We’re so proud of our team! Find out how they’ve been doing, as well as what else has been going on at our gym lately.
Leslie Smith showed up ready to fight at UFC Fight Night 128. Instead, she got a paycheck and a farewell from the UFC, all on the same weekend that reports surfaced of one very questionable new hire for Dana White’s Contender Series. Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.
Downes: Ben, while there might not have been as much drama leading up to this past weekend’s fights as there was for UFC 223, the UFC’s visit to Atlantic City, N.J., wasn’t without some interesting turns. Aspen Ladd came in heavy for her fight with Leslie Smith and the match was scrapped. Normally this is where we complain about fighters not getting paid, but something unprecedented happened.
A couple weeks removed from Dana White saying the UFC wasn’t “that rich” and couldn’t afford to pay show and win money for the fighters impacted by Conor McGregor’s hand truck toss, the company did exactly that. Smith received her full show and win purses (totaling $62,000) and was basically told to go kick rocks.
Now I’m not one to come to rash conclusions, but something tells me this might have to do with Smith’s role in Project Spearhead, an effort to collectivize MMA fighters. What are we supposed to make of all this? It’s not the usual union busting we saw from the Fertitta brothers, but it’s also a not-so-subtle warning to other fighters.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a lot of fighters have galvanized behind Smith. Is this how the fighters union goes out? Not with a roar, but with a check for $62,000?
Fowlkes: I think we all know what this move was about. It sure wasn’t about performance, seeing as how Smith is riding a two-fight winning streak. And it wasn’t about a lack of willingness to fight, since Smith was the first woman who volunteered to go up in weight and fight Cris Cyborg when she was new to the UFC. You’re just not going to convince me that the same person was scared to face Ladd.
This is the UFC getting rid of a squeaky wheel, and probably also sending a message to others who are considering following her example.
Will it be that easy to shut down organizing efforts? I doubt it. Project Spearhead’s first goal is to get 30 percent of the UFC roster to sign authorization cards, which can then be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, which will be called upon to determine whether UFC fighters are really independent contractors, as the UFC currently classifies them, or if they actually qualify as employees. (Turns out it’s a tricky question upon which millions of dollars may be riding.)
That process can and likely will continue. Fighters can support Project Spearhead without the UFC knowing about it, so it’s not like they have to be afraid that signing a card will put a similar target on their backs.
Still, it’s hard not to contrast this situation with the other big UFC move this weekend, which includes a reported plan to have former NFL player Greg Hardy make his pro debut on Dana White’s Contender Series.
For those unaware, Hardy was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, only to have the charges later dropped when the victim declined to testify during his appeal. His unapologetic and at times even mocking response to this scandal helped to drive him out of the NFL, and apparently straight into the welcoming arms of MMA.
Granted, Dana White’s Contender Series is not technically the UFC. It’s a separate product – with the boss’ name stamped right on it. And apparently the boss wants to be in business with Hardy, but not Smith. Would it be possible to send a worse message about your company’s ethics (or lack thereof)? I’m seriously asking. I would really like to know.
Downes: It’s definitely a stark contrast. Smith isn’t worth supporting, but Hardy is? This is the part of discussion where all the entrepreneurs we have on the Internet will tell you, “Leslie Smith doesn’t sell tickets,” or “Greg Hardy is a way bigger name.” Those things may be true, but it still doesn’t excuse the behavior. This may sound crazy (and hear me out), but maybe there are more important things than making a quick buck?
I suppose I’m a bit more pessimistic about Project Spearhead than you. We know the UFC is the major target, so Smith no longer being with the organization is an impediment.
First, there are the practical considerations. Whether it’s the annual fighter summit or a fight card in Atlantic City, being a UFC fighter gave her access to other UFC fighters. She could make the pitch to a group of people and do it to their faces instead of waiting for them to respond to a Twitter DM. Also, she didn’t have to pay for her plane tickets or hotel rooms. She even got a per diem while she traveled around, organizing her co-workers.
There are more abstract concerns, too. While the UFC roster has become more bloated in recent years and the CM Punks of the world give different meaning to being “UFC caliber,” most UFC fighters still look at themselves as separate from other MMA fighters. Now that Smith isn’t “one of them,” influence with younger, newer members of the roster could wane.
She’s also an example of what happens when you cross the boss. She can’t tell fighters there’s nothing to worry about when her career will be hampered, seemingly as a result of her efforts in this area. She’s had a hard enough time getting people to simply sign a card. Now you have tangible proof of the risks involved.
I know she’ll keep pushing on, but it’s hard to not be disheartened. The world doesn’t always turn out like the end of “Erin Brockovich.” Sometimes the big, corporate behemoth gets its way and bullies others into submission. Things can always change, but doesn’t it look like we’re headed down that road now?
Fowlkes: That depends. How many signed authorization cards does Project Spearhead already have? Which fighters does it still have supporting its cause on the inside? And how will other fighters react now that they know the UFC can, apparently, afford to pay show and win money to people who don’t fight – at least when it wants to make a problem go away?
The problem with cracking down on organizing efforts is that you often just end up demonstrating why someone felt like they were necessary in the first place. Seriously, this is what it took for someone to get her full purse for a canceled bout? Because that’s kind of depressing.
Then you add in Hardy. Too problematic for professional football? No problem, there’s always MMA. And I get what you’re saying. It’s a proven fact that this sport will not let questions of conscience stand in the way of sales. But if you cede the moral high ground to the NFL, where does that leave you?
Then again, you know another difference between the UFC and the NFL? Only one of them has a players association to protect the rights of athletes. What a disappointing downgrade that must be for Mr. Hardy.
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.
We want to make sure that Ludus MMA is the right fit for you before asking you to commit to a membership.
That’s why we’d like to offer you a FREE ONE-DAY PASS to our gym.
With your FREE PASS, you can: