After retiring, Jamie Varner says he wants to start fighter labor union

BY Elias Cepeda • December 15, 2014

After retiring from from competition in the Octagon Saturday night in Phoenix, lightweight Jamie Varner made a second announcement backstage to the assembled media. The former champion said that with major brand partnership deals like the one with Reebok hitting the UFC, it is high time that the promotion has a labor union to represent it's athletes just like every other major sports league does for theirs, and that he's considering starting one.

"I would love to start some type of union for fighters," Varner said.

"I mean, the sport is growing, and we're getting all these big-time endorsement deals, and a lot of us -- we're just fighters. We don't think about the next step."

Varner says that he planned his retirement in advance. As a former champion and a savvy business owner, he has shown more foresight than most athletes, and says that he wants to help be a part of bringing UFC fighters into the modern era of collective bargaining and association rights.

"I think if we implemented some sort of union or something like that, we could eventually, fighters, this could be a real career. You see so many pro fighters now, and I want to help the future of fighters," he said.

All major sports at one point went through the transition from having their rosters filled by talented and committed hobbyists who needed to hold down a day job in the off-season, to being able to sustain full-time competitors who made full livings playing their sports. That switch has also always coincided with athletes forming unions or associations, and collectively bargaining for rights like free-agency and pensions, as well as negotiating royalty fees for leagues and teams using their names and likenesses. 

Currently, UFC fighters don't have a seat at the negotiating table for the lucrative deals the UFC signs with major brands like Reebok, Wheaties, Harley Davidson, and more, and there is also no pension available to any of them. Varner believes that if the sport of MMA and its top league, the UFC, are to truly become major, fighters will need to be better compensated through collective bargaining.

"I think it's something that needs to happen," he said.

"We are a mainstream, major sport now, and if you look at all the mainstream, major sports, they all have unions, and they have league minimums and some sort of retirement [plan] and all that kind of stuff. I think that's something that needs to happen for fighters because this is one of those careers that when it's over, a lot of these guys don't have something else."