UFC antitrust suit history
At the end of 2014, a group of UFC fighters (some retired and some not) banded together and filed a class action lawsuit against the UFC and its parent company at the time, Zuffa, LLC. Fighters like Cung Le, Jon Fitch and Brandon Vera were named class representatives with a claim that the UFC manipulated the mixed martial arts industry in a way that harmed fighters’ abilities to secure fair employment within the sector.
The lawsuit seeks between $800 million and $1.6 billion in damages and in the course of the nearly nine years since its filing, not much progress has been made. In 2020, the presiding judge signaled an intent to give the case class certification but to date, nearly three years later, class certification has still not been granted. A final, written ruling was supposed to have been prepared just a week later, but here we are in May, 2023, emptyhanded.
Along the way, a second class action lawsuit was filed, spearheaded by former UFC fighters Kajan Johnson and C.B. Dollaway. The suit is nearly identical to the first one with the major difference being in the dates. The original has a clear range from December 16, 2010, to June 30, 2017. The second has a date range for anyone having a UFC fight from “July 1, 2017 to present”. This happens to be another billion-dollar lawsuit.
What’s the holdup?
So, why are things moving so slowly? In a recent interview with John Nash on Hey Not the Face!, antitrust pundit and author of Goliath, Matt Stoller opined that a variety of factors could contribute, from overworked judges to a fear that their ruling will get overturned, adding that congress needs to step in to right the ship. He also made an alarming observation, noting that “the courts now are probably more friendly to corporate power than they’ve ever been.”
Do fighters have options?
If the antitrust is taking so long, and the Ali Act seems so far off as to not be achievable, what, if any, options do the fighters have? Not all UFC athletes are willing to speak their truth. Fear of retaliation, of being released or put on a shelf is very real. Mr. Stoller has advice for those who fear reprisal from the biggest promotion in MMA:
“One thing that fighters can do is they could go to the antitrust division and privately complain and they won’t be retaliated against.”
That’s right, if a fighter is worried about blowback from the brass, they can file a formal complaint on their own. Jonathan Kanter is the assistant attorney general and runs the antitrust division at the US Department of Justice. Most importantly, Kanter’s division accepts individual complaints on antitrust violations. Hell, there are even ways to report antitrust violations to your state attorney general, as well.
Please check out the whole episode where Matt and John discussed non-competes, regulatory capture and more on our Substack (only the limited, free version is hosted on the player here). Matt Stoller works at the American Economic Liberties Project and has an amazing newsletter called Big. Please share our work with your friends and family.
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