In the blink of an eye, Leslie Smith went from ranked UFC fighter to unemployed. She feels it was done unjustly, so she is planning legal action against the UFC.
Smith was supposed to have faced Aspen Ladd, another ranked fighter, at UFC Fight Night 128 in Atlantic City, N.J., last Saturday. But when Ladd missed weight, the whole situation went haywire.
Normally, when a fighter is close to making weight but misses the mark, as did Ladd, a penalty is negotiated to keep the fight intact.
In Smith’s case, however, she tried to leverage the blown weight cut by Ladd into an extension of her contract, which was set to expire following the bout with Ladd. The UFC didn’t appear to want anything to do with that.
When all was said and done, the UFC paid Smith her show and win money without requiring her to fight, essentially buying her out of the last fight on her contract. She says she was also told they had no interest in working out a new deal.
Leslie Smith Explains Why She is Launching Legal Action Against the UFC
Following that situation, Smith is now planning to launch legal action against the UFC, as she feels that the reason the UFC bought out her contract was in retaliation for her public efforts to get UFC fighters declared employees instead of subcontractors, which would facilitate her ultimate goal of wanting to unionize the fighters.
“In early February of this year, I launched Project Spearhead. Project Spearhead is an initiative to collect authorization cards from my fellow UFC fighters with the goal of submitting cards from at least 30-percent of the roster to determine whether we, as fighters, are employees entitled to unionize,” Smith explained on her GoFundMe page, which was set up to help pay her legal expenses.
“I was publicly vocal in my efforts to organize my UFC fighter colleagues in the press, online, through social media channels and in interviews. I was equally vocal in my efforts to protect fighter rights when I saw perceived mistreatment.”
Considering that Smith was successful in the Octagon – she was 4-3 and had won her last two fights when this whole situation played out – she perceived the UFC’s actions as retaliation for her forming Project Spearhead. In her eyes, it was essentially a way to be rid of her.
“On Friday, April 20, 2018, my opponent missed the contracted weight of 135 pounds. I attempted to extend my contract with the UFC after my opponent missed weight,” she wrote. “However, the UFC, in perceived retaliation against my legally protected right to unionize, declined to extend my contract. In addition, the UFC advised me it would pay me, in an unprecedented fashion, my show and win money without fighting so that the remaining fight on my contract would be considered fulfilled. I was removed from the UFC posted rankings less than 48 hours later.
“I have been one of few UFC fighters to publicly speak in favor of a fighter’s union. I also recently launched Project Spearhead, an organization that is currently collecting authorization cards from UFC fighters to file with the National Labor Relations Board. I was the ninth ranked UFC Women’s Bantanweight in the world and had won three of my last four fights, but the UFC’s actions resulted in me being removed as a fighter in the UFC. It is my opinion that I was removed from the UFC in direct retaliation for exercising my rights to organize a union. The UFC has now forced me to enforce these rights through legal channels.”
Leslie Smith’s Attorney to File a Complaint with the National Labor Relations Board
Smith’s attorney, Lucas Middlebrook, told ESPN on Tuesday that the way his client’s UFC tenure ended could actually speed up Project Spearhead’s efforts. If UFC fighters are subcontractors, as the promotion sees them, they don’t fall under the same rules as employees. But if the NLRB determines that they are employees, efforts to unionize could speed up dramatically.
Because Smith feels she was unjustly cut loose by the UFC, Middlebrook intends to file a complaint on her behalf with the NLRB, who would then be forced to determine Smith’s classification as an employee or subcontractor to determine whether or not it should take any action against the UFC.
“The biggest question is whether the actions the UFC took are retaliation for her role with Project Spearhead,” Middlebrook told ESPN. “It would essentially be firing an individual for unionizing in the workplace, which is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act.
“Another question is, ‘If you file a charge as an independent contractor, how are you entitled to protections under the National Labor Relations Act?’ And the answer is that if the UFC makes that argument and we contest it, the NLRB will have to make a finding on it.”