Retired NFL player: Could Conor create a players association?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Mixed martial arts has reached mainstream sports status. It’s the biggest driver worldwide of pay-per-view television buys. However, unlike mainstream sports team sports like football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, and individual sports like tennis, and golf, MMA does not have a players association or union.

Ex-NFL linebacker with a Super Bowl ring A.J. Hawk appeared recently on MMAjunkie Radio and lamented the lack of a union in mixed martial arts.

“Having the NFLPA is huge,” said Hawk, as transcribed by Steven Marrocco. “I don’t know how the NFL would be without the union.”

“It would really help [MMA fighters] out to have a collective bargaining agreement, where they could come together and you had someone to back you when you’re fighting a suspension, or you’re fighting for more pay from Reebok. You want a bigger piece of the pie.”


“If they want to realize what kind of power they have – it would be absurd to think they could do it – but let’s say Conor gets booked on a fight. He’s headlining. If they shut down the fight – if Conor goes about his business, and all of a sudden, the day of, he says, ‘No, we’re not fighting unless we get these terms, and we’re going to come together, this card does not happen tonight,’ – if it was for a card like that and you shut down a whole card.

“I just don’t know how you get all the fighters to come together, because you’re asking people to sit out fights and not get paid, possibly, for the greater good of the future of the sport. It’s just really tough to get everyone on the same page.”

Hawk is right that it would take a star to even begin to organize fighters, but the biggest star in the fight sky doesn’t seem enthusiastic.

“There needs to be something – I just don’t know what it is,” said UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor a year ago. “I’m focusing on me. I’m focusing on my family’s security, my family’s financial security. That’s all I can do. So I when I saw [the first MMAAA press conference], I just thought it was the biggest, fakest load of s*** I’ve ever seen in my life.”

McGregor’s reference was to November of 2016, when a group of five fighters announced the formation of the MMAAA, which seeks to form a players association exclusively of UFC fighters, and then petition the league for a 600% increase in the amount of revenue that goes to fighters. The route to the raise was described as a strategy that had to remain secret. The groups funding was also described as a secret. It is widely believed that the MMAAA is financed by CAA, Pepsi to UFC owners WME-IMG’s Coke. And it is widely believed that it was created by Bjorn Rebney, not known as a progressive promoter. At all.

Tim Kennedy has emerged as a sometime spokesperson for the effort, while the other fighters, Donald Cerrone, TJ Dillashaw, Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, have been less vocal. Dillashaw even said he may have been led down the wrong path. The effort appears largely dead.

In August of 2016, baseball agent Jeff Borris established the PFA; he sought to have UFC fighters reclassified as employees from their current independent contractor status, and form a union. He had said there would be a fighter board in place shortly, but later amended that, saying he did not want to offer names, for fear of retaliation. His most high profile fighter, Leslie Smith, apologized for introducing him to other fighters and severed ties, over a perceived violation of privacy. His attorney too severed ties. Borris flatly denied leaking any fighter support information. But little has been heard from him in year. You can stick a fork in Jeff Borris and the PFA.

In 2009 Robert Maysey founded the MMAFA, which seeks to extend the Muhammad Ali Act to mixed martial arts. Their aim is to keep fighters as independent contractors, establish an independent sanctioning and ranking system, and then let the free market do its thing. If you want to have champion Conor McGregor fight #1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, then promoters bid for the right, and whoever offers the highest purse gets to put on the fight. A bill supported by Congressman and retired fighter Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) is currently before the house now. The MMAFA is also extremely supportive of the Federal anti-trust suit against the UFC, which is ongoing.

As Hawk noted, Conor McGregor could jumpstart an organization process. However, while McGregor is amenable to the idea in theory, the efforts to date have no stirred his support.