Antitrust suit vs. UFC granted class certification

Sports

The plaintiffs seemingly earned a strategic victory in an antitrust lawsuit against the UFC in 2020. Nearly three years later, that win has been made official.

Federal judge Richard F. Boulware granted the plaintiffs class certification on Wednesday, according to a document from the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The lawsuit against the UFC, which was first filed in 2014, will now be a class action suit, meaning almost 1,200 fighters can sue the UFC as a collective for alleged unfair business practices.

The class period encompasses any fighter who competed in the UFC from Dec. 16, 2010, to June 30, 2017. The UFC plans to appeal the decision, the promotion told ESPN in a statement from its lead counsel, William A. Isaacson.

Boulware said he would be granting class certification in a status conference call in December 2020, but he did not file an official approval of the plaintiffs’ motion until Wednesday.

“Thrilled to announce that the court in the UFC case has certified the class of MMA fighters,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Eric Cramer, wrote Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter. “We look forward to demonstrating our allegations that the UFC has abused its market power to suppress fighter pay before a jury in Las Vegas. The fight for fighter justice continues!”

The plaintiffs, who include former UFC fighters Cung Le and Jon Fitch, allege that the UFC is an illegal monopoly or monopsony and have snuffed out competition from other MMA promotions in an effort to drive down fighters’ wages.

The case still has a long way to go, potentially years. But without class certification, it was likely dead in the water.

“We have anticipated this decision, and as we have previously communicated to Judge Boulware, we plan to appeal,” said Isaacson, a partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. “This is just one step in a long legal process, and we are confident that the Court will ultimately recognize that the claims outlined in this lawsuit are legally and factually meritless. UFC’s own continued growth accompanied by the growth of other established MMA promoters and the prevalence of successful new market entrants all demonstrate the existence of a healthy and competitive MMA market which benefits athletes, promoters, and fans alike.”

The plaintiffs are seeking between $800 million and $1.6 billion in damages from the UFC. Boulware did not grant certification for the “identity class” part of the suit, where fighters claimed the UFC suppressed licensing fees associated with identity rights.

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