UFC contracts update: New restrictions might get enforced following Francis Ngannou’s exit

In recent years, the UFC has began modifying contracts gradually in response to the antitrust litigation they are facing. The class action lawsuit argues that the world’s leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion has employed unethical practices to maintain its dominant position in combat sports. The lawsuit, which was initially filed in 2014, continues to be a significant obstacle for the UFC to this day.

Francis Ngannou Cameroon
Francis Ngannou Cameroon

The lawsuit focuses on the increasingly publicized problem of fighter compensation in the wake of high-profile cases including Francis Ngannou and YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul. The lawsuit claims that over the years, the UFC has paid its athletes less than half of what they were worth.

One of the most significant alterations to the new contracts is an arbitration agreement, as reported by Bloody Elbow’s John S. Nash. If things were to ever go litigious, this clause would guarantee that all parties would agree to an arbitration process rather than going to court. In arbitration, a neutral third party listens to all sides of the argument and then makes a final award based on their findings.

In the event of a dispute between the UFC and one of its signed fighters in the future, the UFC will be able to save money by avoiding the legal system.

The previous changes in recent years also prompted the sunset provision. The contract term is capped at five years. Most significantly, it strengthens the UFC’s hand when negotiating with competitors who repeatedly decline match-ups throughout their contracted term.

Fighters, especially those who are trying to make a career change, may find the sunset provision to be a positive development. Francis Ngannou, a former UFC heavyweight champion, used this option to leave the promotion last month. In a highly anticipated rematch, Ciryl Gane and the returning Jon Jones will settle his vacant title at next month’s UFC 285. However, as part of their new focus on arbitration, the UFC has reportedly implemented additional contract restrictions to crack down on such behaviour.

“It’s indigenous to the issues in the sport”- Randy Couture hails Francis Ngannou’s decision to stand his ground in contract negotiations with the UFC

Since Francis Ngannou and the UFC were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract while he was still heavyweight champion, he has severed all connections with the promotion. Dana White, president of the UFC, claims that the company offered Ngannou a contract that would have made him the most paid heavyweight in the history of the sport. However, for the 36-year-old Cameroonian fighter, it wasn’t all about the money.

Ngannou has been vocal about his desire for increased creative control in future contracts, claiming that he felt as though the UFC was instructing him to accept the money and keep quiet at various points during negotiations. Ngannou claims that he proposed fighter health insurance and requested an advocate to participate in on future contract discussions as a fighter representative against the promotion during the same contract talks.

Randy Couture had learned from experience that the UFC wouldn’t budge on some points, but despite pressure, Francis Ngannou refused to sign a new contract with the same terms as his previous one.

As far back as 2007 and 2008, when Couture tried to quit the UFC and set up a fight with fellow heavyweight icon Fedor Emelianenko, he was reportedly at odds with the promotion over his contract. After reportedly spending $500,000 on legal fees, Couture settled with the UFC and signed a new multi-fight agreement to return to the promotion.

Addressing Ngannou’s exit in a recent interview on The MMA Hour on MMA Fighting, Couture stated:

“Francis is probably the closest to a top tier, marquee fighter that was literally holding the belt in the heavyweight division and put that on the line to make a statement. I’m proud of him for what he’s done. Hopefully, more fighters step up….I think what Francis is doing is natural, it’s indigenous to the issues in the sport as we suffer through these growing pains as becoming the fastest growing global sport in our society right now.”

He added:

“They don’t want to give up those things. They want to be able to control the fighters the way they want to control them. They don’t like that transparency. They keep those numbers pretty close to their vest so they don’t have to negotiate with fighters who know what their value is in the market place, that’s how that shakes out.”

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