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UFC Faces Antitrust Suit by Fighters Over ‘Iron-Fisted Control’

Bloomberg Law

June 24, 2021

  • COURT: D. Nev.
  • TRACK DOCKET: No. 21-cv-1189
  • JUDGE: Andrew P. Gordon

Two mixed martial arts fighters hit Ultimate Fighting Championship with federal antitrust claims in Las Vegas over its alleged scheme to cement its “iron-fisted control” over the sport—and drive down athlete pay—by acquiring rival promoters and locking top talent into long-term exclusive contracts.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada by Kajan Johnson and Clarence Dolloway, MMA fighters who participated in UFC bouts between 2008 and 2018.

. . .

The proposed class action accuses the organization of leveraging its 90% market share to force fighters into exclusive deals that starve competitors of talent unless they agree to become little more than its minor league affiliates.

“Multiple actual or potential rivals were forced to sell to the UFC, exit the market entirely, or be relegated to ‘feeder league’ status,” the complaint says. “The only remaining promoters of MMA bouts are either fringe competitors” or “entities that have essentially been conscripted by the UFC,” it adds.

As a result, the UFC makes roughly $900 million a year, at among the highest profit margins in all of sports, while its fighters “collectively earn less than 20% of the revenues generated by UFC events,” far less than the 50% share taken in by other major pro athletes, according to the complaint.

“UFC fighters are paid a mere fraction of what they would make in a competitive market,” going “substantially undercompensated despite the punishing—and popular—nature of their profession” and its “natural parallels” to boxing, which is orders of magnitude more lucrative for athletes, the suit says.

The organization’s leaders have even bragged publicly about driving rivals out of business, including in a promotional video featuring a “mock tombstone” and UFC president Dana White calling himself “the grim reaper,” according to the complaint.

As a result of the UFC’s stranglehold on MMA, fighters are allegedly forced to affiliate themselves with it—and accept its prevailing low pay rates—instead of striking out on their own.
The allegations echo an ongoing antitrust case brought by six MMA fighters in 2014. The complaint seeks to update the earlier suit, a proposed class action covering bouts only through mid-2017.

  • Cause of Action: Section 2 of the Sherman Act.
  • Relief: Treble damages, an injunction, costs, and fees.
  • Potential Class Size: Anyone who has competed in a UFC bout since July 1, 2017.
  • Attorneys: The fighters are represented by Kemp Jones LLP, Berger Montague PC, Joseph Saveri Law Firm Inc., Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, and Warner Angle Hallam Jackson & Formanek PLC.

Read UFC Faces Antitrust Suit by Fighters Over ‘Iron-Fisted Control’.