Current and former UFC fighters filed a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday that alleges the mixed martial arts promotion violated antitrust laws by engaging in “an illegal scheme to eliminate competition from would-be rival MMA Promoters.”
Specifically, the suit, which was brought by current fighter Cung Le and former fighters Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry, alleged UFC and its parent company Zuffa did this by “imposing extreme restrictions on UFC Fighters’ ability to fight for would-be rivals during and after their tenure with the UFC,” according to the California court filing. The 58-page document continues:
“As part of the scheme, the UFC not only controls Fighters’ careers, but also takes and expropriates the rights to their names and likenesses in perpetuity. As a result of this scheme, UFC Fighters are paid a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace.”
“At its core, the lawsuit … is a matter of deciding where the line stands between being an industry leader and dominant force in their sport, and what constitutes anti-competitive business practices,” MMA Fighting’s Dave Meltzer writes, noting this line at times can be blurry.
Zuffa has been systematically buying up shares of other MMA promotions for years, which the lawsuit alleges eliminated fair competition. In a way, it’s as if Pizza Hut decided to buy shares not just in Dominos and Little Caesars, but also your corner mom and pop slice shop. One important aspect to note, however, is that at least three of the other fighting promotions Zuffa bought — Pride, Affliction and Strikeforce — weren’t forcefully taken over, but acquired after the owners of the promotions decided they wanted to unload their businesses. Zuffa and the UFC were there.
The lawsuit also doesn’t look at Bellator, which is owned by Viacom and has a proven track record of attracting eyeballs, as a viable competitor to UFC. In fact, the lawsuit calls Bellator “a minor league.”
“Bellator athletes lack significant public notoriety, in part because it is a ‘minor league,’ ” the filing asserts. “Bellator’s bout purses, gate revenues, attendance figures, merchandise sales, television licensing fees and ad rates are minimal compared to those obtained by the UFC.”
UFC responded to the suit on late Tuesday, but did not offer responses to any of the allegations, instead it simply warned the plaintiffs to be prepared for what it does best — a fight.
“The UFC is aware of the action filed today but has not been served, nor has it had the opportunity to review the document,” the promotion said in a statement posted on its Web site. “The UFC will vigorously defend itself and its business practices.”