Georges St-Pierre and other star MMA fighters launch athletes association

TORONTO — Former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre and other star fighters have launched the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association to protect UFC fighters and help get them their fair share of the sport's revenue.

"These athletes are risking more for less than any professional athletes on the face of the earth," said former Bellator CEO and chairman Bjorn Rebney, who is an adviser to the group.

The fighter-run association is not a union, with Rebney saying its power will come from the star quality of its members.

To a man the five fighters talked about not reaping the rewards of their blood and sweat in the UFC Octagon.

"I'm one of the rare fighters who came out (of the sport) who's healthy and wealthy these days," St-Pierre said on a conference call. "I can't say that about most of the guys."

He recalled he earned US$6,000, including a $3,000 win bonus for his first fight in the UFC.

Wednesday's announcement was billed as an "industry re-defining mixed martial arts announcement."

"We're going to change the face of an entire industry and sport today," said middleweight Tim Kennedy.

Those involved included St-Pierre and two other former UFC champions in heavyweight Cain Velasquez and bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw plus Kennedy, welterweight Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone and Rebney. The five fighters are all on the initial association board.

Dillashaw is currently the UFC's No. 1 contender at 135 pounds while Velasquez is No. 2 among heavyweight contenders. Cerrone is the fifth-ranked welterweight and Kennedy the 10th-ranked middleweight contender.

Rebney, who left the Bellator promotion in June 2014, said the association wants a settlement for past injustices plus an agreement that shares revenues between ownership and athletes the way other major league sports do.

They are targeting the UFC, the largest promotion in the sport with some 500 fighters. Rebney noted the UFC had been sold for more than US$4 billion to WME-IMG, dwarfing the value of the likes of Manchester United and the New York Yankees.

Rebney said they had not talked to the UFC, focusing instead on their own strategies.

Given he is employed by the UFC, Cerrone said there is trepidation about speaking out, "but it needs to be done."

The UFC said it had no immediate comment but was reviewing the day's developments.

Kennedy, a former Ranger-qualified Special Forces sniper, talked about the "extraordinary profit" generated by the sport and the lack of a safety net for its fighters.

The fighters said most sports split revenue 50/50 with their athletes, but in the UFC it's around eight per cent.

Velasquez said he had gone through seven surgeries since his first UFC fight in 2008, with another surgery already scheduled after his next fight.

Said Dillashaw: "It would be nice to have a plan after I'm done fighting."

The 35-year-old St-Pierre has been on hiatus since successfully defending his UFC welterweight title against Johny Hendricks in November 2013.

The issue of fair compensation for MMA fighters has been front and centre of late, with the Professional Fighters Association launched earlier this year.


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