Former CEO and Chairman of Bellator MMA, Bjorn Rebney join forces with five of MMA’s more recognizable names. Georges St-Pierre, Tim Kennedy, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Cain Velasquez and TJ Dillashaw in announcement that will shake up the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) by creating a trade association called the Mixed Martial Arts Association.
As the Ultimate Fighting Championship UFC) was purchased by WME-IMG, best known for its services as a talent agency for athletes and other entertainers, Rebney and the other claim that fighters are only making $0.08 on the dollar instead of what is the standard between other sports organizations like the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball.
“In baseball if a player gets injured on day two of his four year contract, he still will get the $25 million remainder of that contract contract. If you get injured before your fight in the UFC, you get nothing. What we want is so that if they get injured prior to they fight, whether a broken neck or whatever, they will still get paid the remainder of their contract as well. That is what we will be accomplishing for each fighter,” said Rebney an advisor to the Mixed Martial Arts Association.
The five board members are made up of one former and four current UFC fighters, where they have assured that Rebney will only be apart of the day-to-day managerial operations, not as part of the decision making team.
In his opening statement, Sergent First Class and top UFC Middleweight Contender, Tim Kennedy said:
We are going to change the face of an industry today. My first pro fight was in 2001. I have seen MMA grow from a nitche sport to the most popular sport in the world. If you told me in 2001 that the UFC would be worth more than $4 billion I would have never believed you. We are breaking every record that MSG has ever had. When I look back I would have hoped that this level of shocking success by the fighters. It’s not what you just see in the octogon, it’s what we put in the gym. We are the ones who pack the stadiums and the incredible buy rates. We are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars from sponsors, we would have gotten a fair share. We wanted a safety net and it’s not there.
In the military we say, ‘No left behind.’ It’s not meaningless to me for someone who climbed mountain tops to recover dead bodies. it’s not meaningless to me. You would have thought the UFC would have put a safety net so no one will get left behind. You know already that MMA is a tough sport. We have chosen to risk. This is about those fighters that will have no safety net, no pension. Those dealing with their knees, their hands, their shoulders, their brains. Those that will be left with nothing. It is about those who are forgotten and their stories.
Every single one of these fighters have had to play politics in the past with the UFC in whether getting a title shot, a rematch or deal with the rankings. Former two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, Cain Velasquez has had seven surgeries and is scheduled to fight on the year end pay per-view (PPV) December 30th, after which he is scheduled to have his second back surgery and his eight overall.
“My first fight in the UFC was in 2008… There is no post retirement health plan and that’s why what we are doing now is important to make our lives better now and in the future,” said Velasquez.
The reason why the UFC is the focus of this association with little consideration for the second largest promotion, that of which is the Viacom owned Bellator MMA is one primary reason and that is it being the largest acquisition in sports history. Georges St-Pierre, one of the most recognizable names in all of MMA states his first UFC pay day was $3,000 and $3,000, meaning he got $3,000 for the fight and a $3,000 bonus for the victory.
A secondary reason based solely on speculation as to why Bellator is not a focus at this moment could be that A) None of the board members have fought for the organization and B) with Rebney having been the previous CEO, it could be viewed as a conflict of interest.
What we do know is that fighters are paying for their own health insurance outside of competition They also have no retirement plan or pension after putting their bodies on the line, which has left several with injuries that have been long neglected.
Former UFC Bantamweight Champion, TJ Dillashaw explains, “This sport is full of the highest highs and the lowest lows and the lowest lows isn’t lose, but for the UFC fights who have nothing to show for it. I am with Cowboy (Cerrone) on health insurance and pension to help take care of my family. I pay for my own health insurance when training. Most injuries come from training and to hear that only 8 percent of what the UFC is what we are making is crazy. You hear other sports that have health insurance and pensions and we want the same.”
As often as numbers are thrown around, UFC fighters on the pay scale of Cerrone are instantly deducted $10,000 from their purse for medical billing by the UFC. Once all the bills are paid to their coaches, cutmen and training partners, fighters are left with little else except to wonder when their next bout will be.
“I’m going to speak from the heart. A few years ago, if you had asked me to speak about this, I probably wouldn’t have for fear of being fired from the UFC. However, the part of me that needs to be heard is for those that need health care and worry about a pension…Fuck yeah, I’m scared but I’m in it,” said Cerrone, who averages five fights a year in the UFC.
Although the fear of repercussions by the UFC is there, there are laws on the books in every state that prohibits employers from retaliating against their employees. The opportunity for a rogue action perspective to go down like there was 7 years ago for Dana White (president of the UFC) to make any decision he wanted to make giving the bird to everyone is no longer the case, now that WME-IMG on board it’s a different situation.
“Now with WME-IMG on board with 50 or 60 attorneys in their offices, to retaliate against 500 fighters is counter intuitive. It actually adds a different layer of protection in an out of wack system. If WME-IMG steps up and cuts you, takes advantage of you, cuts your teammates, does anything from retaliatory perspective, they will be in deep, deep trouble. The option they had in the way they could 6 years, 5 years ago or 3 years ago, where it was like the wild, wild west has been reigned in,” said Rebney to help easy the nerves of future fighters who are scared to join the association.
Kennedy added, “In addition to the health care, in addition to the compensations, in the pensions and helping the hurt fighters of the past, it’s also to professionalize this sport. You know, Bjorn said 3 years ago, I can look across the table at TJ and know that politics have played into title shots. When you’re going to fight, who you’re going to fight, if you’re going to fight, that is all subjective to matchmakers that work for the UFC. So, while they couldn’t necessarily penalize us, they could give us bad matches or they could us no matches or not give us the title matches we deserve and give it to another steroid using guy. The fact that they can give a guy who has failed numerous steroid tests another title show at their pleasure because of their subjective opinion of what’s going to sell pay per-views is insane. So, an effort in this is to professionalize the sport. The brothers and sisters that are standing together for all fighters are to see this change and to see this sport grow up. We just got sold and it’s now the biggest sell in sports history. We have grown up and there’s fighters that have not been taken care of as if the sport hasn’t. The fans need to understand that there has been a huge travesty that there is a void. If I wasn’t fighting and I was a fan, I don’t know if I could watch another fight knowing the repercussions of what happens to these athletes after the fact. After they step out of the cage. The fans needs to get behind this and need to understand we’re trying to grow this sport up and want to work with the UFC. We want to surpass the NFL. That means we’re making more money, the UFC is making more money, everybody’s making more money and everybody’s happy. The risk versus the reward could be there, it’s just not there right now.”
Now that Pandora’s box has been opened only time will tell with what will come of the Mix Martial Arts Association and the dealings with the UFC, WME-IMG and the list of demands to protect these fighters.