The prospects of getting the Ali Act amended to cover Mixed Martial Arts is a pipe dream. It’s a pipe dream because the nexus of Nevada politics revolves around Harry Reid, whose political backing comes from the casino world. Political players involved in that nexus include Lorenzo Fertitta, Marc Ratner, Sig Rogich, Skip Avansino, Bill Brady, and the Attorney General’s office next door to the Nevada State Athletic Commission. This is why Keith Kizer still has a job.
However, just because the idea of amending the Ali Act to cover Mixed Martial Arts is a pipe dream doesn’t mean that the pipe dream should be presented for public consumption. It is a conversation we need to have in the sport right now.
The Ali Act has been criminally toothless since its inception because no prosecutors are willing to take on promoters or politicians who enable such promoters. On that front, it has been a giant failure. On the civil front, however, the Ali Act has opened doors for boxers looking to seek relief through a Private Right of Action in Federal court. It means that civil litigation is opened up to state jurisdictions not listed in bout contracts. The UFC uses Nevada (specifically Las Vegas) as their backyard for court disputes and that home field advantage is very real. Promoters in boxing often use Nevada or Texas for bout contracts as well. Only federal jurisdiction can allow boxers to receive a fair shake in civil litigation when suing a promoter. Boxer Bermane Stiverne recently sued Don King over coercion and contracts of adhesion. He filed suit in New York despite King having the contracts based in Florida and Stiverne being based in Las Vegas.
It is this kind of federal jurisdiction protection that MMA fighters sorely need if they want to challenge their contracts of adhesion in the court system. The various state athletic commissions have proven themselves to be completely unwilling to stand up for fighter rights in contractual disputes. California’s “arbitration” process involving Karen Chappelle from the state’s Attorney General office is crazy.
It is this kind of legal protection that someone like Georges St. Pierre would love to have right about now.
St. Pierre, who kinda sorta hinted that he may want some time off after fighting Johny Hendricks at UFC 167, vocalized his vagueness in his post-fight interview. St. Pierre, who is the only major PPV attraction other than Anderson Silva left in the UFC fold, is vital to UFC’s declining PPV business. Since the move to Fox Sports 1, everything has been shrinking for UFC TV & PPV benchmarks. Jon Jones is not the breakthrough star they expected. He’s simply not a likeable personality that transcends the sport. St. Pierre and Anderson are the two guys left on the UFC roster who still possess that aura. Chris Weidman knocked some of that aura out of the ballpark several months ago and left Anderson waffling on retirement. He agreed to a rematch for the end of the year thanks to UFC management.
Instead of a gentle talk from UFC management, St. Pierre was publicly scolded by UFC’s bad cop Dana White. He’s the laser beam that Lorenzo Fertitta points towards the fighters to issue edicts. After St. Pierre’s controversial decision win over Hendricks, Dana White scolded St. Pierre for wanting to take time off. He said that GSP’s problems weren’t as serious as they appeared and that St. Pierre owed everyone a rematch to Hendricks. Mind you, the man (Keith Kizer) who appointed the judges (Sal D’Amato, Glenn Trowbridge, Tony Weeks) for the main event is politically protected by UFC and yet the UFC wanted everyone to know just how much they think the Nevada commission sucks. This hypocritical duplicitous behavior will be called out in the press.
An educated opinion on Dana White’s behavior towards St. Pierre: Zuffa is freaking out right now about St. Pierre wanting to retire and desperately needs him to save their PPV numbers. When UFC loses leverage on a fighter, they panic in both public and private. The meltdowns can be ugly to watch.
Without St. Pierre, UFC’s PPV numbers are hitting a ceiling of around 400,000 buys. Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez aren’t going to save the day. Brock Lesnar isn’t walking through that door any time soon. Tim Bradley, not exactly Mr. Personality, drew more estimated PPV buys with his fight against Juan Manuel Marquez than Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos III drew. Without St. Pierre as the PPV ace, UFC is in a world of trouble — and their reaction speaks volumes right now about how concerned they are with the company’s growth. The Fox Sports 1 platform has driven up their negatives.
The issue is about money. It always is in the fight business. And now the UFC is interested in booking St. Pierre vs. Hendricks II in Dallas, which means the UFC is about to go back to a state with an even worse regulatory body than Nevada.
The UFC has been able to control & manipulate fighter behavior for so long because their contracts are hard to beat in a hometown court system. If the UFC and Bellator had to live up to Ali Act contractual standards, their business models would be forced to dramatically change. In combat sports, the television networks hold the cards for the promoters who have a choke-hold on fighters, who themselves often possess little knowledge of legal or union protections that could help balance the playing field. The cautionary tale of UFC’s behavior towards Georges St. Pierre should be a warning siren to everyone that it’s time to change the venue in which MMA contracts are adjudicated. Shift the fight contracts to out-of-state jurisdictions and move them into federal jurisdiction. It would be a good first step in adjusting the balance of power in an MMA industry sorely needing reform of the rights of fighters.
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