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Tim Kennedy: ‘Fear of the repercussions’ halted MMA fighters’ union efforts

UFC veteran and former MMAAA board member Tim Kennedy discusses the fall of the supposed plans for a fighters’ union.

Tim Kennedy prepares to fight Yoel Romero at UFC 178 in 2014.
Tim Kennedy prepares to fight Yoel Romero at UFC 178 in 2014.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It was 2016 when the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA) came into existence. Spearheaded by UFC star Georges St-Pierre and fellow marquee fighters like T.J. Dillashaw, Donald Cerrone, and Tim Kennedy, the goal was to find the balance between fighters and the promotion.

It was indeed a promising idea to have an entity that pushed for a collective bargaining agreement with the UFC and bring the revenue disparity to a 50-50 split with the fighters, especially when backed up by big names. But as time passed, nothing concrete ever came to fruition. Today, numerous UFC fighters, including current champions, continue to complain about their current compensation.

So what exactly happened? Former MMAAA board member Tim Kennedy gave his theories in a recent appearance on The MMA Hour.

“We needed athletes to agree to be part of this association, this union,” he explained. “And Dana White has such control on these athletes, when I said, ‘You have to sign that you’re a part of this organization, and then collectively we’ll all go back together and address healthcare, mental health, TBI [traumatic brain injury], CTE, but we’ll all do it together.’

“But as an athlete, you had to have the courage to be like, ‘This is my name, and I believe that this is the right thing to do, and I might miss a fight because of this’ — five percent of the athlete roster would do it.

“They all say they want to. We went to the major fight camps and it was like, ‘You have to sign this,’ and there was nothing besides, it’s two paragraphs that, ‘I want to be part of this organization and this organization will collectively go and address fighter issues.’

“That’s what this document said, and there was such fear of the repercussions from the organization that nobody would do it. That’s how it died. So the guys that you saw as the face of it, there were those [five], and then there were about another 25 [athletes who signed on with us], and then we had a roster of 500 that didn’t.”

Some of those involved did take a step back in their efforts. UFC veteran Donald Cerrone, for one, said he “probably should have” given company president Dana White a phone call first before partaking in the supposed union plans.

As for Kennedy, he’s been removed from the sport for years now. But he remains displeased by what he sees in terms of fighter treatment.

“It is such an insult. It is so disingenuous to ask these guys to put not just their — they’re putting their health on the line forever,” he said. “You’ve been in the sport long enough to know athletes, that, they’re broken.

“There are lots of athletes, their cognitive decline from how they performed in the ring. Physically, orthopedically, I’m sure if you watched Mark [Coleman] or Dan Henderson try to walk around.

“Even Jake Shields, he gets on the mat, he still moves — right? — but then he comes out and you’re just like, ‘Bro, what was this sport done to you? And at what cost?’ You look at golf, this last golf [news cycle], a guy just signed a $120 million one-year contract. He’s getting $2 million every time he plays golf.

“The last-place worst player on the green is making $250,000. This is golf. And these guys [in MMA] are going out and they’re looking like this? It’s such a tragedy. And I don’t know how to solve that problem besides collective bargaining.”

Kennedy (18-6), now 42, spent three years out of his 15-year professional career in the UFC. He retired in 2017, shortly after his TKO loss to Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 206.