Arthur R. Lehman, L.L.C.

Class-action antitrust lawsuit filed against UFC

When it comes to mainstream sports here in the U.S., the vast majority of coverage on the Internet, over the airwaves and in printed publications is devoted to the so-called big four of football, baseball, basketball and hockey.

This isn't to say, however, that there aren't other sports growing in popularity here in the U.S. or even threatening to break into the big four. Indeed, stock car racing, soccer and now mixed martial arts are now drawing major crowds and generating major revenue.

Interestingly enough, the UFC, the single largest fight promoter in mixed martial arts, was hit with a class-action lawsuit earlier this week alleging it violated federal antitrust laws through the operation of "an illegal scheme to eliminate competition from would-be rival MMA Promoters."

The lawsuit, filed by both former and current fighters alike, accuses both the UFC and its parent company Zuffa of imposing otherwise draconian restrictions on fighters that effectively eliminated their ability to fight for these rival promoters either during or after the conclusion of their tenure with the UFC.

"The UFC not only controls Fighters’ careers, but also takes and expropriates the rights to their names and likenesses in perpetuity. As a result of this scheme, UFC Fighters are paid a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace,” reads the complaint.

Experts point out that while Zuffa has indeed been active in purchasing the shares of rival MMA operations since its inception, its recent procurement of three rival and larger MMA operations -- Strikeforce, Affliction and Pride -- was not accomplished via hostile takeover, but rather through a voluntary sale.

For its part, the UFC has responded to the lawsuit, vowing to "vigorously defend itself and its business practices.”

It will be interesting to see what transpires from this antitrust lawsuit. Some legal experts are predicting that a victory for the plaintiffs could mean similar lawsuits being filed by athletes in other highly popular and billion-dollar industries like professional wrestling.

Stay tuned for updates …

Source: The Washington Post, "UFC fighters file class-action lawsuit accusing mixed martial arts promotion of violating anti-trust laws," Marissa Payne, Dec. 18, 2014

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