UFC Class Action Attorneys Go to Battle with MMA Athletes Association

The history of trying to organize mixed martial arts fighters has been riddled with competing factions that can’t seem to get on the same page in representing the fighters’ best interests. And it doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon.

Attorneys representing Cung Le, Jon Fitch, Nate Quarry and other fighters in a class action lawsuit filed against the UFC in 2014, sent a letter to Bjorn Rebney about the recently announced Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association, claiming he and his “investors” are being less than forthright about their intentions, and warning that their attempt to achieve a “settlement” with the UFC could compromise the efforts of their lawsuit and divide the efforts of fighters attempting to organize.

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Bjorn Rebney“As you must be aware, the fighters are better off united than divided, and thus your attempts to sow division operate to no one’s advantage but Zuffa’s,” said the letter from attorneys Eric L. Cramer, Michael Dell’Angelo, Joseph R. Saveri, and Benjamin D. Brown, which was obtained by BloodyElbow.com.

The class-action attorneys went on to detail the alleged improprieties of Rebney’s group when they all met late last year.

“Worse, as we both know—but which you have failed to disclose publicly—you, your investors, and your legal team had previously sought to be included in our efforts to prosecute the UFC Class Action—as long as you and your investors could share in any recovery. Indeed, well after the UFC Class Action was underway, at the invitation of Ken Pavia, Class Counsel agreed to attend an October 15, 2015, meeting with you (as the former CEO of Bellator), representatives of Creative Artists Agency (‘CAA’), Mr. Pavia and your lawyers at the offices of CAA in New York.

“You and your representatives told us that you had formed the MMAAA, which (you then said) was supported by ‘hundreds’ of current and former MMA fighters. You claimed further that you had contemplated starting your own rival antitrust action if Co-Lead Counsel did not meet certain demands. Five days later, on October 20, 2015, the ‘Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association’ was registered with the California Secretary of State and assigned entity number C3836158.2

“Ten days after the meeting at CAA, on October 25, 2015, your attorneys presented us with your demands. You proposed that we, as Co-Lead Counsel, promise to devote a certain percentage of any class-wide recovery in the Class Action to the MMAAA, which monies you told us would be used for compensating unnamed ‘investors’ for unspecified expenses incurred in establishing the organization, among other things. You further demanded that your representatives should be allowed full participation in any settlement negotiations that might occur in the Class Action. As you know, we rejected your demands because we believed that they were neither consistent with applicable canons of professional ethics, nor with our duties as Co-Lead Class Counsel to protect the interests of all UFC fighters in the proposed classes that the Court appointed us (and not you or your lawyers) to represent.”

The MMAAA, of course, was quick to respond. Attorneys Jim Quinn and Eric Hochstadt sent the following statement to MMAWeekly.com: 

“As Georges St-Pierre, Donald Cerrone, T.J. Dillashaw, Tim Kennedy, and Cain Velasquez made clear in the official public announcement last week, the Mixed Martial Arts Athlete Association (“MMAAA”) is all about looking out for the fighters and their well-being long-term. 

“Yesterday, the MMAAA received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from a group of lawyers seeking to stop the MMAAA from signing up fighters and sticking up for their rights against the UFC and its owners WME-IMG.  The MMAAA will do no such thing.  Those lawyers – who represent only a few fighters – are focused on getting some money out of one case, of which they seek a significant portion for themselves.  Those lawyers do not speak for anyone else, and certainly not the MMAAA and all the fighters the organization represents now and will quickly grow to represent in the sport. 

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“Over a year ago, those same lawyers reached out to the MMAAA to join forces with us.  We had a meeting and made clear that the MMAAA’s primary focus would be on achieving three core goals: 1) substantially increasing UFC fighter pay to 50%; 2) securing all-encompassing long term benefits for UFC fighters; and 3) a settlement to compensate past and current UFC fighters for all of the UFC’s wrongs.  To achieve these goals for the benefit of the fighters, we also made clear the MMAAA needed to receive a percentage of a monetary settlement to cover the costs to fund the MMAAA for staffing and attorneys both for past work getting to this point and the long fight ahead.  The lawyers made clear that they did not share the MMAAA’s vision.  They are focused on a short-term monetary recovery, of which they will seek 33%, and then they are gone from this sport.  We parted ways at that point. 

“The MMAAA is all about the fighters benefitting when the UFC is finally forced to take a powerful group of the fighters seriously.  The MMAAA will be executing on that plan and will not be stopped in this effort on behalf of fighters.”

The fighting between competing fighter organizational factions has only served to slow progress in forming any sort of significant entity to represent mixed martial arts athletes. This current fray between the filers of UFC anti-trust lawsuit and the MMAAA is just the latest example, and is sure to slow the efforts of both.

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