Within the past year there have been several people within the mixed martial arts industry that have gone to great effort to claim that the Muhammad Ali Act is applicable to the sport of MMA. Supporters of this position include Dallas Mavericks and HDNet owner Mark Cuban as well as Rob Maysey, the founder of a organization calling itself the “Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association.”
The “MMAFA” claims its aim is to “establish an association comprised entirely of mixed martial artists and their trainers for the purpose of creating a truly professional structure for the mixed martial arts industry.” So far, the site does not currently list any fighters or trainers affiliated with its organization.
The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act was passed in 2000 and is a federal law intended to protect professional boxers from being taken advantage of by managers, promoters, and sanctioning bodies. The law mandates that several legal protections be afforded to boxers due to the fact that there is not a athlete’s association to act in its best interest in order to provide representation and protection.
A general description of the type of protections afforded to boxers under the Reform Act include the following, as per Wikipedia.com:
“The boxer cannot, for example, be required to give away future promotional rights as a requirement of competing in a match that is a mandatory bout under the rules of a sanctioning organization. The act also requires sanctioning bodies to reveal to state commissions various information about matches that are held, fees charged to boxers for the sanctioning body to sanction a match, as well as any payment or comps received for the body for affiliating itself with the promoter. It also requires promoters to disclose a large amount of the financial information about bouts to the state commissions, as well as to the boxers they promote.”
The Ali Act is great for boxing and was long overdue when it was passed eight years ago. But to be blunt, I think a lot of what I’ve read claiming that the Ali Act applies to MMA is ridiculous. In fact, at times, I’ve found some of what I’ve read to be complete gibberish.
It’s nonsensical to me that are those who claim MMA is bound by the rules and regulations of the Ali Act. I’m no lawyer, but how can a law be retroactively re-written and applied to a sport is was not assigned for? Again, I’m not a lawyer, but in order to force MMA to abide by the Ali Act’s principles, wouldn’t new legislation have to be passed? Just because someone in a neighboring township happens to own a house that looks similar to mine doesn’t mean I have to abide by the ordinances of their township.
This is truly a case of apples and oranges. The business models of boxing and MMA are completely different. So different that I believe the business model for MMA is more similar to the models for professional baseball, basketball, and football than boxing.
In boxing, you have a manager and a promoter. In MMA, you don’t sign with a promoter — you sign with a promotion. What’s the difference? Well, in a lot of ways, a promoter is a second manager. The promoter controls your promotional fights and can tell you when, where, and who you will be fighting. A promotion is an actual company that has a brand identity. You sign a contract with the company but then you work with a manager or agent to sign bout agreements for fights on a case-by-case basis. There is no rankings system, thus, no mandatory challengers or deadlines.
I really have to question the motives of those championing the cause of the Muhammad Ali Act and trying to apply it to a sport it was never intended for. Is it because they truly care about the fighters? Or, is it because it’s a strategic attempt to weaken the UFC’s market share? I tend to believe that the true motive for most is the latter as opposed to the former.
Those reading this essay could try to conclude that by me being dismissive of the Muhammad Ali Act, I am not supportive of fighter’s rights. That’s hardly the case. As someone who trained in the sport of MMA before I ever wrote a single word about it, I believe that this blog is extremely empathetic to the plight of the common mixed martial artist. With a few exceptions, Five Ounces of Pain has always been a fighter-friendly website. I do believe fighters need more protection from big business and corporate greed but I just do not feel that the Muhammad Ali Act can protect all of their needs.
As I said earlier, MMA’s business model is much closer to professional baseball, basketball, and football. In the major leagues of all three sports the players are represented by a player’s union or association. A union of fighters may or may not happen in our lifetime, but it is still the best way for the fighters to protect their interests. Boxers aren’t put into positions where they are being asked to surrender their likeness for just 10% of the gross profits such as the UFC is doing. The UFC is able to get away with making such take it or leave it offers because it can play divide and conquer with individual fighters.
However, if the UFC had to negotiate likeness rights with a collective group, they would not have nearly as much leverage. The UFC would either have to satisfy the demands of the union of run the risk of producing a video game with the UFC brand name but generic fighters.
Additionally, if a UFC newcomer doesn’t want to agree to fight for the standard minimum of $4,000, unless they are Brock Lesnar, they are left with one of two options: accept the offer and fight for the UFC or decline the offer and not fight for the UFC. However, a union would have the power to go to the UFC and set a higher-standard for minimum payments. Furthermore, a union would have the power to go to a promotion and negotiate things such as improved health benefits.
But most importantly, a union would potentially have the power to go to a major promotion and demand they make revenue figures public. If fighter compensation of all kind was a matter of public record, agents and managers could negotiate better deals for their fighters. And if the UFC or EliteXC had to report their gross revenue to a union, the fighters could negotiate a precise percentage of how much revenue a company would have to allot to fighter salaries. In all major team sports leagues, there is an exact percentage of how revenue generated by a league is split between ownership and the players.
The UFC routinely claims that a reason why they aren’t able to spend more on fighter salaries is because they have to spend so much on infrastructure. But the fighters don’t have a say when and where the UFC spends its money. A guy only making $10,000 per fight with a wife and two kids really doesn’t care if the UFC needs $4 million to spend on a marketing campaign in the Philippines.
In other professional team sports, how the pie is divided is cut and dry; the owners get their share of money to do with what they want and the players get theirs. Nobody told the NFL to create their own television network; it made that decision on its own. Thus far, the NFL Network has not lived up to financial expectations but the saving grace is that the players cut of the revenue is locked in and remains the same regardless of the league’s net profit. That’s the difference between the UFC and major team sports: the UFC is constantly waving the cost of doing business in the face of the fighters whereas in major team sports, if the owners want to do something, they have to do it with their share of the revenue or they don’t do it at all (unless we’re talking about building stadiums with public money… in which case, the athletes are still not on the hook… just the taxpayers).
The issues outlined above are the kinds of things MMA needs most and they are the kinds of things that the Muhammad Ali Act would fail to address. Despite these facts, Maysey continues to try and push the argument that the act applies to MMA. But there is a fatal flaw in his argument which is that nowhere in the Muhammad Ali Act does it contain the phrases “mixed martial arts” or “mixed martial arts.” To try and exaggerate its scope and claim it applies to all combat sports athletes is also suspect, as the act specifically utilizes the phrases “boxing” and “boxers” and in no way deviates from boxing terminology.
Despite the fact that boxing and MMA are completely different sports with a different culture and a vastly different business structure, Mr. Maysey’s response to questions of how the Ali Act can apply to MMA when it was not written with the sport in mind is to cite a little-known clause in a real estate law. Maysey’s latest argument for the Ali Act applying to MMA is that the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act applies condominiums even though the legislation was written nine years before Congress used the term “condominium.”
If you’re confused how the government’s position on a real estate law supports an argument that a law drafted solely to protect boxers applies to MMA, join the club. I’d like to offer you a greater explanation but Maysey’s attempt to connect the dots in this instance falls way short. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I find the logic expressed in his most recent argument to be suspect, at best.
As I’ve said before, MMA is a fast-growing sport and has established its own identity. The days of being forced to take the hand-me-downs of boxing should be over by now. I don’t understand why people like Maysey are trying to jam the Muhammad Ali Act down MMA’s throat. If they truly are concerned for the welfare of the fighters, why not try to write and pass a “Randy Couture Reform Act” that applies to the specific needs of mixed martial artists? Now that’s a cause I could support.