Sports

3 UFC champions join attempt to form fighters association

LOS ANGELES — Former champions Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez and T.J. Dillashaw are taking on the UFC in an attempt to form a mixed martial arts fighters association.

Current UFC fighters Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Tim Kennedy also announced their participation Wednesday in an organizing effort led by the five fighters and advised by Bjorn Rebney, the former CEO of Bellator.

The fighters hope to persuade the rest of the UFC's talent to join them in unified negotiation for a greater percentage of revenue from the UFC. The promotion was sold to the WME-IMG entertainment conglomerate earlier this year for roughly $4 billion, an unprecedented price for a sports property.

"This is a different kind of fight," St. Pierre said. "Even though you're afraid, it's time to step up and do the right thing. It's a fight (between) what is right and what is wrong, and we should never be afraid to stand for the virtues, to stand for what is right."

The Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association is the latest attempt to organize fighters in a famously individualistic sport into a collective bargaining unit. Kennedy, St. Pierre and Rebney all spoke passionately about the need to level the playing field between the UFC and its fighters, who are independent contractors.

"These athletes are risking more for less than any professional athletes on earth," Rebney said. "They are paid pennies on the dollar."

Rebney also described the UFC as "an egregious, predatory monopoly" and vowed to secure an unspecified set of benefits for former UFC fighters as part of a settlement for the promotion's past revenue-sharing practices, in addition to improved conditions for current fighters.

Other attempts at a fighters' organization in recent years have made little headway or are only in their initial stages, but St. Pierre and Velasquez are the biggest stars to join an effort. St. Pierre reigned as the UFC's welterweight champion and one of its top pay-per-view draws from 2007-13, while Velasquez has won the UFC heavyweight belt twice during an injury-plagued career.

St. Pierre hasn't fought in three years, but has publicly claimed he is considering a comeback. He has become increasingly antagonistic toward the UFC during his retirement, even claiming to be a free agent earlier this year when he announced tentative plans to fight again.

"I know agents will be threatened by UFC, and they'll try to convince their fighters that it's a bad idea to join us," St. Pierre said. "I know, because I've been there before. I don't have to work another day in my life, but I want to change things for the right."

Four of the involved fighters are represented by Creative Artists Agency, a rival of WME-IMG. Rebney repeatedly declined to identify the financiers of the fighters association's efforts, but claimed CAA isn't financially involved.

Rebney indicated the fighters don't intend to form a union, but instead intend to persuade the UFC to listen to them through their unity. Rebney indicated labour strikes could be a possible last resort if the UFC declines to negotiate.