Jon Fitch, Cung Le, Nate Quarry file antitrust lawsuit against UFC

BY Damon Martin • December 16, 2014

Three current or former UFC fighters — Cung Le, Nate Quarry and Jon Fitch — filed a lawsuit Tuesday in a San Jose, Calif., court against Zuffa LLC, parent company of the UFC, alleging the promotion holds a monopoly in the mixed martial arts market.

The basis of the antitrust suit surrounds allegations that the UFC illegally has set up a system in which it has taken out or taken over all other viable competitors and thus created a monopoly where they control the salaries and compensation for the fighters.

"UFC has taken over the entire industry and dictated its terms upon the fighters ... they don't have any rights. It's the new religion, as it were ... it's time for things to change," said Quarry, who is a plaintiff in the suit along with Le and Fitch.

The lawsuit alleges that the UFC is benefiting by "systematically eliminating competition from rival promoters, artificially suppressing fighters' earnings from bouts and merchandising and marketing activities through restrictive contracting and other exclusionary practices." 

The fighters are seeking triple the amount of damages and injunctive relief under the Sherman Antitrust Act against the UFC.

The suit alleges that the UFC is the only option for mixed martial artists "who want to earn a viable living in the profession," and that it has become the only real game in town by eliminating all other viable competitors in the same marketplace. 

The suit claims other promotions are seen as "minor leagues" compared with the UFC and the fighters are being grossly underpaid based on a non-competitive market in which compensation is suppressed and likeness rights and fighter identities are restrained.

At a news conference, lawyers declined to put a price tag on the damages being sought.

The lawsuit is led by a number of law firms, one of which is the Joseph Saveri Law Firm, which has fought in many antitrust suits including a recent case in Silicon Valley involving Apple, Google and Intel. Cohen Milstein, Sellers & Toll are also representatives of the lawsuit, as well as lawyers from Berger & Montague. 

The three fighters involved with the lawsuit have all fought in the UFC at one time or another, including Le, who is still contracted with the promotion, although he said Tuesday that he has no intention of fighting for the UFC again.

Le was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when a drug test conducted after his fight with Michael Bisping in August showed signs that he was using human growth hormone. Le fought the charge and eventually won, having the allegations thrown out and his suspension lifted, but clearly his feelings toward the promotion shifted dramatically around the situation.

"All UFC fighters are paid a mere fraction of what they would make in a competitive market," said Benjamin Brown, an attorney working on the case. "Rather than earning paydays comparable to boxers,€“ a sport with many natural parallels, MMA fighters go substantially under-compensated despite the punishing nature of their profession."

The accusations go on to claim that the UFC controls more than 90 percent of the MMA revenues nationwide while also retaliating against fighters who work or have worked with competition. 

Attorneys said Tuesday that the three fighters involved in the class-action suit are the only ones named at this time, but they will not rule out adding more competitors at some point. 

After the announcement of the lawsuit Tuesday, UFC officials issued the following statement:

"The UFC is aware of the action filed today but has not been served, nor has it had the opportunity to review the document. The UFC will vigorously defend itself and its business practices."

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission conducted its own investigation into the UFC in regard to the promotion being a monopoly in the mixed martial arts space after the purchase of rival organization Strikeforce. After a six-month investigation, the proceedings were closed and no further action was required.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.