2016 was a ground-breaking year for the UFC. Kicking off with one of the fights of the year at UFC 195, Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit’s epic battle proved to be a sign of things to come, as the top-quality matches continued to flow.
Outside of the octagon, Conor McGregor’s box-office appeal helped take the sport’s popularity to new heights, whilst WME began to ring the changes following their $4 billion purchase of the UFC.
The WME deal was the largest-ever for a sporting organisation; armed with its new investment and an ever-growing audience, Dana White could be forgiven for thinking that nothing could halt the UFC’s dominance.
But big changes could be just around the corner.
A Bill has recently been given its first hearing in Congress that would see the Ali Act extended to MMA — and if passed it would mean drastic changes for the sport.
The Act would completely revolutionise fighters’ contracts, the way fights are promoted, and create a transparency between companies and fighters in terms of how much a particular event makes.
Speaking last month on Chael Sonnen’s podcast, Randy Couture outlined eloquently the reasons why the Ali Act ought to be extended to MMA and all other combat sports; the former UFC Champion spoke in favour of the Bill at the Congress hearing.
The Act would see MMA mirror boxing in its layout.
“[Currently] the sanctioning body and the promoter in MMA is the same person.
“They are creating their own rankings…and their own titles. They manipulate those titles and rankings as they see fit for business and that creates a conflict of interests.”
UFC fans certainly saw this throughout 2016, with Sage Northcutt and Cody Garbrandt receiving extensive promotion compared to the majority of fighters on the roster; the UFC hoping that by doing so they can dictate who the organisation’s next stars are going to be.
Garbrandt’s success in 2016 proves this method can be effective— but there is an inevitable backlash if this does not go to plan.
Women’s Bantamweight Champion, Amanda Nunes was denied the opportunity to do any press in the build-up to the biggest fight of her career against Ronda Rousey at UFC 207, simply because her opponent refused to do any promotional work and the UFC accepted her demands.
If the Act was to be extended to MMA, fights would be marketed by independent promotors, helping to remove these issues from the sport.
“Depending on how [the promotors] do their job, they gain notoriety for that title.
“Regardless of promotion or promotor, the promoters then negotiate to make those top-rank fights for those top-rank belts happen.”
Through the implementation of the Act and the use of independent promoters, fighters would have access to a “free and open market”, according to Couture.
The multi-fight contracts that are currently used in MMA would be made illegal under the Ali Act, with fighters instead signing contracts on a single-fight basis, allowing them the freedom to fight in multiple organisations.
This would hand the power over to the fighters, instead of the organisations, and make the promotors’ ability to market fights paramount to the success of a company.
However, despite the Act seemingly able to ensure the fighters a better future, Couture admitted that most remain unaware of what the Act has to offer, insisting that his work now lies in educating them about its benefits.
In terms of fighters’ contracts and the promoting of fights, it is hard to disagree that the Ali Act would heavily improve the sport — and Congress’ initial reaction to the Bill suggests they agree.
But there is one aspect of the Act that does not seem to fit in with MMA.
Currently the UFC do not disclose an exact figure of how much each event makes, meaning that the negotiating power remains with the company when talking with fighters — but the $4 billion deal does suggest that they should all be in line for a pay-rise.
Under the Ali Act, MMA organisations would have disclose the money made from each event. This would, in theory, enable fighters to see how much they should be earning for their upcoming fights and not be held to ransom by an organisation.
The issue is that, unlike in boxing, MMA fight cards are less top-heavy.
The co-main event, or even a fight halfway down the order, could be more of a draw than the main event, making it hard to know exactly what a fighter’s true value is.
It is for this reason that there have been calls for MMA not to have the Ali Act extended but instead to create its own unique legislation, although this is still to get off the ground.
Irrespective of whether the Ali Act is right for MMA or not, it is significant that Dana White and the UFC have fought vehemently against this Bill and yet it has still made it to Congress.
There is a while to go if the Bill is to be enacted, but Couture has spoken positively about its chances.
MMA is still a young sport, constantly growing, and changes appear to be imminent. Whatever the reform may be, it seems that MMA is on the right path — although the UFC may disagree.