Kajan Johnson is involved in two different groups that advocate for fighters’ rights but have two different end goals. So what?
Johnson, a UFC lightweight, recently joined Project Spearhead as interim vice president. Project Spearhead is a new effort to unionize UFC and Bellator fighters launched by UFC women’s bantamweight Leslie Smith earlier this month.
Johnson has been part of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA) for years. The MMAFA, on the other hand, does not want to unionize — it only wants to create a trade association, a group that does not have collective bargaining power. Its focus is the Ali Act MMA extension and the antitrust lawsuit against the UFC.
Despite their differences, the Canadian doesn’t see an issue with working with both groups.
“The main reason why I was not hesitant to join this organization is because I was assured this is a democratic group,” Johnson told BloodyElbow.com. “We don’t know what we’re doing yet; we don’t know what our end goal is, whether that’s a union, whether that’s an association.”
Johnson’s main role as interim vice president of Project Spearhead will, for now, be helping with what everyone else involved is doing — gathering authorization cards from fighters.
“Ragin” is currently in Montreal to finish up his fight camp at TriStar headquarters. He plans on asking fighters to sign cards there, as well as in London when he travels overseas for his fight against Steven Ray at UFC Fight Night 127 next month. He also said he hopes there will be another UFC athlete retreat in Las Vegas this year, because that’d be an ideal place to get many fighters to sign cards.
“To my understanding, I’m just here to help and assist with any of our efforts to organize,” Johnson said. “I’ll be trying to get more people to sign up, mainly. I’m getting some cards, and then I’m gonna start handing them out to fighters and try to get more people to join our effort.”
Johnson talked to a representative from the MMAFA after joining Project Spearhead. According to Johnson, the association is “not super happy” with his effort to unionize.
That said, he doesn’t expect to get kicked out of the MMAFA like Smith, who had been part of the group for a number of years until last year. She asked former NBA star Kobe Bryant about unions at the UFC athlete retreat last May, and the MMAFA did not appreciate her line of thinking, per Smith.
Johnson added that the MMAFA rep said one of the reasons the MMAFA doesn’t support Project Spearhead is because it’s worried Project Spearhead will distract fighters away from its Ali Act and other efforts.
“They don’t trust what Leslie is doing; they don’t trust her for their own reasons. They do trust me and my intentions and my motives. They think the wool is being pulled over my eyes or something — I don’t believe that that is the case,” Johnson said.
“I’m gonna keep a foot in both worlds, unless the MMAFA gets mad at me and kicks me out or something, which doesn’t seem like they’re gonna do. Although, they have made it clear that they do not support this new group. They are not on board with it.”
All in all, Johnson believes both groups are positive and necessary efforts.
“I think that the work that the MMAFA has done on the Ali Act is the most important thing that’s happened for mixed martial artists since the creation of the UFC. I think they need to be there, and I will continue to help them in any way that I can,” Johnson said. “I’m gonna continue to pursue this new project, as well, as I think it could very possibly turn into something that is the second answer to the problem of the exploitation that mixed martial artists are facing right now.”
In fact, Johnson wishes Project Spearhead and the MMAFA could one day work together — and thinks both groups could benefit from doing so.
“We can check each other and make sure that we end up doing what’s right for everybody. Because really, that’s all that matters — that’s all that anybody cares about.”
UPDATE (6:20 p.m. ET):
Johnson told BloodyElbow.com Tuesday afternoon that since the above interview was conducted, the MMAFA has asked him to leave and that he is no longer part of the group. Johnson had been part of the MMAFA for years.
“(MMAFA member) Carlos Newton called me and said, ‘We don’t support this new unionization effort, and if you want to be a part of it, then we gotta ask you to leave the group chat,’” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘That’s really f-cking sh-tty.’ It kind of hurt my feelings. We see things differently, and I guess they’re not willing to work with me. It is what it is.”
Still, Johnson parted ways on good terms.
“That being said, I’m still talking to Carlos,” he said. “We talk almost daily about this whole issue — the Ali Act, unionization, what I believe the possibilities are for unionization. ... We’re still cool, but we’re going different directions now.”
Despite the fact he is no longer involved in the MMAFA, Johnson won’t stop change his stance on the Ali Act in MMA. He thinks it is still the “foundation” of increasing fighters’ rights and hopes it is included in any collective bargaining agreement Project Spearhead may sign in the future.
Ultimately, he decided to agree to leave the MMAFA instead of stay there and not work with Project Spearhead, because he can promote unionization and the Ali Act while part of Project Spearhead. You can’t say the same for the MMAFA.
“I’m not gonna stop pushing the Ali Act. I’m not gonna stop talking about the Ali Act,” Johnson said. “The Ali Act is the most important thing for fighters to move us forward. But just because that is the most important, that doesn’t mean we can’t set up other things, as well.”
MMAFA founder Rob Masey did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.