Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Would A Union Make Sense for Mixed Martial Arts?

Mark Coleman is a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and is widely considered the Grandfather of Ground and Pound. He is a former UFC Heavyweight and Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Champion.

"The Hammer" is one of few fighter to bridge both eras of Mixed Martial Arts; he competed in the early days of the UFC against legends like Dan Severn and Don Frye, while also fighting stars of today like Fedor Emelianenko and "Minotauro" Nogueira during his time with Pride.

Since the earning potential of a champion during Coleman's time at the top was far less than it is today, the 44-year-old fights on, feeding his competitive fire and evening out some of those early small paychecks with larger lumps sums for his more recent performances.

Coleman is not alone; some are in the same position and others still are worse off. With the emergence of the sport into the mainstream, Mixed Martial Arts might be ready for a Fighters Union now more than ever.

While there is nothing that can be done to improve the poor pay fighters earned in those early years of building the sport to what it is today, taking care of current stars and improving things for the future is very much a possibility.

Equality of pay is one topic that is always discussed when the topic of a fighters union is brought up, and for the sake of this particular article, I'm going to stay away from it.

Not that I don't have opinions on the matter, because let's face it, I have an opinion on everything, but because there are other things a fighters union can provide that exceed the benefits of putting more money in fighters pockets right now.

For starters, they can help educate fighters about how to ensure they have money in their pockets when the spotlights fade and their careers are over.

Only a select few fighters make the kind of money that offers financial security in the future; hundreds of thousands of dollars per fight with a share of the pay-per-view money isn't something that is available outside of the upper echelon of fighters.

Everyone else needs to be smart about their money and a union can help educate fighters in that regard, teaching about investment, future earning potential, and alternate ways to earn income outside of the ring like sponsorships and endorsements.

Additionally, a fighters union can help prepare these modern day gladiators for life after fighting. While some like Kenny Florian and Frank Mir look to have opportunities in broadcasting once they put away the pads once and for all, those opportunities are few and far between.

Although some fighters currently operate their own gyms and have additional sources of income outside of the ring, advice and guidance is never a bad thing when coming from someone with your best interest in mind.

We see this with a number of professional sports, so why should MMA be any different?

The NFL, NBA and NHL all run rookie symposiums where they do their best to educate the latest class of millionaires on these very issues. These week-long sessions are non-negotiable; just like home room, attendance is mandatory ... unless you've got a note from your mom.

If the NFL is pro-active enough to sit down first overall selection Matthew Stafford and his $64M guaranteed income, couldn't Mixed Martial Arts be doing the same with fighters who are making far less?

The Mark Colemans of the world are a declining population; guys who missed the financial windfall while breaking their back to help build the sport into the money-making machine it is today.

As the sport continues to grow and the financial opportunities improve for everyone, stars and non-stars alike, there needs to be someone or something in place to help guide them towards a financially-secure future and life after fighting.

Managers and agents help, without question, but a union would help even more. After all, not everyone is blessed with a Shari Spencer like Georges St. Pierre.

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A big shout out on this one to my man Nate Double from Bleacher Report.

Having a back-and-forth with him yesterday about the retirement issue brought this idea into my head.

Thanks Nate...


  1. This is a poorly thought out and a flat out wrong attitude. MMA is less than 10 years old (Zuffa time)... before that, it was just like Deadwood in the wild wild West.

    How many years did it take for MLB, NFL, NBA, etc to unionize? The UFC has a world market penetration strategy first and foremost. Fighters can get compensated by reaching greater markets or by taking a higher share (a bigger piece of pie) of the limited existing market. They should all know that Zuffa's efforts to grow globally will put more money in their pockets faster.

    When the growth curve reaches its final plateau, then unions should have more of a role. Til then, let the UFC continue to go hardcore into expansion and incurring the massive marketing and legal costs associated with that strategy. Then once they have eliminated the major competition out of the way and they settle in to a concise global product, unions become highly relevant. People want it all rightaway, nowadays... petty, 'little picture' thinking by small brains.

  2. Outside of your first and last sentence, I'm with you 100%.

    Saying an opinion is wrong and insinuating someone has a small brain for not thinking as in-depth on the subject as you have is dicey...

    I'm not a union guy; don't know a ton about them, but do know there are pros and cons.

    I appreciate your insights here and welcome you to keep sharing your knowledge on the subject moving forward.

    Just play nice...

  3. This is highly unlikely in the current picture and how MMA is run. Pretty much all MMA organizations work in a model where fighters are not employees but independant contractors. This is quite a shift in philosophy and and it not in the picture right now. It hasn't happened in Boxing, working in a similar model, and it has been a few years since the sport has been there.

    Furthermore, there seems to be pervasive right-leaning politics in MMA, which would squash any kind of movement towards a union, that is clearly a left concept. I could see it happening if the US and Japan would lose their lead in the promotional arena and the number of fighters they have. Should European fighters become a large portion of the sport, I could see it. Now or the near future is almost an impossibility.

  4. All the things you mentioned are things the Zuffa could provide in-house, and that wouldn't require hiring the fighters to do so. None of the above items are a galvanizing issue that fighters would rally around. Consequently, Zuffa could offer optional financial planning and money management sessions as an additional incentive for fighters to join the organization.


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