Project Spearhead won’t just focus on UFC fighters.
The new unionization effort will also include athletes signed to Bellator, which has long been considered the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world, interim president Leslie Smith and vice president Kajan Johnson both told BloodyElbow.com Sunday. MMA journalist James Lynch first reported the news Saturday.
Johnson said after joining the Project Spearhead interim executive board, he approached Smith about also working with Bellator fighters. Initially, Project Spearhead just asked UFC fighters to sign authorization cards. Before Johnson’s request, Smith was a little hesitant about including Bellator, because she isn’t as involved in that promotion. But once Johnson said he could help out with ties to Bellator, Smith was more than happy to extend Project Spearhead’s inclusion to the Viacom-backed promotion.
“I’ve been open to working with other promotions — specifically Bellator — for a long time,” Smith said. “I don’t know as many people in Bellator, so for me to just dive right in with Bellator, I didn’t see as clear a path with going after Bellator. I don’t have the same connections with the different fighters and I’m not as deeply involved with Bellator. But Kajan says that he is, and the goal is ultimately to help all the fighters that are fighting in the major organizations get treated. As soon as Kajan said that he sees a way to make it happen, then I said that was great and let’s do it.”
Per Smith, the Project Spearhead interim executive board has not yet decided exactly how they will balance their plans to organize both UFC and Bellator fighters.
The Project Spearhead board can either choose to combine UFC and Bellator fighters in one multi-employer bargaining unit or keep them separate, Smith said. There are pros and cons to both scenarios.
“There are definitely a lot of promising possibilities whether we keep it separate or together, and they definitely change with whichever approach we do,” Smith said.
“I don’t want to do anything that’s going to slow down our process with the UFC, so if we’re not on the same timeline, that is gonna probably lead to us keeping them separate,” Smith said. “But if we can get everything on the same timeline (we could keep them together) — and there’s a good chance that we can, because of the momentum.”
Another hurdle Project Spearhead will have to overcome is determining the exact Bellator roster size — and which fighters are eligible to be part of a potential union. Bellator often brings on board local fighters for its undercards but don’t sign those fighters onto exclusive, multi-fight deals. Smith said she isn’t sure at this time whether those fighters would be able to be included in the voting unit.
Smith said she is “very excited” about including Bellator, because its president, Scott Coker, has supported an increase of fighters’ rights in the past.
“It will be very nice to see if [Bellator is] going to be willing to voluntarily recognize us as we get more fighters on board,” Smith said.