With it being the mid point of 2018, Project Spearhead has made some major progress.
The first goal of the organization is to determine the status of the UFC fighters as employees or independent contracts. By definition, there is mounting evidence that they are employees, due to the Reebok fight kits (essentially uniforms), the adherence to a code of conduct, the use of UFC equipment, and a set schedule. Another point is fighters are exclusive to the UFC can cannot fight elsewhere.
If found that fighters are employees, they can organize and form a Fighters’ Association or union, similar to other top sports such as the NFL and MLB.
With the exit of Leslie Smith from the UFC led her to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that she was let go from her contract over heading Project Spearhead pushed the timetable up to render a decision.
On Friday, the NLRB has decided to pursue Smith’s case, but an decision on the case will yet again be delayed due to some political wrangling on the behalf of the UFC. Smith, though, is positive the investigation will still continue.
“This is an important first step,” Smith told us. “But this is just the start.”
As much as the UFC is trying to fight this, the idea of a Fighter’s Association or Union may actually help problems they are currently having.
“A union for the fighters of the UFC is not only going to help the fighters, but it is going to help the promotion a lot,” Smith expressed. “It will streamline a lot of the issues that the fighters are going through. It is going to create a grievance process. That’s a part of a Union. To have a place where issues, concerns, and criticisms can be taken to to be dealt with.”
The biggest issue as of late is not having a quicker process to resolve grievances. Several fighters, Josh Barnett being the most recent, have been trying to fight to get re-instated and has been taking as much as two years. In that is two years, fighters are not earning money for themselves and even the UFC. In most professional sports, an arbitration process is relatively quick to find a resolution.
Smith observed that the only way a fighter can air their grievances are on social media. She feels this makes the sport look bad in terms of other processional leagues.
“It is clearly not a cohesive, well functioning unit when the body of people who make up the largest percentage of those involved are always unhappy, getting into bad situations, getting screwed, and being vocal about it.”
A recent example was UFC Dana White pushing to go back to night before weigh-ins rather than the current early weigh-in process. White stated that a huge percentage of fighters agreed with him, but Ariel Helwani surveyed many of the top fighters and found this wasn’t the case.
The UFC has stated many times in the past they want to be more mainstream. A Union could do something that would help get the organization there, Smith conjectures.
“Once the UFC can smooth the creases and edges being caused by all the friction from the fighters, then it will draw a lot more people in. It is a respective sport. (With) fighters, no one can look at what they do and what they put themselves through, and not respect that.”
“To make it even more accepted, we are already mainstream, but to tap into an even higher level of main stream, then the professionalism we need isn’t going to come from uniforms that is stiffing the individuality of the fighters, it is nurturing the respectful individuality of the fighters and creating communication. The goal of a union is to facilitate the seamless communication and deals so we can all get what we want.”