signed into law by the President. After all that it would finally become law.
Even if the Ali Act is passed, that may not mark the end of the lobbying campaigns. As Ryan Jimmo views it, the Ali Act would be but the first step. "The overall bigger picture is we want to be grown up like the other leagues. Have an association, be paid a fair wage, have a little bit more balance between the promoter slash owner and the athlete. We've seen it in all the other sports, from baseball and football, they've have all gone through this. So that's why we want the Ali Act. The Ali Act is going to be the first catalyst that causes a little bit more even power distribution between the owner and the athlete."
MMA is potentially on the verge of a drastic change and very few people seem aware of it.