This past weekend, Leslie Smith was set to make her eighth UFC appearance against Aspen Ladd at UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee. Only a few days have passed, and Smith is already planning to take legal action against the promotion.
Smith is the founder and leader of Project Spearhead, an organization launched in the hope of unionizing MMA fighters. The organization’s main goal is determine whether MMA fighters are considered employees or independent contractors.
On Friday at the UFC Atlantic City weigh-ins, Smith’s scheduled opponent Aspen Ladd weighed in 1.8 pounds over the bantamweight limit. The fight with Ladd was the last on Smith’s UFC contract. Ultimately, Smith turned down a catchweight bout with Ladd, but before doing so she told the UFC she would take the fight if the they extended her deal.
According to Smith, the UFC wanted nothing to do with her offer. Instead, the promotion paid her the show money as well as her win bonus for the fight, and they no longer consider “The Peacemaker” a fighter under UFC contract. She has since been removed from the UFC’s official rankings. Smith spoke to MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour about the situation.
“It’s my opinion that what the UFC did was illegal. Because they have created a situation where it encourages a climate of fear where the other people in the UFC on the roster are going to be fearful of publicly organizing and standing up for their rights.
“By creating a climate of fear, that violates federal law. That’s the whole point of the National Labor Relations Board and the laws that are in there.”
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the board that will decide whether MMA fighters are employees or independent contractors. To do so, 30 percent of the UFC roster are required to sign confidential authorization cards before that decision is made. Smith said she was “surprised” at the manner the UFC parted ways with her.
“I think that it opens up an examination of how they feel about my activities in organizing the fighters recently,” Smith said. “I think by doing unusual behavior, it’s going to ask what are the unusual circumstances leading to this?”
After the UFC offered her the $62,000 (contracted fight purse + win bonus), Smith said that she simply could not take the fight with Ladd, as she would essentially be fighting for free, and that goes against everything she vows for as the leader of Project Spearhead.
“I feel like if I didn’t do that at this point, it wouldn’t be living up to everything I’ve been talking about. “That’s why I couldn’t take the fight once they offered me the $62,000, because then I would be fighting for free. And that’s been my whole point this whole time. We shouldn’t be manipulated by pride. We need to look at ourselves as a business and fight for the large sums of money that we deserve.”
As she is no longer a UFC fighter, Smith is no longer eligible for a potential union. Despite this, she has said that she is still very much behind Project Spearhead. For Smith, it’s now a case of getting fighters to sign the authorization cards, as the deadline for the signatures is February 12th, 2019.
“The important thing now is to make it so that other fighters don’t have to take the fall. They don’t have to do anything publicly in order to protect themselves right now. All they have to do is sign authorization cards. That’s it. Nobody will ever know. The National Labor Relations Board will never release their names.”