Two professional mixed martial arts fighters allege Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has maintained an unlawful monopoly in the market for live MMA contests and monopsony control over professional fighter services.
The 48-page case alleges Zuffa, LLC, which does business as UFC, and Endeavor Group Holdings have engaged in an illegal scheme whereby UFC has eliminated would-be rivals in the MMA promotion industry by systematically preventing them from gaining access to top-ranked fighters, including by imposing “extreme restrictions” on the athletes’ ability to compete for companies other than UFC during and after their tenure. As a result of the defendants’ scheme, UFC fighters are paid “a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace,” the complaint says.
Per the suit, UFC has come to control roughly 90 percent of the revenue derived from professional MMA fighting – regardless of venue – through its anti-competitive conduct. The organization has also locked up “all or virtually all” professional MMA fighters with substantial national, or even regional, notoriety such that competitors’ promotions “cannot hope to attract enough viewers” to make a profit and challenge the defendants’ dominance, the case says.
The plaintiffs further allege UFC has wielded threats, intimidation and retaliation against MMA fighters who work or threaten to work with rival promoters. As a result, many fighters have refused offers, including some promising higher compensation, out of fear that they would face the wrath of UFC and be banned from future opportunities to earn income, the case states.
By dominating the market for the promotion of live, professional MMA bouts, UFC has made itself the “only game in town” for professional fighters looking to earn a living in their chosen profession and at the highest level in the sport, the lawsuit says. Per the case, UFC, through long-term exclusive agreements with fighters and other “exclusionary and anticompetitive acts,” controls the talents of those who are popular with national audiences “all but indefinitely.” Would-be rivals to UFC stand relatively no chance at gaining market share given the defendants attract a significant live Pay-Per-View audience based on the notoriety of fighters scheduled to appear and prohibit their athletes from competing against those under contract with other promotors, the suit contends.
What’s left in the wake of the UFC’s alleged competition suppression are merely “fringe competitors” or entities that “have essentially been conscripted by the UFC” into acting as the de facto minor league for talent development, the complaint charges. The suit shares that while Zuffa president Dana White boasted in 2010 that UFC had essentially eliminated its competition, and compared the entity to the NFL by quipping “[t]here is no other guy,” UFC differs from a major sport like football in that there are no individual teams vying for players’ services.
“Due to the scheme alleged herein, for Professional MMA Fighters at the top of their sport, it’s the UFC or nothing,” the complaint reads. “To repeat Mr. White’s boastful concession: ‘There is no other guy.’”
The suit claims UFC’s conduct has allowed it to generate approximately $900 million in annual revenue and enjoy profit margins “higher than all or nearly all other major professional sports.” Those who fight for UFC, rather than earn paydays comparable to boxers, go “substantially undercompensated” despite the punishing nature of the sport, the case says.
“In fact, UFC fighters collectively earn less than 20% of the revenues generated by UFC events, whereas athletes in boxing, MLB, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL all earn 50% or more—sometimes substantially more—of revenues generated by those sports,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit aims to cover all persons who competed in one or more live professional UFC-promoted MMA bouts taking place or broadcast in the United States between July 1, 2017 and the present. The case looks to extend the class period proposed in a similar lawsuit, which sought to cover UFC competitors who participated in bouts from December 16, 2021 to June 30, 2017.
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