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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against UFC — Details Inside [UPDATED]


(The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are listed as “Cung Le, Nathan Quarry, Jon Fitch, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated.” / Photo via Getty)

UPDATE: The actual legal filing can be read right here, and the full audio of the conference call is below, via MMAFightCorner.

The reported class-action lawsuit against the UFC filed by current and former fighters will be officially announced this afternoon. The communications firm Turner4D sent a notice to CagePotato.com and other MMA media entities yesterday afternoon, stating that the plaintiffs’ names and other details will be provided during a news conference beginning at 1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET. The conference will be held at Hyatt Place San Jose/Downtown in San Jose, California. Autograph seekers are advised to wait by the bar and act cool.

CagePotato will be listening in to the proceedings via telephone machine, and we’ll type out important updates about the UFC class-action lawsuit below as we get them. Stay tuned, you guys. #TheTimeIsNow

Even before the call starts, Greg Savage of Sherdog passes along some info: “The civil action is [titled] Cung Le, et al v. Zuffa, LLC, d/b/a Ultimate Fighting Championship and UFC…Media packet states that Cung Le, Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry are the participants in the suit…The case was filed today in the Northern District of California in San Jose. It seeks treble damages and injunctive relief under the Sherman Antitrust Act.”

Yes, those are all guys who have expressed frustration with the UFC in the past. (See: Here, here.)

The call is kicked off by Joseph Saveri, an antitrust lawyer based in San Francisco. He introduces Le and Quarry (who are on the scene in San Jose), and Fitch who is participating by phone. Saveri also introduces other lawyers who are participating, including antitrust experts Benjamin Brown and Robert Maysey.

Saveri: “Today, there is only one real promotional option for MMA fighters — the UFC.” Saveri outlines the lawsuit that was filed by the aforementioned fighters this afternoon. Essentially: The UFC has monopolized the MMA industry, destroyed competitors, and as a result, MMA athletes have been unable to obtain what they’re worth. They’ve also lost ownership of their likenesses.

Brown: “Elite MMA fighters earn a mere fraction of the revenue compared to boxing…UFC’s profit margins are among the highest in all of sport…UFC has monopolized the highest level of the sport.”

Another lawyer (Michael Dell’Angelo) discusses how the UFC can cut a fighter from his contract but control his likeness, essentially owning his identity forever.

Maysey is trying to give a statement but is overcome by emotion and is having trouble speaking. Whoa. “These are world class athletes. By competing in the UFC, they’re taking enormous risks. It’s a basic right for them to share in the fruits of their labor…unfortunately, these athletes don’t enjoy that.”

Cung Le and Nate Quarry give brief statements. Quarry gives respect to the MMA media members who have stood up the UFC at the risk of their credentials, and Carlos Newton, who was integral in organizing this thing. “We deserve a free marketplace where we can compete for ourselves, and we deserve to have a say in our careers. Who we’re fighting, where our likeness is used…these are things that the UFC has taken and taken for granted.”

The suit seeks lower prices for fans, higher pay for fighters, and “free and fair competition” in the MMA industry.

And we were just emailed the public press release for this call. We’ve copy/pasted that at the end of the post.

The lawyers explain why the UFC is a monopoly and leading sports leagues like the NFL and MLB aren’t. Essentially, every major league team is independently owned and there is competition between them.

In terms of the lawsuit’s size, the lawyers will “work with economists” to determine what MMA fighters would have made in a free market. “Suffice it to say, it will be substantial.”

Eddie Goldman comes on the line and asks (in a verrrrrry roundabout way) if this class-action suit will team up with the anti-UFC forces in the Culinary Union. He’s sent away.

Ariel Helwani asks if other MMA fighters will join the suit. He gets a vague answer: “It’s certainly possible.” Obviously, a lot of fighters currently under UFC contract are supporting it anonymously right now.

Someone asks a very important question about Bellator’s place in the MMA market: “That’s the kind of granular question that we don’t want to get into at the moment…what’s in the complaint is what we want to say about that at this time.” Viacom is not a part of the lawsuit.

Speaking of which: The actual legal filing is right here. Oh man, so many gems. Dana White’s tombstone, his “pride is dead dummy! I killed em!!!” tweet, the infamous “World Fucking Domination” photo, and a special appearance from Carmen Electra. MMAJunkie does a good job laying out the major allegations here.

Carlos Newton: “I want to fight for what I’m worth, not someone else’s generosity. I want to fight in a democracy, not under a dictatorship.”

Check out our twitter stream for more information, commentary, and some jokes to lighten the mood.

STATEMENT FROM THE UFC: “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.”

**********

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Editor’s Note:  Complaint and Plaintiff Bios Available at http://www.cohenmilstein.com/news.php?NewsID=742

FOR MEDIA INQUIRIES CONTACTS:

Pam Avery, pam@turner4D.com/(402) 305-0799

Patricia Brooks, patricia@turner4D.com/(202) 351-1757

Mixed Martial Arts Fighters File Class-Action Lawsuit Against

Ultimate Fighting Championship Alleging Illegal Market Monopolization

(SAN JOSE, Calif. –Dec. 16, 2014) Three current and former high-profile Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters filed a multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit today against the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) organization, accusing the $2-billion outfit of illegally maintaining monopoly and monoposony power 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 civil action – Cung Le, et al. v. Zuffa, LLC, d/b/a Ultimate Fighting Championship and UFC – filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, seeks treble damages and injunctive relief under the Sherman Antitrust Act stemming from the UFC’s alleged “over-arching, anti-competitive scheme to enhance its monopoly power” in the market for promotion of live Elite Professional MMA bouts, and monopsony power in the market for live Elite Professional MMA Fighter services in the U.S. Monopsony refers to when there are many “sellers” and few “buyers” in the marketplace.

The lawsuit filed by fighters Cung Le, Nathan Quarry and Jon Fitch, who seek to represent a class of similarly situated current and former UFC professional combatants, alleges that the plaintiffs are victims of the UFC’s illegal scheme to eliminate its competition in the sport of MMA and suppress compensation for UFC Fighters from bouts and fighter identities and likenesses.

According to plaintiffs’ counsel Benjamin Brown, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, “The UFC was built on the battered bodies of MMA fighters who have left their blood and sweat in the Octagon.  Those fighters are entitled to the benefits of a competitive market for their talents.”

The lawsuit targets defendants Zuffa LLC, the Las Vegas-based company that conducts business as the UFC. Zuffa is primarily owned by billionaires Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, along with the UFC’s front-man, President Dana White.  White has publicly boasted about the success of the UFC’s alleged illegal scheme, allegedly claiming that “there is no competition” because “I am the grim reaper[.]”

The lawsuit claims that the UFC’s alleged anti-competitive acts, in particular its actions over a period of years, have made and maintained the UFC as the only option for MMA fighters who want to earn a viable living in the profession.

“All UFC Fighters are paid a mere fraction of what they would make in a competitive market,” said Brown. “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.”

Above all, the lawsuit alleges that the UFC prevents fighters from working with other MMA promoters, mounting self-promotional efforts of their own or signing with outside sponsors – monopolistic practices that suppress fighters’ incomes.

According to named plaintiff Cung Le, of San Jose, Calif., an internationally acclaimed MMA combatant, “Because  of the UFC’s coercive practices, competitive market forces have been strangled, future earnings power of the athletes is stripped away, and purses to the fighters are artificially depressed.”

Plaintiffs’ co-counsel and sports law specialist Robert Maysey, of Warner Angle Hallam Jackson & Formanek PLC, added, “As a result of the UFC’s illegal conduct, they have become the only game in town and locked down the entire sport.  It is ironic that the fiercest combat athletes in the world have, until now, been powerless to take on the UFC.”

The lawsuit alleges that the UFC has pursued an aggressive strategy of depriving key inputs to potential rival promoters or merging with them to maintain its monopoly position.  The complaint alleges “exclusionary scheme” to impair and foreclose competition, whereby the UFC deprives potential competitors in the fight promotion market access to elite MMA fighters, premium live event venues and sponsors.

According to plaintiffs’ co-counsel Michael Dell’Angelo, of Berger & Montague, P.C., “the lawsuit alleges that the UFC has engaged in an illegal scheme to eliminate competition from rival MMA promoters by systematically preventing rivals from gaining access to ingredients critical to successful MMA promotions, including by imposing extreme restrictions on UFC Fighters’ ability to fight for rivals during and after their tenure with the UFC.  The UFC also takes the rights to fighters’ names and likenesses in perpetuity.  As a result of the UFC’s scheme, we allege that UFC Fighters are paid fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace.”

The lawsuit alleges that as a result of these and other anti-competitive acts, including the UFC’s acquisition of rival Strikeforce, the UFC has maintained control of more than 90 percent of the revenue derived from live MMA bouts nationwide.

The lawsuit also alleges that the UFC has retaliated against fighters who have worked with or who have announced intentions to work with rival promoters or sponsors by refusing to book their bouts and/or eliminating them from key UFC promotional activities such as advertising campaigns and video games.

“UFC’s threats are taken seriously by fighters because they know that a UFC ban will substantially diminish, if not end, their ability to earn a living at their chosen profession,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel Joseph Saveri of Saveri Law Firm, Inc.  “These MMA professionals deserve the right to take back their careers.”

The plaintiffs are represented by nationally respected antitrust litigation firms Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC, Berger & Montague, P.C., Joseph Saveri Law Firm, Inc. and Warner Angle Hallam Jackson & Formanek PLC.

For more information about Cung Le, et al v. Zuffa, LLC, d/b/a Ultimate Fighting Championship and UFC, visit http://www.cohenmilstein.com/news.php?NewsID=742.

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