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Midnight Mania! Reebok money has new strings attached; prospective fighter union speaks out

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Launch Of The Reebok UFC Fight Kit Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Reebok

Welcome to Midnight Mania!

The highly criticized Reebok deal just got worse for UFC fighters.

As if having their right to negotiate independent sponsorship deals on banners and fightwear stripped away unilaterally was not enough, a move that cost many fighters tens of thousands of dollars per fight, now, getting the remaining pay is dependent on following both media obligation and a fighter code of conduct- all without any input from the fighters themselves. This change has, in fact, been in place since the beginning of 2018. Via MMAFighting.com:

The altered policy is now called “promotional guidelines” and is an amalgamation of all three things: conduct, media obligations and outfitting, per a document obtained by MMA Fighting. Fighter compensation for this is no longer called Reebok pay or outfitting pay — it’s called a “fight week incentive payment.” The changes went into effect Jan. 1.

The UFC alleges that these obligations are what fighters are required to do during fight week anyway, and thus don’t represent any change. In fact, the altered payment tiers do bring a little extra money to the bottom two classes of fighters, those with five fights or fewer in the Octagon. It’s a far cry from the earning potential they used to possess, but it’s something.

“The UFC Promotional Guidelines is a policy that groups together policies and procedures already adopted and followed by UFC athletes during fight week, therefore these guidelines are not introducing any new elements aside from a new associated incentive payment,” the official said. … “This compensation model is new and compensation was allocated based on available funds and strategically placed to support the largest number of athletes.”

However, some of the fighters are not happy with the new requirements being tied to their Reebok pay. A group of them, headed by Leslie Smith, are attempting to gain reclassification as employees, and see this as added incentive for this push, and evidence that they are not being treated as independent contractors.

“I strongly believe that we are employees,” said Smith, a UFC women’s bantamweight fighter. “Strongly believe. In fact, the promotional guidelines that just came out show an astounding amount of control. That’s definitely something that when we get to that point, we will be entering as evidence of one of the reasons that we are employees.”

According to the UFC, the fighters, despite not being able to wear their own sponsors during fight week, are not getting paid to wear Reebok. That’s simply not the way the company sees it.

“Athletes were never compensated for wearing Reebok,” the official said. “Athletes received Athlete Outfitting Policy payments for complying with UFC’s Athlete Outfitting Policy. Athlete Outfitting remains an important pillar of the fight week experience.”

However, the potential for this money being withheld from fighters does seem to run counter to Dana White’s promise when the Reebok deal was signed that all the money would go to the fighters.

“[Fighters] are getting all the money from the Reebok deal,” White told TSN in 2015. “All the money goes to them. What better of a deal could you cut for the guys? It’s an investment in the future of the sport.”

When asked last week if that was still the case, if all the money from the Reebok deal was going to fighters, the UFC official gave a non-answer.

“UFC’s partnership with Reebok, the global brand’s official outfitter, will continue to focus on the creation and development of world-class MMA product and the global outfitting of all UFC athletes and their cornermen and women,” the official said.

It is no wonder Project Spearhead is using the latest Promotional Guidelines as fodder for their union campaign.


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