In a court ruling on August 9th, Judge Richard F. Boulware granted class certification in the ongoing Cung Le v. Zuffa, LLC lawsuit, meaning that hundreds of MMA fighters could potentially benefit from compensation resulting from the case. The suit against the UFC and its owners Zuffa, LLC was originally filed back in 2014, making this update to the lawsuit a significant one that could prove vital to its outcome.
In the days since Judge Boulware’s ruling, MMA enthusiasts, business analysts, and law professionals alike have provided thorough insight into the updated class-action lawsuit; many came to the conclusion that the stipulations of the lawsuit directed towards the UFC could permanently alter the course of MMA careers and the combat sports industry. If you want a breakdown of the ruling, MMA finances journalist John S. Nash does so clearly and concisely in the articles below:
Yesterday, during one of his Live Chat streams on YouTube, MMA analyst Luke Thomas also joined the conversation and voiced his thoughts on the ruling. Thomas outlined many important future consequences this lawsuit could now have for the UFC; check out the full livestream below.
Luke Thomas on the UFC class-action suit
One of the first things Thomas pointed out on the stream was how the court ruling viewed the UFC lawyers’ argument not only as unfavorable, but downright unpersuasive.
Thomas: Court ruling implies UFC lawyers’ argument was ‘deeply unpersuasive’
“I mean, How do I say this? [Judge Boulware] found the UFC lawyers’ argument deeply unpersuasive, not even close to persuasive. Whatever persuasive is, he found their arguments to be the opposite of that,” said Thomas. “There’s the bout class that he’s certified, and that’s about 1200 fighters, unless they opt out. And now you’re just talking billions and billions of dollars, literally. I mean, is $5 billion off the table? Not really.”
Thomas was referencing the estimation of the lawsuit settlement initially requested by the plaintiffs of the case, which stands at a range of $811 million to $1.6 billion in payout to the thousands of fighters eligible for compensation. If the UFC holds its ground and refuses to settle out of court, Judge Boulware could mandate a payout to the plaintiffs of up to triple that original requested amount in a U.S. court of law.
This is why an amount around $5 billion is not, in fact, off the table. An exorbitant sum even for the UFC, sure, but just like John Nash, Thomas was convinced that class-action compensation is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the consequences of the lawsuit.
Judge disapproves of the UFC’s ‘coercive contracts’ for MMA fighters
According to Thomas, “The big story is that the judge, through this class certification, has agreed that the plaintiffs have standing…which means they could eventually [win].” But more importantly, Thomas explains, “it basically means this: [Judge Boulware] could rule in such a way as to change the UFC’s business practices, and the biggest one he could rule on, in fact, is the coercive contracts, in the judge’s mind… The judge could rule that MMA contracts could be no more than two years in length, right? No promoter, or certainly not the UFC, could have any contract longer than two years. Max.”
Any changes to future UFC contracts as a result of this lawsuit could prove groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Not only would a legal sanction on UFC contract lengths cripple the promotion’s ability to maintain a monopoly on fights and other MMA events; it would also completely upset the currently top-heavy balance of power in combat sports to favor the fighters, thus preventing the UFC from keeping them locked away from other fight promotions using predatory contractual practices.
Thomas: ‘The MMA industry will not look the same after this if this continues’
“If we end with a court case where UFC contracts cannot be any longer than two years, that would massively, massively change the industry,” said Thomas, drawing attention to the potential freedom of MMA competitors if UFC contracts were regulated. “The fighters would have significantly more power to seek out any promoter they want, essentially, and have their wages rise far more through competition.”
If you’re wondering why that “competition” for the UFC is rare now in the MMA sphere, look no further than Luke’s interpretation of Judge Boulware’s ruling: “The reason why [the UFC] have maintained dominance is just because of the contracts they employ, and the way in which they have gotten rid of the competition by buying them out. That’s it,” Thomas explains, adding that the judge “flatly calls them a monopoly, by the way.”
As for the UFC and Dana White, ‘welcome to the consequences’
While livestreaming, Luke Thomas scrolled through the first John Nash article above, pausing on an old picture of Dana White that resurfaced after news broke about the UFC lawsuit. In the photo, the UFC president is holding a faux tombstone decorated with the logos of extinct fight promotions that the UFC supposedly put out of business:
(Aged like milk.)
Obviously, this photo prompted further commentary from Thomas pertaining to the lawsuit, during which the MMA streamer recalled, “I remember when Dana White was doing his shtick in 2007 or 2008, and people were saying at the time, ‘it’s so fresh. It’s so different. You don’t hear CEOs in sports talk like this.’ Dude, there’s a f**king reason they don’t do that.
“Because you’re gonna get sued, and all of the bragging and all of this other sh*t on the front end, it’s all going to cost you on the back end. Well, welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the back end,” said Thomas. “If it ends up being a situation where there are regulatory consequences or implications, you’re only creating problems for yourself down the line.
“One more time, welcome to the consequences, because they have begun to arrive. You’re looking at them now.”
Some of Luke’s final words on the matter: “You might look back at August 9th, 2023 as one of the most pivotal dates in all of MMA history. That’s not in any way an exaggeration. That’s how big this is.”
MMA plaintiffs’ legal counsel on the lawsuit
The Joseph Saveri Law Firm, LLP represents the class of fighters in this lawsuit, and the firm’s website provides a thorough explanation of the case, a direct link to Judge Boulware’s August 9th class certification order, and more resources. The site explains that “[the] plaintiffs are MMA fighters who allege UFC unlawfully obtained monopoly power by impairing other MMA promoters’ ability to compete in the market for MMA promotions.”
“UFC is the largest promoter of MMA events, with some 90% of the market, and has used its dominant position to extract one-sided concessions from the fighters and prevent competition for the fighters’ services,” the site claims. “As a result, UFC has been able to suppress fighter compensation and impose exploitative contract terms on the fighters, locking them into long-term contracts for the length of their productive careers.”
Co-Lead Counsel Joseph Saveri on UFC business practices
Firm partner Joseph Saveri is the co-lead counsel for the fighters in this lawsuit, and his official statement on the law firm’s website shines a light on the predatory nature of the UFC’s combat sports monopoly, especially where pertinent to MMA athletes and competitors.
“UFC’s illegal acquisition and application of monopoly power to suppress the wages of Professional MMA fighters is inexcusable,” states Saveri. “Because other promoters are excluded from top arenas, TV, pay-per-view, and other national media outlets, they simply cannot compete, and are either put out of business or relegated to second-tier status as a de facto farm system.”
Saveri also draws parallels to other combat sports, namely boxing, to highlight the obscenely low percentage of promotion and event revenue allocated to UFC fighters.
“UFC pays its fighters a mere fraction of what athletes make in similar sports such as boxing,” claims Saveri. “Fighters who want to establish a national reputation have no choice but to sign with UFC, but then they are left with no opportunity to profit from their success.”
After Judge Boulware’s class certification order, however, things are looking up for the fighters, the firm, and the sport as a whole. The Joseph Saveri Law Firm site praises Boulware’s August 9th ruling, saying that “This is a long-awaited but welcome result, especially for our clients who have persevered throughout the long delay.”
More on the origins of the 2014 lawsuit
Keep an eye on the Bloody Elbow site and our Substack newsletter for more information and future updates on the UFC class-action lawsuit. If you want to know all the specific details of the case and court ruling so far, check out John Nash’s article above and take a look at the August 9th ruling. Thanks for reading Bloody Elbow!
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