The battle over the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act is just starting to heat up. A few days after the death of the legendary boxer whose name adorns both the proposed legislation and the original bill it amends, Legistorm.com reported that the UFC had hired the D.C. firm Farragut partners to help lobby with congress the promotion's position on the bill.
The original Muhammad Ali Reform Boxing Act, which was enacted in 2000 and amended the Boxing Safety Act of 1996, is a federal law that was intended to protect the financial health of boxers as well as increase fairness in the industry. This was to be done through expanding protections against coercive contracts, forcing disclosure by promoters and sanctioning bodies, requiring objective rankings, and ending conflicts of interests.
H.R. 5365, the Muhammad Ali Extension Act, was introduced to congress last month by former MMA fighter Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and co-sponsored by Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA). It looks to expand those same protections to MMA fighters as well as other professional combat sports athletes. (For a full analysis on how the Muhammad Ali Extension Act would impact the sport of MMA watch the most recent episode of Show Money.)
Primary supporters of the bill have been current and former fighters, mostly members of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association, who themselves have lobbied for it. This past weekend, retired fighters Randy Couture and Cung Le wrote a letter posted to The Oklahoman which gave their reasons for wanting to see it passed.
"This amendment is desperately needed by combat sports athletes and to enable these sports to prosper and thrive. The lack of financial disclosures and coercive contractual practices that plagues MMA not only deprives each athlete of rights already offered to boxers, but prevents investment in the sport and, as a result, stunts its natural growth."
The UFC would disagree with this view. According to UFC COO Lawrence Epstein, Rep. Mullin and other supporters of this bill are not only pushing unneeded legislation but ignoring more pressing concerns for fighters.
"I was especially disappointed with his lack of concern for athletes' health and safety -- an issue that we, at UFC, consider our top priority," Epstein told ESPN.com "Moreover, we continue to believe the federal government would have no productive role in regulating MMA promotions or competitions. Already, states regulate each bout and MMA athletes are well compensated and treated fairly, which is one of the reasons the sport is the fastest growing in the world."
Rep. Mullin though takes issue with the UFC’s claim that his concerns are misplaced.
"That’s what the UFC is trying to turn the attention to," Rep. Mullin told Luke Thomas. "That we don’t care about the health of the fighters. Literally they said this, on ESPN, that I don’t care about the health of the fighter. I had been a fighter, what do you mean I don’t care about it? But that’s not what this legislation does. This legislation goes to allowing the fighter to be the independent contractor that the UFC says that they are. But they’re not and we all know that. These contracts that they tie these fighters into are anything but an independent contractor type contract."
It should come as no surprise that the UFC would oppose a bill that could have massive consequences on their business model (Again see Show Money Episode 10), for this isn’t the first time they have lobbied against the potential expansion of the Muhammad Ali Reform Boxing Act to MMA. Back in 2008, the UFC retained Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to lobby on Capitol Hill against Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) Professional Boxing Safety Act of 2007 which ended up failing to pass.
The UFC is not alone in their view. Several members of the media have also voiced concerns about applying boxing legislation to MMA. This includes Brent Brookhouse, Sam Caplan, Luke Thomas, and Marc Raimondi.
On the other side, supporters of bringing the Ali Act for MMA include several fighters, amongst them UFC fighters Leslie Smith, and Luke Rockhold, as well Bellator president Scott Coker, Association of Boxing Commissions President Mike Mazzulli and Sen. John McCain.
The two sides will have plenty of time to debate the merit of the bill as it works its way through committee.