As the class-action antitrust lawsuit filed by former fighters against the UFC approached the end of the fact discovery period, multiple motions had piled up awaiting rulings. Last Thursday, Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen knocked them all out, paving the way for the future of the case.
Both the fighters and the UFC had previously issued subpoenas for confidential Bellator documents, which the Scott Coker-led promotion attempted to quash. Judge Leen denied Bellator and will now choose between the fighters’ proposal seeking quarterly and event-level financial information and the UFC’s proposal which, in addition to the financials, would also include a random sample of contracts from at least 20% of Bellator’s fighters, including signing and discretionary bonuses.
In a fighter motion pending since Aug. 31, 2016, the judge apparently granted access to a memo, e-mail, and draft presentation relating to a 2013 Fighter Pay Assessment allegedly performed by the consulting firm Mercer Inc. More information should be available in her pending written order.
The UFC scored a small victory when the judge refused to force it to produce a log of Dana White’s telephone communications. The fighters believed White had four separate telephone numbers and the “[UFC] failed to secure White's devices containing highly relevant [electronically stored information] and has yet to produce much of it. Worse yet [UFC] waited even longer to reveal that it could not - and still cannot - locate at least one device from which White and Lorenzo Fertitta (former Chairman and CEO of [UFC]) exchanged highly relevant and damning communications that strongly support Plaintiff claims.” With little explanation, Judge Leen rejected the fighters’ motion to compel.
The discovery deadline was pushed back to July 31 and fighters were given an extra three hours (10 hours instead of the usual seven) to depose UFC President Dana White, former matchmaker Joe Silva, COO Lawrence Epstein, former COO Kirk Hendrick, and former VP and Assistant General Counsel Michael Mersch. White does not yet appear to have been deposed while Silva’s deposition was scheduled to take place yesterday. Fighters believe all five individuals were “key witnesses” with “extensive involvement” in the UFC’s management and business affairs, along with former CEO Lorenzo Fertitta who was previously deposed in March.
Other unaffected but yet-to-be-completed depositions include those of Bellator CEO Scott Coker, new UFC owners WME IMG, and possibly Mark Cuban. As the CEO of AXS – formerly HDNet – the fighters are attempting to depose Cuban regarding HDNet Fights failed 2008 attempt to promote a mega-bout between superstars Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko.
As things stand, 2018 should be a hot year for this case. With class certification early, summary judgment mid-year, and a possible trial towards the end, much could be learned and uncovered about the MMA industry’s business backend.
Bloody Elbow will keep readers updated as the case progresses.
Paul covers MMA business and analytics for Bloody Elbow and is a former provider of expert witness support in antitrust cases. Follow him @MMAanalytics.