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How Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather could happen without UFC permission

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Since he is currently under contract with the UFC there is no way Conor McGregor gets to box Floyd Mayweather... Or is there? Here's one possible way for McGregor to finagle a match with "Money."

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few days there have been plenty of rumors and speculation surrounding a possible Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor boxing match. It started with a "report" by the Sun in London, and has been further fanned by comments and tweets by Mayweather, McGregor, and even Mayweather's father.

It goes without saying that a megafight between the two seems very unlikely.  As Dana White and others have pointed out, Conor McGregor is currently under contract to the UFC. While we don't have access to McGregor's contract, the typical UFC contract contains the following language:

3.5 During the Term, ZUFFA shall have the exclusive right to promote all of Fighter's bouts and Fighter shall not participate in or render his services as a professional fighter or in any other capacity to any other mixed martial art, martial art, boxing, professional wrestling, or any other fighting competition or exhibition, except as otherwise expressly permitted by this Agreement.

This would seem to foreclose any chance of a Mayweather-McGregor match happening without the UFC's involvement, and according to Dana White "there is no way in hell" it's going to happen.

That would seem to be the end of it. But does it have to be? While it seems almost guaranteed that the parties involved, two men with no matches booked looking to stay in the limelight, are trolling us, let's pretend for a moment that they are serious. Is there any way McGregor could take this bout without the UFC's consent? Well, after speaking to a few individuals (the most significant of whom was attorney Sam Spira, who represents Randy Couture and Victor Ortiz) who are very familiar with the legal ins and outs of both boxing and UFC contracts the answer seems to be a definitive... maybe?

The strategy they offer is not for the faint of heart. It promises no guarantees and is full of financial risks, but if McGregor is adamant about having a match with Mayweather this would probably be his best and perhaps only option. It involved 3 simples steps (at least for purposes of discussion, obviously, any such action would involve a host of issues, legal and otherwise):

Step 1 would be for Conor McGregor to attain a boxing license, preferably in New York or California.

Step 2 would be for Mayweather and McGregor to book a match against each other. Again it was suggested that New York or California would be the preferable location.

As soon as it was announced that Mayweather vs McGregor was booked the UFC would likely file an injunction, claiming a breach of contract, with a court in Nevada. As all UFC contracts stipulate that all such disputes are to be settled in Nevada this is pretty much a given. But before they can do that it's recommended that McGregor move on to

Step 3, and immediately file for declaratory relief against the UFC citing the Muhammad Ali Reform Boxing Act's provision against coercive contracts to make the claim that the restrictive provision in the UFC's contract is restraining McGregor from boxing, and that he is a licensed boxer under an applicable boxing commission falling under the jurisdiction of the ABC.

This might sound absurd, but remember as a licensed boxer McGregor would now (theoretically) be covered by the Ali Act. Sec. 10 of the Act offers protection from coercive provisions, and a provision that prevents someone from boxing at all could possibly be interpreted as a restraint of trade. This is reinforced by the fact that the promoter has a provision in their own contracts claiming exclusive rights over any "mixed martial art, martial art, boxing, professional wrestling, or any other fighting competition or exhibition" the fighter engages in. This would seem to make the UFC a promoter of all combat sports, including boxing. In which case, the contract would be illegal (or at least illegal in part) under existing Federal law.

Furthermore, if the contract is illegal does any hearing on it have to take place in Nevada as required by the (possibly illegal) contract? If not, then not only can another state preside over the dispute, but that state's laws can also come into play.

New York §208.17 has the following restrictions on contracts between a boxer and  a promoter:

(a) No contract between a promoter and a boxer entered into on or after the effective date of this regulation shall be for a fixed term of more than three years, excluding any time that a boxer is unable to compete due to injury or other cause.

(b) No contract between a promoter and a boxer shall contain a provision permitting the contract to be automatically renewed or extended. Notwithstanding the foregoing, such contracts may contain a provision granting the promoter an option to renew for a period not to exceed one year, excluding any time that a boxer is unable to compete due to injury or other cause. Such contracts may not contain more than two such options.

(c) In the event that a boxer's execution of an agreement with a specific promoter is a condition of the boxer being allowed to participate in a specific bout, the term of the contract shall be limited to one year, and shall not contain an option to renew.

(d)No person shall be permitted to box professionally within the State of New York if on or after the effective date of this regulation he or she enters into any contract with a promoter for a term aggregating more than five years, inclusive of any options to renew.

While I don't have access to McGregor's contract, based on what information is available, it would seem that the length of his current deal, rumored to be 8 fights and 42 months, and the wording of the typical champions clause which adds the longer of 3 fights or one year if the fighter is a champion, would mean that his UFC deal is in violation of New York boxing regulations.

If the McGregor and Mayweather fight is instead booked in California then a pair of regulations concerning contracts may come into play. Under § 222 of the California Code of Regulations

Unless otherwise directed by the commission, a contract between a boxer and a manager or a boxer and a promoter is not valid unless both parties appear at the same time before the commission or a commission representative and it receives written approval. No contract shall be approved between a manager and a boxer or a promoter and a boxer for a period exceeding five years. No option to extend the initial period shall be permitted.

§ 230 further stipulates that a) No verbal agreement or written agreement other than a contract on the commission's official form shall be accepted by the commission.

Since it seems unlikely that McGregor and the UFC have either sat down together with the California commission or submitted a copy of the contract on their official form, McGregor could ask that his contract be invalidated in California. There is precedent for this, as it was the exact same reason the commission gave for freeing Ronda Rousey from her management contract with Darin Harvey.

So could McGregor get the courts to rule in his favor? That's the hundred million dollar question. If the courts ruled for McGregor, then his contract might be ruled illegal and voided, leaving him a free agent. The courts could also rule in the UFC's favor, upholding their contractual rights. Either way, a decision could take months or years before it was rendered. Until then the UFC would probably file an injunction to prevent McGregor from fighting. This is why he would likely have to seek declaratory relief, which is, in procedural terms, what Quinton Jackson had to do in order to fight at UFC 186 when Bellator sought to block him from participating in his match with Fabio Maldonado. If the court granted his declaratory relief then the bout between the biggest pay-per-view draw in MMA history against the biggest pay-per-view draw in all of history could go forward even as the case was still pending in court.

Of course, an injunction is not likely to be the only action the UFC would take. Immediately after learning of a planned Mayweather-McGregor bout the UFC would almost certainly send Conor a notice that they have booked him for a match on a such and such a date. They would then claim any refusal to take part in this match would be a violation of his contract. Therefore if the UFC couldn't halt McGregor from boxing they would still try to sue him for damages. In this case from the lost revenue on the event he skipped in order to box Mayweather. And since McGregor's contests generate such large sums of money, the potential losses on such as suit could eat up whatever winnings he might attain from his super-fight with Floyd. However, to the extent that a court found the UFC contract to be illegal or unenforceable (in whole or in part), that might counter any potential damage claim in that the damages would flow from a provision in the contract that is not enforceable.

McGregor could also argue that because he never agreed to the offered bout there was no lost event by the UFC and thus no losses.

All this is likely academic, for I very much doubt that that any of this is in the works. Still, if you need something to keep your Mayweather vs McGregor fantasies alive, well I've given you a scenario that hopefully does just that.