At the heart of the matter is a hearing, scheduled for Thursday morning, before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. The purpose of the hearing, which Mullin has backed and helped organize, is to educate members before the House votes on the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act. That legislation would extend reforms in the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 to combat sports.
ESPN noted last spring that the Ali Act, while far from perfect, requires that a system of objective rankings be administered by a third party, prohibits coercive provisions and establishes minimum standards for fighter contracts. It also requires promoters to disclose financial data about each bout. Unlike MMA, promoters are required to disclose “the amounts of any compensation” a promoter stands to receive. UFC athletes receive that information only if they have negotiated a percentage of pay-per-view revenue into their contracts.
“A lot of people up here know the UFC, but they don’t know how it works,” Mullin told Dash. “They just kind of assume that it works like any other individual sport out there. So we wanted to use this time in the hearing just to inform those up there on the committee so they would understand what the sport is all about.”
Against that backdrop comes the allegation about Couture. Witness lists remain confidential until 48 hours before a hearing, but UFC — according to Mullin — got wind that Couture’s name was on it.
“We are very receptive to having them have whoever they want to come in there and sit down,” Mullin said. “They were the only ones trying to dictate who we could and couldn’t have on the panel and that’s not their place to do that.”
A UFC source denied that to Dash and, according to Mullin, later backed down. Besides Couture, witnesses listed for the hearing are Jeff Novitzky, UFC’s vice president of athlete health and performance; Anne McKee, a Boston University a professor of neurology and pathology who is an expert in the field of degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and Lydia Robertson, treasurer of the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports. The presence of McKee ensures that one aspect of the conversation Thursday will concern the short- and long-term dangers of combat sports to brain health.
Couture, according to Dash, laughed when told that UFC’s response to his name being on the witness list because he and Dana White, the head of UFC, have feuded in the past.
“Are you surprised by that?” he asked. “Obviously there’s no love lost from me, certainly with regard to the president of the company and obviously the landscape for the entire sport would change if we are successful. They’ve been trying to derail this hearing and not have it happen at all. So I’m not surprised that they are gonna pull out all the stops.”
Extending the Ali Act to cover combat sports is in its infancy, as far as the journey to becoming law is concerned. According to the subcommittee, the agenda for Thursday’s hearing may include:
• Which approaches by state regulators to protect the health and safety of fighters have been most effective? What improvements could be made?
• What are the different approaches to banning certain substances? What has worked and what issues are still being addressed?
• How is the structure of the MMA industry different from that of other professional sports? What do these differences mean for policymakers?
• Are MMA fighters’ economic interests adequately addressed?
• How will MMA evolve in the near future? What does this evolution mean for policymakers?
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