July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
But I played it cool.
I was not at all intimidated, although in my competitive years I had never reached the levels of success Ms. Rousey had by then already achieved, and would later far surpass. I wasn’t even embarrassed or ashamed at having dropped the ‘F-bomb’ several times in a row, causing some jaws to drop as well.
They weren’t even my own F-bombs. I was quoting someone, and I felt it was appropriate for the occasion. The initial use of that mother of all curse words (“Fuck” in case you were wondering) may have been gratuitous the first time, but it sure served nicely the second time around. I used the quote in context, to illustrate the relationship between the mouth that spawned the words, and their intended target.
I was quoting Dana White.
Myself, along with several other current and former fighters, were testifying before a California legislative committee in support of proposed legislation that was intended to extend to MMA fighters the same protections as the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act was meant to provide to boxers. On the opposing side, sitting next to me, was Ronda Rousey, as well as Chuck Liddell, and some others on the UFC’s* payroll. The exact quote was:
“Fuck them. All of them. Every last fucking one of them.”
Dana White, the president of the biggest and most successful MMA promotion in the world, a multinational corporation with billions of revenues, the Ultimate Fighting Championship® used these words in reference to my fellow fighters and I representing the American Kickboxing Academy, and to effectively fire my teammate Jon Fitch and I. In my humble opinion, we were fired because Jon had wanted the opportunity to negotiate a contract I had already agreed to sign; namely, the contract through which he and other fighters assigned the right to use their likeness in things like video games, in perpetuity (i.e. forever), with basically no guarantee of compensation or royalties. (See story here) I was used simply as a pawn in a game the point of which appeared to be: if you don’t play along, you are out of work. Or rather, you and your entire team is out of work. At that time, the UFC had the right to cut the contract of 2 fighters from AKA: Jon Fitch and yours truly. Both of us had just had a loss, and the contracts were written so that the fighter can be let go after a single loss, but on the other hand he cannot fight for any other organization so long as he is signed with the UFC. This public profanity-laden firing came after Jon’s first and only loss in the UFC at that time.
To be fair, both Jon and I were re-hired subsequently. Regardless, the point had been made. When the respective bargaining positions of promoters and fighters are so unequal, there is no room for negotiation. Promoters can hold a fighter’s career in their hands, because they can control their livelihood. With that much leverage, it is possible to extort whatever concession. Over the years, it had become glaringly obvious that something would need to be done to address the unequal bargaining power as between fighters and promoters. One way to try to address the issue was through the proposed legislation which was intended to reduce a promoter’s ability to leverage one-sided fight contracts and gain various ‘ancillary’ rights for things that had little to do with the fighter’s role as an athlete.
For years, rumblings of some need for reform could be heard underground, but no active fighter had the courage to say something while still competing. The need, in my opinion, is still there. Simply put, I don’t think fighters as a group will ever receive a fair shake unless they organize and unite into some form of collective bargaining entity. Every major sport has a players’ association or union. The only effective way for an individual fighter to approach something of an equal position relative to a multi-million dollar corporation and its attorneys representing the promoter is to exercise some solidarity.
A few years back, when I was sitting at a table next to Ronda Rousey, I put some of my thoughts on this topic into writing and published it a website I created to publicize these issues. I came up with what I thought ought to be a Fighter’s Bill of Rights. I tried to get my views out there to see if there was enough momentum to start some sort of a process that would yield a better future for fighters as a group. By that time, I had already retired from professional MMA. My efforts would not be to my personal benefit. I must also add that the UFC always treated me with professionalism and I have no complaints about the portion of my fighting career spent with that organization. Well, always except for this one time when I was publicly fired between expletives… for no reason.
Unfortunately, at that time the momentum had not yet been sufficient to give rise to anything more substantial than a failed effort to pass some legislation in California. Eventually, other obligations occupied my time and I had to abandon the project and the website I started to publicize the cause. But the tide continues to rise. There are voices of discontent and expressions of a need for fairness. I have faith that in the future, enough fighters, trainers, and perhaps even promoters will agree that basic fairness and dignity requires addressing some of the issues I’ve outlined in the Fighter’s Bill of Rights, and mixed-martial-artists will have the courage to see past their short-term self interest to unite for the benefit of all.
Until that day comes, I will continue to tell stories about my date with Ronda Rousey.