If you ask Kajan Johnson, Project Spearhead took a big hit when the UFC chose not to re-sign him last month.
Alongside former UFC women’s bantamweight Leslie Smith and UFC lightweight Al Iaquinta, Johnson is one of three fighters on Project Spearhead’s executive board; he currently serves as the interim vice president.
Johnson is also one of two board members whose UFC contracts were not renewed earlier this year. After a split-decision loss to Rustam Khabilov in September — the last fight on his deal — the UFC parted ways with him.
Smith, the Project Spearhead interim president, was expected to fight Aspen Ladd in April, but Ladd missed weight and Smith subsequently turned down the fight. Because the UFC paid Smith her purse, it counted as a fight on her contract. It was the last fight on Smith’s deal, and the UFC opted not to renegotiate.
Smith’s UFC departure had a big impact on Project Spearhead’s potential, Johnson said. And now with him out of the UFC, too, things are just getting worse for the unionization effort.
“Who the f-ck in their right mind do you think would join that organization now?” Johnson told BloodyElbow.com. … “Everybody was f-cking scared before. Everybody was scared when Leslie was still in [the UFC]. Then she gets cut. And then everybody’s f-cking terrified. And now I’m gone. Trying to get a fighter to f-cking sign on that dotted line, there’s no f-cking way. There’s no f-cking way. It’s just not going to happen.
“For Project Spearhead to actually be a success now, it would be a f-cking miracle. Jesus would have to come down and do a second coming and create some miracle around Project Spearhead to get enough fighters to sign onto that thing to actually do what it’s meant to do.”
Johnson said only two or three fighters have signed authorization cards since Smith’s release in April. He said before her UFC departure, cards were coming in at a much more consistent rate.
Smith was let go on a winning streak, which is why she went to the National Labor Relations Board; she believed she was unfairly released because of her unionization efforts. After the NLRB initially determined Smith’s case had merit, it was transferred to Washington, D.C., where it was dismissed.
“I’ve heard directly from many UFC fighters that I’ve approached about this that they were scared,” Johnson said. “When I asked them why they were scared, they cited Leslie’s dismissal. They were terrified to sign a card because they don’t want what happened to Leslie to happen to them.”
The cards needed to take Project Spearhead to the NLRB are anonymous. Fighters don’t have to put their names and faces out there in support of the effort. So, with Smith and Johnson’s UFC releases in mind, that doesn’t quite explain why fighters are worried about signing cards.
“What it boils down to is they don’t trust that it’ll remain anonymous,” Johnson said. “They don’t trust that the people who are privy to the information will keep it anonymous. (They think) that there may be some sort of mole or rat in the organization that will then leak those names to Dana White or something, then boom, everyone’s f-cked.”
With Johnson also no longer a UFC fighter, he believes there’s much less he can do to help Project Spearhead from the outside looking in.
“I don’t control sh-t,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what I can do. I tried to make that an actuality, to make it happen, and it didn’t work. And now I can’t do sh-t for it. It’s hard to be part of Project Spearhead when you’re no longer signed to the UFC.”
Johnson said he believes the future of Project Spearhead — whether it succeeds or fails — is, in a way, in the hands of Iaquinta, the only executive-board member still on the UFC roster. Johnson doesn’t expect much to happen, though, because according to him, Iaquinta hasn’t been very active in their group discussions.
“The only person that can do anything right now is him,” Johnson said. “If it’s gonna happen, it’s on Al. Because of his inactivity in the group, I’d be f-cking surprised if it happens.”
Iaquinta, however, feels left out.
“I feel like they have left me out of the loop with everything,” he said. “Haven’t heard any update from them on any front.”
Johnson admitted that Project Spearhead is “pretty far” away from the 150 cards it needs to go to the NLRB, which would then determine whether UFC fighters are independent contractors or employees.
“We’re nowhere close,” he said.
“Now, we’re losing cards, because people are getting cut. The roster constantly changes … If they don’t think you’re gonna be that next star, you’re probably not coming back. That’s just the way it is now. They just want stars.”
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