Junior dos Santos says MMA needs the Ali Act

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Jun 29, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Junior Dos Santos (blue gloves) reacts after the bout against Francis Ngannou (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos has seen the ugly side of doing business with the promotion, and he believes the Ali Act needs to be introduced in MMA.

The Muhammad Ali Reform Act — Ali Act for short — is a federal law enacted in May 2000 that essentially was created to protect professional boxers from the shady dealings of promoters. Giving them more leverage in controlling their likeness, brand, future, and breaking the chains of the restrictive contracts fighters often found themselves helpless to separate from.

In recent years, various fighters in MMA have suggested that such a law should hold sway over cage fighting as well. Since promotions like the UFC have so much contractual control of many fighters and their careers. Much like promoters such as Don King had over many superstar talents in boxing over the last few decades.

Junior dos Santos explains difficulties of his first UFC contract

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Mar 9, 2019; Wichita, KS, USA; Junior Dos Santos (blue gloves) defeats Derrick Lewis (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at InTrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelly Ross-USA TODAY Sports Images

Dos Santos’ legendary run in the UFC came to an unceremonious end in March after he was released from the promotion following four straight knockout losses. It was a disappointing end to a 13-year run, but the Brazilian saw the frustrating side of UFC contracts early in his career. Where, despite working his way up to being a championship-level fighter, he was still making the same money as he did in his Octagon debut.

“That’s what happens in the UFC and these promotions. That locks up the athletes, [losing] great possibilities to negotiate, and they do what they want. The UFC has the safety to keep you locked for eight fights. Now, you lose the first one and they can let you go if they want, there’s no safety [for the athlete]. It’s different in boxing, you negotiate fight after fight, contracts, and pay. In my case in the UFC, for example, I fought seven times before [fighting for] the belt. I was making the same amount of money started in my contract,” dos Santos told MMAFighting.

“Do you think a guy that is about to fight for the world title in boxing would make the same thing written in his contract he signed way back then? Of course not,” he said. “For a title fight, even as the challenger, I would’ve gotten an excellent purse because it’s made to be this way, you negotiate contract after contract.”

Dos Santos thinks MMA needs the Ali Act

Along with the restrictive contracts fighters sign that give the UFC all the leverage, the 37-year-old heavyweight great also felt the hit that comes from fighters not being in a union and having the ability to collectively bargain percentages when the organization negotiates multi-million dollar sponsorship deals.

For much of the sport’s history, fighters were able to make serious money by placing sponsored images on their fight gear. When the UFC signed an exclusive deal with Reebok in 2014 to be a primary apparel sponsor, it changed dos Santos’ income in a major way. With fighters no longer able to do that, “Cigano” — like many other fighters — were impacted financially in ways they had never been before.

“The money I made to live came from my sponsors. The money I made in fights, I normally spent it all in my camps because I brought people from outside to help me and paid their costs there [in Brazil] with cars and a house. I gave them a good structure with my fight purses. Monthly, whatever happened, the [sponsorship] money was in my account,” said dos Santos. “It was extremely important for me and, in my case, [the Reebok deal] was a big hit. It put us all on the same level. Even though some fighters had contracts with Reebok or Monster, it was more of a symbolic deal, it wasn’t that good.”

The various hardships he felt despite being one of the biggest stars in the sport are why he feels the Ali Act needs to come to MMA. To finally give fighters more leverage and say in their own careers.

“There’s nothing helping athletes. Legally, we have no structure in MMA like boxing has with this law. … That’s very important for fighter’s protection because right now things happen the way [promoters] want. They do as they will. If it worked, great. If not, they kick you out, they move you aside, lower your pay, do this or that,” dos Santos said. “I think it would be very important if they would finally bring the Ali Act to MMA and make it all more clear and protect fighters more, with better contracts and a foundation to defend the athletes.”

What are your thoughts? Do you hope to see the Ali Act introduced in MMA, or is a fighter union a better fit?

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