The Unionization of UFC Fighters: Fair Fight or Punchy Argument?

Patrick Rishe

To the victor goes the spoils.


And in tournament style competitions, incentive structures typically exist that try to elicit maximum effort from a sport’s competitors.

But when a sport rakes in significant windfalls of cash while exposing its athletes to significant health risks, don’t those athletes have the right to collectively fight for their short-term and long-run financial best interest?

The issue of athlete unionization in the sport of mixed martial arts gained significant exposure recently following (1) an ESPN Outside the Line piece on the subject and (2) Dana White’s response to the ESPN piece.  Mr. White is the President of the UFC Tour.

First, I highly encourage readers to watch both of these videos to gain greater perspective on the issue from both sides.

Second, let’s distinguish between different professional sports.

For the major teams sports in North America, each is governed by a collective bargaining agreement between team owners and the league’s players union.  These CBAs define how league revenues are to be measured, identify what percentage of league revenues will go to players (except baseball), otherwise identify other financial considerations such as minimum and maximum salaries, and address health and retirement issues that cover players after their careers are completed.

This stands in stark contrast to sports like tennis or golf, where athletes are more along the lines of independent contractors.  They have to fend for themselves.

Their pay for a given week is solely dependent upon their performance that week.

The better they play, the more exposure they receive.