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New UFC fighters association launches, claims support of NFL, MLB, & NHL unions

A new fighters association has entered the market, with an eye towards unionizing the UFC’s talent. And they say they’ve got the backing of other major US stick & ball players unions.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Boetsch vs Herman Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It looks like the push for collective bargaining in MMA just took an interesting step forward. A new entity has announced their entry into the field of fighter organization with the formation of the Professional Fighters Association, or PFA for short. The group is led by sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, attorney Lucas Middlebrook (notable for representing Nick Daiz against the NSAC), and agent Jeff Borris, who formerly represented Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco and currently works with the Ballengee group (which also happens to represent Diaz).

And it’s not just in the front office that the PFA appears to be bringing some serious muscle. They’re making claims that they have the backing of a number of notable union heads across the North American sports landscape as well. A press release announcing their formation included quotes from the NFL Players Association, MLB Players Association, NHL Players Association, and MLS Players Union executive directors saying that they had “provided PFA with their support of the UFC fighters’ quest to organize and collectively bargain their terms and conditions of employment.”

“As a strong labor Union, the NFL Players Association recognizes the need for a collective voice among athletes and supports the efforts of the UFC fighters to stand together as a team to advance their rights as working men and women,” said current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

And it is notable that the stated goal of the PFA is not to represent all fighters across all organizations, but only those “employed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.” Which incidentally, right now happens to be technically zero. The first step toward getting a real union together would likely have to involve getting the status of UFC talent re-classified from contractor to employee.

Also of note, in a perhaps coincidentally timed press release, the MMAFA put forth a public statement directed at fighters and their agents. The MMAFA is the most prominent already existing fighters association. At the moment, they’re currently involved in the push to bring the Ali Act to MMA. And they offered something of a warning against “others” offering “to assist in organizing a ‘fighter’s union.’”

“With our success and news of the UFC’s sale we are likely to see others offer to assist in organizing a ‘fighter’s union.’ Of course they will not have similar knowledge of the industry, nor will they have much of a track record looking out for MMA fighters. But they will still be offering their assistance . . . for a price. Further efforts to organize fighters only lead to delays. In the coming days and weeks, you will likely receive lawyer solicitations, union solicitations, and solicitations from your own agents to get involved in organizing efforts. We urge you to politely decline all such requests. Together, in one unified movement, we will succeed.”

The MMAFA has a long history of work inside the sport already under its feet, but the potential backing of the other major North American stick & ball sports behind the PFA looks impressive. It may be the kind of powerful support that draws fighters worried about the backlash of aligning themselves with either organization. Either way, the battle for collective bargaining in MMA is likely going to be a long, difficult process. In the short term however, it appears to have just become a bit more interesting.