UFC Officials Deny Monopoly, But Is It Time For A Fighter Union?

March 14, 2011

Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White UFC 100

Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White at UFC 100

The Ultimate Fighting Championship was already the leading fight promotion in the world, and the number one pay-per-view provider. With its parent company, Zuffa, LLC, acquiring Strikeforce on Saturday, the company’s overall foothold in the industry is stronger than ever.

Reaction to the deal has been a mixed bag.

Even though the two fight promotions are currently expected to operate somewhat independently of each other, fans see the opportunity for fighters that weren’t able to face each other before, now suddenly becoming a distinct possibility.

Many agents and fighters see it as a dual-edged sword. Yes, the most powerful company in the business, Zuffa, LLC, is now behind even more contracts, offering a wider array of promotional capabilities, but now, there are also less elite level promotional options if fighters don’t want to or can’t work with Zuffa.

The questions ring out about whether or not Zuffa – which has now swallowed up the likes of World Extreme Cagefighting, Pride Fighting Championships, and now Strikeforce – has too much control of the market.

UFC officials think not.

“There’s always gonna be competition,” said UFC president Dana White on Monday. “There’s tons of shows that happen every weekend all over the world.

“What we’re doing is we continue to expand, grow this sport, grow this business. We need more fighters. As we continue to do all the shows that we’re doing here in the United States – we start pushing into these new markets – we need more guys.

“This isn’t a thing about competition, it’s about growing the sport.”

White argues that his company’s recent acquisition is a good thing for both fans and fighters, too.

“All these guys that fight for Strikeforce now work for the biggest mixed martial arts organization in the world; nothing wrong with that.”

Lorenzo Fertitta, the chairman and CEO of Zuffa and the UFC, concurs. He, obviously, sees this only as a positive for the fighters that are now under his charge.

“Working for a company like Zuffa, they’re dealing with a company that has vast financial resources, so from the standpoint of them continuing on and their contracts being honored, it’s good for them to be with a good healthy company.”

He also echoes White’s assertion, arguing that there is plenty of competition in the marketplace, vociferously denying any suggestions that his company has an unfair monopoly on the sport.

“Painting this picture that there aren’t options is entirely untrue,” stated Fertitta.

“We wouldn’t have done the transaction if we felt that we were (unfairly controlling the market). There’s literally thousands of promotions and thousands of options for the fighters, it just so happens that with the groundwork that we’ve put in place over the last 10, 11 years, we happen to be the most successful.

“There’s plenty of competition and there’s really no barrier to entry. Anybody that wants to get in this business, they can go file for a promoter’s license, put up some capitol, go sign some fighters, and go get a television contract. It’s a wide open market for anyone who wants to get involved.”

Arguments about a monopoly aside, there is no questioning that, as Fertitta said, Zuffa is the most successful fight company in the business. Strikeforce may continue to operate as a separate entity from the UFC, but it is still under the same umbrella. Zuffa now houses all but a fraction of the elite mixed martial arts talent in the world.

A specific sub-question to control of the industry is control of its employees, specifically the fighters. Has Zuffa brought so much of the best talent in the world under the employ of one parent company that a fighter union is necessary?

Surprisingly, White doesn’t automatically say no. He does, however, immediately see roadblocks that will prevent unionization in mixed martial arts from happening in the same way that it has in the NFL and other major sports leagues.

“I think (forming a union) is up to the fighters, if the fighters got together and wanted to do a fighters’ union,” he told MMAWeekly.com.

“The problem with that in the fight business, this really isn’t a team sport. I don’t think you’re gonna see some of the guys that are making the big, big money wanting to kick some of their money down to some of these guys that might never make it or might never be.”

Individual fighters have made the argument for a fighter’s union over the years, but just as many, or more, have cited the increasing pay scale and other streams of revenue that have come with the growth of the sport. The same growth that White and Fertitta say has driven their company’s acquisition of other promotions.

They obviously won’t make a push for a fighters union. Zuffa is growing at an ever-accelerating rate across the globe without one, and like most companies, they surely wouldn’t want some other entity telling them how to operate their business, or pay their employees.

But unions aren’t a concept that employers created in the first place.

As White put it, “That isn’t up to us, that’s up to them.”

Ken Pishna is the managing editor of MMAWeekly.com.
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