The Great Debate: Should MMA Fighters Form a Union?

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COMMENTARY | As the World Series of Fighting's third show draws near, a pair of disgruntled former UFC employees featured on the card have been stirring the pot quite a bit when it comes to the world of mixed martial arts needing a fighter's union. Jon Fitch and Jacob Volkmann were unceremoniously dumped by the UFC after losses at UFC 156 this past February and both have landed in WSoF. Both are featured on the main card and both have a bone to pick with their former employer.

Volkmann was discarded despite having a 6-4 record in the Octagon and having rode a five fight winning streak at lightweight before going 1-2 in his last three fights. Perhaps it was more his style than anything else -- Volkmann relies on wrestling and has been called "boring" in the past -- that saw him get his walking papers. Still, his being cut came as a minor shock to many. Meanwhile, Jon Fitch, who just so happens to have a similar style to Volkmann, but arguably more effective, was bounced even though he fought for the welterweight title in 2008. Fitch sported a 14-3-1 record in the UFC and constantly fought top shelf competition. However, after going 1-2-1 in his last four fights, he was cut loose.

Do both have valid reasons as to why they should be upset with their releases? Yes. But as they prepare to start their new lives as WSoF fighters on June 14, the two have become very vocal about how the UFC handles its fighters. Both have issues with fighter pay despite coming from two different perspectives and believe that a union for fighters is certainly in order. Fitch was commonly at the top of the card while Volkmann was often relegated to prelims or low end main cards.

"The idea that they're paying anyone enough money to where it would affect how they do business is a joke," Fitch said in an interview with MMA Junkie. "They have enough money to pay the fighters at the events from ticket sales, easily. That's not counting pay-per-views, merchandise and any of the other stuff that goes on - even the concessions at those arenas.

"I think their profit margins - the amount of money they make compared to amount of money they spend out compared to what they actually pay the fighters - I think they could spare quite a bit more. A lot of that comes down to management. You get the managers to grow a pair and really come together and fight for money for the athletes."

While UFC President Dana White has come down hard on Fitch for his statements, calling the former top contender "delusional," Fitch took to the web to explain his financial situation. The AKA fighter says that he made $1,022,000 for the 18 bouts he has had in the UFC from October 2005 to February 2013. In addition to that, he has been paid $302,000 in discretionary bonuses, bringing his total to $1,322,000. But compared to what Fitch believes the UFC makes, that isn't nearly enough.

"Sounds like a lot of money," he said in his recently released video. "But let's look at that a little bit closer. Out of the 18 fights in that fight purse, I paid 20 percent of that to management and the gym. So if you take that number, divide it by seven-and-a-half years, I was making roughly $176,000 a year before management and gym fees."

While that is more than enough for the average person to live off of, Fitch was one of the "medium to high pay grade" fighters in the UFC. Jacob Volkmann, on the other hand, didn't come close to making that amount.

"People always tell me, 'You're rich - you're on TV!' Are you kidding me?" Volkmann said in an interview with Above and Beyond MMA. "I made $54,000 two years ago, paid $9,000 in taxes, so that leaves me with $45,000. This last year, I made $50,000 and paid $8,000 in taxes. That leaves me with $42,000 - that's barely above poverty. I have three kids and a wife I'm supporting."

Volkmann has also taken to task the UFC's healthcare, which he says is pretty much non-existent and said that he paid $16,000 on medical expenses and health care premiums last year.

Interestingly enough, Volkmann and Fitch had never spoken to one another until the WSoF 3 conference call last week. Volkmann opened the discussion with Fitch by asking him his thoughts on getting a fighter's union started.

"I was wondering if Fitch wanted to get a fighter's union started for the UFC, to see if we can get a union started so fighters have a little better pay and a little more leverage in their contract," he asked. Fitch responded in the affirmative.

"That's something I've been talking about a lot lately," Fitch said. "I wouldn't so much go after the pay necessarily, but there are some things I would go after right away, which would be giving fighters a voice.

"We don't get a say in rules; we don't get a say in [testosterone-therapy replacement] use or marijuana use or anything. The commissions (and the promoters) decide everything. The fighters need a voice somewhere."

Volkmann suggested that offering fighters more job security would also benefit in the long run. "I would change the contract so it's not a four-fight (contract) and you can get cut after one fight," Volkmann said. "I would make it a two-year contract, minimum, and a minimum of two fights per year, and I would definitely change the minimum pay to be around $15,000 per fight. So at least they get paid $30,000 (per year) minimum for the fighter."

While this all sounds good in theory, the hard part is putting it in practice. Considering that the UFC holds pretty much all of the chips here, it's hard to believe that fighters within the organization will risk their status for a fighter's union. Not to mention that there are so many moving parts with top pay fighters vs. lower pay fighters, possible inability to have an actual strike considering the short length of the average fighter's career, managers willing (or unwilling) to fight for their needs, etc. that it will be difficult for them to come together on a unionized front with fear of upsetting the powers that be hovering over them.

Is the fighter's union a viable option that needs to be considered or only a sour grapes discussion for those that have been cut by the UFC?

Andreas Hale is a former editor at websites including BET.com and HipHopDX.com. Today, he resides in the fight capital of the world and has covered boxing and MMA for mainstream media outlets such as MTV.com and Jay-Z's LifeandTimes.com, as well as die-hard outlets including FightNews.com, Fight! Magazine, Ultimate MMA, CagePotato.com and others. You can follow him on Twitter (@AndreasHale).

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