The Professional Fighters Association (PFA) announced its intention to create a union to protect the collective interest of the entire Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster last week, a potential game-changing move for the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).
Jeff Borris, an attorney and current agent for professional baseball players who is responsible for countless multi-million-dollar contracts, is one of the leaders spearheading the MMA-inspired movement. The former professor of Sport Law at Southwestern University hopes to officially form a union in the next several months to tackle various pressing matters in the sport that "directly affects the heart of the athletes' pockets."
So when did Borris decide it was time for fighters to form a union? According to his comments on a recent edition of "The MMA Hour," Borris revealed it happened by chance after Lloyd Pierson -- Nate Diaz's representative -- asked him to look over the fight agreement for his fight against Conor McGregor at UFC 196 this past March.
It was right then and there that he knew it was time for a change:
"It was in January, and I was doing baseball salary arbitration cases for The Ballengee Group and at that time, Lloyd Pearson had just done the first bout agreement to McGregor vs. Diaz. He came up to me and he said, 'Would you take a look at the bout agreement and the promotional agreement just to have another set of eyes look at it?' So I read it and I couldn't believe what I was reading. I said, 'This isn't valid, this isn't enforceable, this won't fly, this has to be changed.' And he said, 'This is the way UFC does business.' And then I started learning more and more about it. We went to their headquarters and had a meeting about it with Lorenzo and Dana and we brought it up. I said, 'Dana, how come these fighters haven't ever unionized?' And he said, 'They're not employees, they are independent contractors,' which I thought was a very self-serving statement at the time. So he kind of scoffed at the idea and I walked out of that meeting, looked at Lloyd and said, 'I'm going to unionize these guys.' When I read their initial agreements, I've worked in baseball for 30 years and I think the baseball players union is the gold standard as far as unions in professional sports. The rights of baseball players are light years ahead of any other sport. And I said, 'This just can't happen.' With the sale also, it indicates that the UFC is really the premiere league. When you look at MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, it's right up there with them now and these fighters need representation. I mean their rights right now are being trampled upon and it's probably worse than ever. UFC is profiting, which is okay because they are running a successful business and they are entitled to it; but the fighters are the show, they are the ones that drive that business and they are entitled to be compensated for their efforts."
For Borris priority No. 1 was doing research and then talking to fighters to see just what kind of salaries they make, the issues that are bothering them and what it takes financially to actually get ready to compete, among other things. And during his conversations, Borris quickly realized the top thing they all had in common was fear of retaliation from UFC if they expressed their interest in actually getting a union going.
"It's not just the media that's interested. First thing I did was talk to fighters. I talked to them in small groups, on an individual basis. My batting average is a 1,000, every single one of them that I talked to want this. One common theme is that a lot of them are fearful that UFC will retaliate against them. Inside the Octagon, they are courageous, they show no fear, but outside the Octagon, in the business arena, they're scared. And I tried to tell them that, 'Listen, there are rules in this country that prevent employers that keep employees from organizing. Don't worry, they are not going to retaliate.' I would love to name names of the fighters I talked to, and I would love to name names of agents, I reached out to the agent community. I talked to all of them because I know as an agent in baseball how much the union relied upon me to relay the message to my players. So, Im reaching out to agents, as well. And the fear of reprisals is unbelievable. I don't know what the UFC has done to try to bully them or instill these fear into the fighters, but, they've done a good job."
That explains this moment of silence.
As far as what Borris and Co. are focusing on, the top issues are, but not limited to, wages, hours, conditions of employment, including minimums, pensions, medical insurance, grievance procedure and collectively bargaining for a drug policy, among other things.
Another big subject the PFA intends to tackle is the much-criticized Reebok deal. Something the Borris says needs to change immediately.
"Let's look at the licensing situation. Let's talk about the Reebok deal. The money comes into the UFC, and then they are going to chop it up however they feel. Look at the Brock Lesnar situation; they usually split the money based on seniority and the amount of fights somebody has had. He got the least at UFC 200 because he had the least amount of seniority, yet he was probably the biggest draw. How is the guy that's the biggest draw making the least amount of money? How does the biggest draw not have choice in wearing Reebok? What if Adidas wanted to do a deal, or what if Nike wanted to do a deal with him? He's gotta have the freedom to be able to negotiate, or his representatives have to have the freedom to be able to negotiate with other groups. But, the UFC says,'You're wearing this, and this is what we are paying you whether you like it or not.' So that is something as an agent, I laugh at. That would never fly in baseball or any other sport. Yet it fly's in UFC? That must change."
Oh, and you know that lucrative television deal UFC signed with FOX a few years back? Well, the fighters need to start getting a cut of that, too, says Borris. And if you've been keeping an eye on how the NBA's TV deal affected this year's free agents (prime example here), you know that means a lot more cash for fighters.
One important note Borris wanted to get across to UFC was that he doesn't begrudge them. If anything, he is a fan of the sport and the company's business model. He simply wants the ZUFFA-owned company to respect what they are trying to do for fighters, business-wise.
"What I would like to have happen, is that the UFC understands what we're doing, respect it in a business sense. I don't begrudge the UFC. I'm a fan of UFC's business model. I think they've done tremendous and I think their $4 billion sale is well-deserved and they are to be applauded for what they've done and they should be concerned with their bottom line. But these fighters do also, they are the ones that drive their business. I would like them to respect that in a business atmosphere and compensate the fighters appropriately."
Still, Borris says he wants to talk to every single fighter on UFC's roster to establish some kind of relationship with them and a comfort level to officially get voted in as a union, with him potentially as executive director. It's a tall task he admits, which won't happen overnight, but intends to see through -- even if it means spending countless days on the road to travel to events in different cities to get the job done.
That said, it's your move, WME-IMG.