Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Women’s bantamweight Leslie Smith is part of a fighter organization effort, Project Spearhead, that seeks to have the National Labor Relations Board make a determination as to whether UFC fighters are independent contractors or not. Smith’s UFC Fight Night 128 opponent Aspen Ladd missed weight by 1.8 pounds on Friday. Smith tried to leverage the situation, telling management she would take the bout for a two-fight contract at a flat $100,000 per event. When the two could not come to terms, the UFC paid Smith her win and show money for the final fight on her contract, leaving her a free agent.

“I am surprised,” said Smith during an appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, as transcribed by Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting. “I think that it opens up an examination of how they feel about my activities in organizing the fighters recently. I think by doing unusual behavior, it’s going to ask what are the unusual circumstances leading to this?”

The UFC had responded with an offer of $31,000 to show and $31,000 to win, which she rejected.

“I feel like if I didn’t do that at this point, it wouldn’t be living up to everything I’ve been talking about,” said Smith. “That’s why I couldn’t take the fight once they offered me the $62,000, because then I would be fighting for free. And that’s been my whole point this whole time. We shouldn’t be manipulated by pride. We need to look at ourselves as a business and fight for the large sums of money that we deserve.”

Smith told Helwani she plans legal action. The fighter is consulting with labor attorney Lucas Middlebrook, an advisor for Project Spearhead.

“It’s my opinion that what the UFC did was illegal,” she said. “Because they have created a situation where it encourages a climate of fear where the other people in the UFC on the roster are going to be fearful of publicly organizing and standing up for their rights.

“By creating a climate of fear, that violates federal law. That’s the whole point of the National Labor Relations Board and the laws that are in there.”


Smith said her interactions with UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Sean Shelby had been positiive, giving rise to an ambiguous reaction.

“I guess in a way I guess I was almost hoping that Project Spearhead would be significant enough for them to be a little bit worried about it,” she explained. “And then the fact that they did this unprecedented thing where they bought out my contract, so that I wouldn’t be around anymore kind of shows that they do think Project Spearhead is pretty significant.”

Smith says she is still wholly behind Project Spearhead, despite not being eligible for a union. She says the effort is on track to collect the 30% of fighters signing cards..

“The important thing now is to make it so that other fighters don’t have to take the fall,” said Smith. “They don’t have to do anything publicly in order to protect themselves right now. All they have to do is sign authorization cards. That’s it. Nobody will ever know. The National Labor Relations Board will never release their names.”

Smith said the deadline for signatures is February 12, 2019.