Following promises of an "industry-redefining" announcement, the MMA world received a massive shot in the arm yesterday when former Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, alongside former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, TJ Dillashaw, Donald Cerrone, and Tim Kennedy joined forces to unveil the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association.
While quoting a number of statistics that didn't exactly paint the UFC in a kind light -- chiefly, that the promotion only distributes about 8% of its total revenue to its athletes -- Rebney & Co. were steadfast in their hopes of leveling the playing field between the UFC's new owners and its employees...er...independent contractors.
"One of the efforts in addition to compensation, in addition to the healthcare, the pensions, helping the hurt fighters from the past," said Kennedy. "It's also to professionalize the sport."
"We want to be a team with the UFC and have that pride and be able to look back and say they took care of me," chimed in Cerrone in one of the conference call's more memorable moments.
Already, the organization has received an outpouring of support from fighters, with the likes of Ian McCall, Nik Lentz, and Leslie Smith stating their desires to get involved. It's being heralded as "a blow to fear culture in the UFC" by some reporters, and the next great step in finally legitimizing (there's that word again) the sport by others.
But, even after a two-hour conference featuring over 100 members of the MMA media on-call, the question of what exactly the #MMAAA is -- and how they plan to accomplish their lofty goals -- still seems like an unanswered one.
Yes, we know that the MMAAA is an organization -- not a union, but an organization -- by fighters, for fighters, that hopes to bring to the UFC the kind of benefits that athletes in most other professional sports already enjoy (a post-retirement healthcare package, pensions, and so on), but you can't help but be a little shaken by how little detail the speakers were willing to go into in regards to how they will actually make that happen. When listening to Rebney tease the organization's "well developed" and super secretive plan -- which does not involve reaching out to the UFC in any way, shape, or form, apparently -- it would be almost impossible not to be reminded of the promises that were made by a certain Presidential candidate just a couple months ago.
And of course, the presence of Bjorn Rebney isn't doing the MMAAA and favors, either.
Though St-Pierre and Kennedy were adamant in declaring that Rebney was only being brought on as an advisor and not a board member, Rebney's checkered past in MMA is certainly a cause for concern. This was a man who not only shares a long and vitriolic history with UFC President Dana White, but for years was generally viewed as one of the more...let's call it "questionable" figures in the sport, who often found himself ensnared in very public, very heated contract disputes with everyone from Eddie Alvarez to Rampage Jackson. That four of the five fighters involved in the organization are backed by CAA -- aka the primary rival of the UFC's new owners at WME-IMG -- further muddles the already murky motivations of the organization, as well as who exactly might be funding them.
Rebney has insisted that his involvement in the MMAAA is purely with the athletes in mind, but that hasn't stopped well-respected members of the sport like Randy Couture from questioning his motives nonetheless.
"[Sports agent] Jeff Borris and now Bjorn Rebney are certainly questions. Why are they involved?" said Couture in a recent interview.
I suspect that Bjorn is interested in creating an organization and being a promoter again and doing it with fighters, owned by fighters, sort of like what the Professional Bull Riders is. That’s my take on why Bjorn is involved here. It’s certainly more than just an advisor to fighters.
The issue of Rebney's involvement aside, the greater, overarching concerns with the formation of the MMAAA all seem to relate back to the how. This isn't the first organization of its kind to be formed in MMA -- it's the third, in fact, with one of the more recent being the Professional Fighters Association (which Leslie Smith was also involved in until recently when she parted ways with them) -- and not one of these organizations have been exactly successful in even achieving a dialogue with the UFC.
The other problem is the MMAAA's intended target: the UFC. Its scope as a means of bringing about change to MMA extends solely to the world's premier martial arts organization, which, while undoubtedly the biggest hurdle in bringing about the changes they want, won't address the problems facing the sport on a global level. As Couture put it, "They are only concerned with those athletes that are independent contractors with the UFC. To get all of what we need to get accomplished, we need to unite as fighters, all of us."
But, while the motives and means of the MMAAA remain questionable at best, there are a lot of positives to take away from it. Mainly, that disenfranchised fighters both past and present might finally have a platform to make their voices heard. Let's hope they choose their words wisely.
Fighters Currently Involved in The MMAAA:
- Georges St-Pierre
- Cain Velasquez
- TJ Dillashaw
- Donald Cerrone
- Tim Kennedy