For every corporate juggernaut out there with a seemingly endless reach and unlimited resources, there are workers who will try to change the way things work.
But history has told the same story over and over again with only the minor details surrounding them changing. Big companies are often accused of attempting to crush workers’ attempts to campaign for change, unionize, and transform their work environment through collective bargaining.
This is what Leslie Smith alleges happened with her. A UFC fighter who was scheduled to compete at a Fight Night event, she was pulled for her bout on what she alleges was punishment for participating in Project Spearhead, an effort to encourage unionization in MMA.
While fighters have largely been considered independent contractors, they are subject to a lot of controls about their schedules, their sponsorships, and more. This can put them in a tough spot and make it harder for them to reap the full benefits of their hard work. Meanwhile, the promoters and organizations they fight for are living well in comparison.
Smith’s complaint refers to her as an employee, and the UFC could also get in potential trouble for misclassification. This is something other industries, such as commercial trucking, have had to pay out big settlements for on multiple occasions.
Smith filed a complaint and her legal consultant said she was cut from the UFC roster “based on animus it held toward her engagement in protected activity.” He also said other fighters who joined her in supporting Project Spearhead would also be subject to the same fate.
She thought she was going to get the show and win money for her last fight per the terms of the sanctioning body but did not. Her case could set a big precedent for the future of unionization and its supporters in MMA.
But according to UFC president Dana White, this potentially serious issue isn’t something he’s thinking a lot about. He said: “I don’t know that much about this to talk about it. I literally don’t know anything about it. I know that she’s upset and she filed something. She’s suing us or filed something with somebody. I don’t know. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t focus on that (expletive) anymore. That’s not my problem. That’s somebody else’s problem. I get to do all the fun (expletive).”
Obviously, a company of the UFC’s stature has their own dedicated legal experts to handle issues like these. Employee misclassification and unionization retaliation are both accusations that could carry stiff punishments, so this type of complaint is one the promotion must take seriously.
Everything from win bonuses to exclusive sponsor deals have been called into question throughout the UFC’s years of growth. It’s not enough for fighters to simply be rewarded anymore. With the heights their sport has reached, competitors want to make sure they aren’t being taken advantage of. While fistfights are tough, legal battles like these are grueling in their own unique way.