Mr. Brent Brookhouse, of Bloodyelbow.com, posted a response to my original article entitled “Battle Lines Being Drawn: Why the Muhammad Ali Act Should Apply to MMA.” The original article can be found here: http://mmafa.tv/battle-lines-being-drawn-why-the-muhammad-ali-act-should-apply-to-mma/. Mr. Brookhouse’s full response can be found here. http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2008/7/2/563350/ali-act-not-a-step-in-the. Unfortunately, Mr. Brookhouse’s entire argument is either based upon incorrect factual assumptions, or a misunderstanding of the Muhammad Ali Act itself. I address each of Mr. Brookhouse’s contentions below.
1) Long term contracts. Initially, Mr. Brookhouse dismissed the Act’s prohibitions against “coercive” contracts by claiming, unlike boxing with long-term promotional agreements, contracts in mixed martial arts are with “sports franchises.” Unfortunately for Mr. Brookhouse, merely stating that the UFC is a league (he says franchise, but franchises agree to cooperate with the league, he probably means league) does not make it so. If by “league” Mr. Brookhouse means a body that governs itself, then by no means is this supposed distinction applicable to Zuffa. Zuffa asks for permission to put on events and does so under the governance of state athletic commissions. Furthermore, Zuffa is a promoter as defined by the Act, state regulations and even by their own contracts. Fighters are not employees, by the terms of the UFC’s “promotional” agreements. The Agreement between Zuffa and its fighters is named “Exclusive Promotional and Ancillary Rights Agreement” and specifically identifies fighters as independent contractors. Thus, other than the fact that Zuffa has established a brand in the mark, “UFC”, Zuffa is not, for purposes of the Act, different from Top Rank or any other boxing promoter. It isn’t a “league” of anything.
Also the Act does not limit all long term promotional contracts. This statement suggests he has not read, or does not fully understand the Act. In fact, the Act only prohibits certain coercive contractual provisions that force a fighter to grant a promoter future promotional rights (in excess of 12 months) as a precondition to obtaining a certain fight. As I stated in my initial article, the Act addresses these so-called “option” contracts by installing “a time limit of one year on all promotional rights that a promoter secures” from a fighter or another promotion “as a prerequisite to the boxer participating in a particular bout.” Thus, if a promoter owns the rights to a champion, and a second fighter wants to fight the champion, then the champion’s promoter can acquire the rights to the second fighter, but only for up to 12 months. Congress believed that the one year limitation will at least provide a fighter with the right to seek the highest bidder after one year, or provide them the option to simply select the promoter of their choosing.
The legislative history found in the Senate Report is instructive on this point, and explains the scope of the Act’s prohibitions against coercive contracts (bolded for emphasis):
”The Committee believes that sensible, pro-competitive limitations on these onerous practices by promoters are warranted. New section 15 would put a time limit of one year on all promotional rights that a promoter secures from a boxer (or another promoter) as a prerequisite to the boxer participating in a particular bout. This situation will generally involve a boxer being selected as an opponent/challenger by a promoter for a boxer who they already have under contract. The most common example of this is when a boxer seeks to compete against a famous champion. Currently, the champion’s promoter may require this challenger to give the promoter exclusive promotional rights on their career for an extended term of years or fights. If the boxer refuses he will be rejected from the bout. The Committee believes that no boxer should be forced to contract for long term control of the boxer’s career against the boxer’s will. In situations where a boxer is a mandatory challenger, the bill would prohibit promoters from securing promotional options from the boxer (or the boxer’s promoter). The Committee feels that the contracting requirements and limitations contained in new section 15 will protect the freedom to contract of boxers, increase competition in the sport to the benefit of fans, and reduce improper interstate restraints of trade.
It is important to note that the duration of basic boxer-promoter contracts is not limited by the bill. The Committee does not seek to limit contracts reached as a result of legitimate arms length bargaining between an unattached boxer and promoter. The one-year limitation applies only to those situations where a promoter secures promotional rights from a boxer (or another promoter), as a condition for that boxer to compete in a particular bout. The one year limitation is not intended to apply to a contract where a promoter and boxer consensually enter into a long term contract, with the first bout for the boxer being specifically named, and in which the opponent is not under contract to the promoter. The Committee notes that after the one year limitation expires, the boxer is free to then contract with whatever promoter the boxer chooses, including the promoter in question. However, the one year limitation will at least provide the boxer with the ability to seek the highest bidder for his or her services after one year, or give them the freedom to simply choose the promoter the boxer determines will best further the interest of the boxer’s career.”
2) Credible rankings. Mr. Brookhouse’s comments in regards to credible rankings are the least problematic. In mixed martial arts, there are no official rankings. While the Act, in part, was meant to deal with the corrupt rankings the alphabet soup sanctioning bodies created, and mixed martial arts currently has no sanctioning bodies, it does have many champions for each promoter across the board. Furthermore, the Act’s requirement of credible rankings is not only to protect against sanctioning bodies, but to protect fighters themselves from arbitrary treatment at the hands of promoters. Without credible rankings, promoters can, and do, grant title shots based upon contractual subservience, and not purely on merit or even marketability. Inexplicably, Mr. Brookhouse also writes that rankings and titles matter more in boxing “because title fights mean more money in boxing.” Apparently, the contractual hammers the promoters employ in mixed martial arts keeps pay much lower in mixed martial arts, and in Mr. Brookhouse’s view, this is a good thing. Mr. Brookhouse then concludes that in any event, promoters won’t devalue their titles by employing less than worthy opponents. In response, I say only, has Mr. Brookhouse been watching the latest offerings of mixed martial arts to make such an argument with a straight face? I note again, while negotiating, Dana White emphatically declared that Fedor Emelianenko was the greatest heavyweight on the planet. When Emelianenko refused to sign with Zuffa due to the onerous contracts, Fedor instantly fell out of the top five according to Mr. White. A promoter’s ability to write fighters in and out of rankings arbitrarily serves to drastically reduce a fighter’s marketability and leverage, and also, in effect, keeps other fighters in line lest they receive the same treatment afforded to Matt Lindland.
3) Inconsistent procedures. Mr. Brookhouse again, in dismissing the Act’s call for consistent regulations across jurisdictions calls Zuffa a sports franchise. Again, Zuffa is not a sports franchise. It is, plain and simply, a promoter. The author dismisses my earlier assertion by stating that so long as practices are legal in any given state, there is no need for regulations to be consistent amongst the states. Mr. Brookhouse misses the entire thrust of the Act’s aims, namely, to prevent promotions from seeking jurisdictions with weak, or non-existent regulations. The Act doesn’t seek to require all promotions to be uniform. If state law is inconsistent, and some states provide minimal protections (indeed, Hawaii for a long period of time had mixed martial arts events with no commission) then federal law providing for minimal requirements offers protections to fighters they would not otherwise enjoy. Mr. Brookhouse completely missed the point in his objection to the Act’s application to mixed martial arts. This defect the Act seeks to address has nothing to do with different promotions (or as he calls them, franchises) having different rules. Indeed, if Mr. Brookhouse does not understand the basis for the Act’s application, can he really disagree with it?
4) Hidden agreements. Mr. Brookhouse seems to agree with this basis for the Act’s application to mixed martial arts. His assumption that the hidden payments are the discretionary and reported fight bonuses, however, suggests again that he isn’t clear about what type of agreements the Act seeks to shed light upon.
5) Options. Mr. Brookhouse largely dismisses the prohibition in the Act against coercive options by suggesting that such clauses are the subject of rumor mill, and have not been confirmed to actually exist. Mr. Brookhouse writes, “I suppose the rumored (I have never heard this actually confirmed) ‘auto-renewing contracts’ if a fighter is a champion in the UFC could fit to a degree.” The so-called “Champion’s Clause” isn’t rumor, it is confirmed fact. See Fedor Emelianenko’s comments regarding the contract offered to him in this article. http://mmafa.tv.previewdns.com/blog/2008/07/why-the-muhammad-ali-act-should-apply-to-mma-update/. Thus, it would appear Mr. Brookhouse actually agrees that the protections offered by the Act against coercive options is a beneficial thing. Note, the prohibition against long-term promotional options doesn’t mean champions would automatically leave. It simply prevents a promoter from locking up a fighter long-term (greater than 12-months) as a precondition to receiving the title fight. Ironically, despite Mr. Brookhouse’s reasoning, this provision has caused champions to leave (Couture) or not sign in the first place (Emelianenko).
Mr. Brookhouse concludes by stating: “I can not stress enough that the Ali Act was created for a sport with a completely different organizational structure than MMA.” History has proven you wrong. The history of Zuffa is one of regulation, fitting MMA into the Boxing regulations so the sport would not die. Zuffa, in large part, is made up of former state boxing regulators. Indeed, why would Zuffa hire Ratner (a boxing official) instead of league attorneys from one of the major sports if they are really just a “franchise” or “league?” If this argument were as simple as Mr. Brookhouse suggests, Zuffa would not be paying lobbyists to fight application of the Act.
Know who carved the peg, before you cite that Korean proverb.