A Congressional committee hearing is set to go down today (Dec. 8, 2016) in Washington D.C., to discuss the potential extension of the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act into the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).
The Ali act would give MMA fighters the same protection boxers enjoy, like being privy to the full amount of revenue a promotion is bringing in per event, a ban on oppressive contracts, among other specifics.
While there will be several members of the MMA community present at the hearing to touch on the subject, according to a report from MMA Fighting, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) almost declined to participate. And it’s not due to the fact that the promotion is against the Ali act, but simply because former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture is set to be there as a witness.
And seeing as how U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin and Co. opted to not have Cung Le and Nate Quarry -- who are involved in an anti-trust lawsuit against UFC -- as witnesses after the promotion opposed, Mullin was puzzled by the company’s grudge toward Couture.
"Randy is not part of that lawsuit, so I couldn't really understand what their argument was on that one," Mullin said in a statement. "And they wanted us to use their fighters. I get it. The UFC is used to controlling the publicity and the marketing that comes out of their organization. The problem is, is this isn't the UFC, this is the hearing. You have to understand everybody's perspective. I felt as though it would be a very biased point of view if we only used fighters under current contracts."
Of course, it’s no secret UFC and Couture had an ugly divorce, as Dana White practically blackballed Randy from the promotion after he jumped ship to Bellator MMA. Still, UFC denies making such a threat to not participate.
According to Mullin, who is an avid fan of the sport and a former fighter himself, he says the Ali act would be great for the sport of MMA since it’s been doing wonders for professional boxers.
Furthermore, the hearing will inform many people about the sport that may not know a whole lot about. In addition, if the bill passes through, then a need for a union or an association will not be required.
"I think if we passed the Ali Act to combative sports, which includes all combative sports, the need for that won't exist," he said. "Right now, they're getting bullied around. They're getting bullied and they feel like the only way to do it is to speak in one large voice," he said.
The promotion has spent quite a bit of money, to the tune of $100,000, according to the report, to prevent the Ali act from rolling over onto its turf. Not a good move on its part, says Mullin, who gives UFC credit for what it’s done for the sport overall.
"I wish the UFC would use that money to pay their fighters instead of lobbying against them," he said. "When they're out here trying to influence their point of view, this is outside of their normal world. Don't read me wrong. I'm not trying to bring down the UFC. I think the UFC has done a phenomenal job at promoting the sport that I feel deeply about. What this is about is also taking care of the fighters. If we want the sport to be sustainable, then the fighters and promoters need to be on equal ground. And the promotion has to be taken care of and the fighters have to be taken care of. That is not the way it is right now. It's a one-sided deal. It's a take-it-or-leave-it mentality."
It will be an interesting hearing to say the least.
Another key witness will be Jeff Novitzky, the UFC's Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, who made his witness statement to the committee available -- read it here -- in which, among other things, he discusses UFC's involvement and financial commitment to the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study.