California Assembly Bill Threatens UFC Contracts And Could Give Fighters New Rights

April 12, 2012 9:42 am by Micah Hinchliffe

By Micah Hinchliffe:
Recent developments in the Assembly Bill 2100 could have devastating effects on current Zuffa contracts should it be passed, the issue has arisen at a difficult time as it is during a year which the UFC has already faced allegations about their pay and treatment of fighters. The ESPN documentary on the UFC entitled “Outside the Lines” in January claimed that fighter’s were underpaid and forced into contracts that were binding. An interview with Lorenzo Fertitta was claimed to have been cut unfairly during the documentary, the UFC was even referred to as a ‘monopoly’ which sent Dana White and the Fertitta brothers into a fury causing them to release the full uncut interview online.

California Assemblymember, Luis A. Alejo has recently proposed changes to the Bill of Rights for professional boxers and mixed martial artists (AB 2100). The proposed changes could take away some of the power of the major brands in MMA, giving fighters more contractual rights. The new bill states:

“Fighters licensed in California who compete in these contests often undergo years of demanding training, and risk serious injury. Despite these physical risks, California MMA fighters have no pension benefits and limited protection against exploitation. Promoters often require that MMA fighters in California agree to coercive and oppressive contract terms that can include exclusivity clauses, unlimited merchandise rights agreements and legal waivers among other things…. AB 2100 authorizes the State Athletic Commission to revoke or refuse to renew the license of any mixed martial arts (MMA) promoter in California that participates in coercive and unfair contracting practices.”

The “unfair practices” the bill is referring to includes the following:

  1. (1) Assigns any future merchandising rights to a promoter beyond the term of the promotional contract.
  2. (2) Automatically renews the contract or extends the term without good faith, arms-length negotiation.
  3. (3) Grants the promoter a right to match the terms of a competing offer or contract.
  4. (4) Grants the promoter a right to enter into exclusive negotiations with a mixed martial arts fighter.
  5. (5) Restricts a mixed martial arts fighter from sponsoring another firm, product, or individual.
  6. (6) Requires a mixed martial arts fighter to relinquish any legal claims for negligence that the fighter has, or may acquire in the future, against the promoter.
  7. (7) Restricts a mixed martial arts fighter from contracting with another promoter.
  8. (8) Requires a mixed martial arts fighter to forfeit any rights as a condition precedent to the fighter’s participation in a contest.

As Zuffa’s fighter contracts establish jurisdiction in Las Vegas the changes could start off a legal battle as the bill suggests that fighters based in California may be able to challenge the terms of their contracts. Therefore if Alejo’s bill is passed in California, a state in which so many UFC and Strikeforce fighters are based in, the whole contractual rights of MMA fighters as we know it could change.

Among various other changes to the bill, the boxer’s pension fund is brought up to include mixed martial artists:

SEC. 4. Section 18881 of the Business and Professions Code is amended to read:

18881. (a) The commission shall, consistent with the purposes of this article, establish a pension plan for professional boxers and professional mixed martial arts fighters who engage in boxing or mixed martial arts contests in this state.

(b) The commission shall, consistent with the purposes of this article, establish the method by which the pension plan will be financed, including those who shall contribute to the financing of the pension plan. The method of financing the pension plan may include, but is not limited to, assessments on tickets and contributions by boxers, mixed martial arts fighters, managers, promoters, or any one or more of these persons, in an amount sufficient to finance the pension plan. Any promoter that receives a fee for televising a boxing or mixed martial arts contest performed in the State of California on a pay-per-view or network telecast shall pay 5 percent of the gross receipts from the telecast, exclusive of federal, state, or local taxes, into the Boxers’ and Mixed Martial Arts Fighters’ Pension Fund. For purposes of this section, the term “sufficient” means that the annual contributions shall be calculated to achieve no less than the average level of annual aggregate pension plan contributions from all sources for the period from July 1, 1981, through December 31, 1994, and adjusted thereafter to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index for California as set forth by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(c) Any pension plan established by the commission shall be actuarially sound.

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