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Presentation to the Nevada Athletic Commission Feb.

22, 2012

Members of this Commission, Mr. Kizer, thank you for giving members of the public the opportunity to comment before you on issues of vital importance to thousands of mixed-martial arts athletes and their fans. My name is Chris Serres and I am a research analyst with the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226. Our union has a long and distinguished history of fighting for better working conditions and higher standards of living for workers in our city. As Nevadas largest union, we also stand with workers who desire better working conditions and better treatment by their employers, no matter their industry or their profession. We believe the current rules that govern professional unarmed combat in the state of Nevada do not go far enough in protecting workers in the industry especially professional mixed martial arts fighters -- from unfair business practices. Unfortunately, as demonstrated in a recent investigative story by ESPN, workers in the mixed martial arts industry appear to be afraid to speak publicly and critically about employment conditions for fear of reprisal. No fighter currently under contract with a major MMA promoter was willing to speak to ESPN on the record.1 We have spoken to more than 50 professional MMA fighters, as well as their agents, and based on these conversations, we would like to bring to your attention certain issues affecting fighters and suggest how they could be addressed through regulatory changes. As the primary regulator of unarmed combat in the state of Nevada, this Commission has a public duty to protect the well-being of athletes and to prevent exploitative business practices that undermine the reputation of this sport. Under Chapter 467 of the Nevada Revised Statutes, this Commission has the power to establish minimum standards for the licensing of promoters, managers, athletes and others. You also have the power to revoke or suspend the license of any promoter or manager who is guilty of an act or conduct that is detrimental to a contest or exhibition of unarmed combat.2 We believe that some of the business practices that exist in the sport of mixed-martial arts fit that description. Members of this Commission, we would like to enter into the public record for your consideration a proposed Professional Bill of Rights for Mixed-Martial Artists. This document was inspired by numerous conversations we had with fighters and their agents across North America. It was also inspired by the Professional Boxers Bill of Rights, which was drafted by the Association of Boxing Commissions more than 15 years ago to protect boxers from exploitation.3

Barr, John and Gross, Josh, UFC fighters say low pay simply brutal, ESPN.com, Jan. 15, 2012, http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/page/UFCpay/ufc-fighters-say-low-pay-most-painful-hit-all 2 Nevada Revised Statues (NRS) 467.110, http://www.leg.state.nv.us/NRS/NRS-467.html#NRS467Sec110 3 http://www.abcboxing.com/documents/abcboxing_boxers_bill_of_rights.htm

There is no compelling reason why boxers are protected by a bill of rights, while MMA fighters are not. Both sports are regulated by state athletic commissions. More significantly, MMA suffers from some of the same ills that have plagued boxing over the years. These ills led to the 2000 passage of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (Ali Act), a federal law that protects boxers from exploitative business practices. The time has come for regulators to extend similar protections to MMA fighters. It is all the more appropriate to move forward with these protections now just days after athletes and celebrities across the world converged on this city to celebrate the 70th birthday of Muhammad Ali. One way to build on Alis remarkable legacy, as an athlete and as a lifelong champion of humanitarian causes, is to work toward protecting the dignity and well-being of athletes from the unscrupulous few who attempt to exploit them. Many of the MMA athletes who agreed to speak with us said they feel exploited and undervalued. Many believe the sport of mixed-martial arts has been hijacked by business interests that are more interested in maximizing their own profits, and promoting their own brands, than in furthering the integrity of this sport. We will not itemize here today the full litany of concerns raised by professional mixed-martial artists, because it would simply take too long and the Commission may be familiar with many of them. In general, athletes said they struggle against the following abuses: a) Long-term, exclusivity contracts that bind an athlete to a single promoter, in some cases indefinitely. Some contracts contain automatic renewal provisions or a champions clause, which automatically extends the contract of a fighter who becomes a champion.4 Such clauses make it more difficult for athletes to negotiate higher pay and diminish the incentive of smaller promoters to bid for talented fighters. b) Limited control over image and likeness rights. Some contracts with promoters require an athlete to relinquish rights to his own image and likeness in perpetuity, or forever. 5 The fighter must agree to forfeit future revenue streams from DVD sales, video games, clothing and other merchandising, even after retirement. c) Lack of financial transparency. Under the Ali Act, promoters are required to make extensive financial disclosures to state athletic commissions, including copies of all written agreements with boxers participating in a match.6 No such requirements govern MMA under federal law or Nevada law. As a result, MMA fighters often have to negotiate in the dark and are unsure if they are being compensated fairly. In 2008, two fighters who objected to signing away their image and likeness rights for a video game were cut by their promoter. 7 Both fighters were later rehired. This Commission has shown leadership in the past in advancing rules that make unarmed combat safer and more transparent. In 1998, two members of this Commission testified before a committee of the U.S. Senate
Swift, Adam, Inside the Standard Zuffa Contract, Sherdog, Oct. 31, 2007, http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/Inside-theStandard-Zuffa-Contract-9734 5 Ibid. 6 Section 13, Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, http://www.ftc.gov/os/mabra/aliact.pdf
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Gilbert, Mark, Fitch cut as UFC wield the axe, The Sun, Nov. 20, 2008, http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/1952333/Welterweight-star-Jon-Fitch-has-been-axed-by-the-UFC-after-arow-over-image-rights.html

on the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. At the time, then-commissioners Marc Ratner and Dr. James Nave testified that a federal mechanism should be put in place to prevent hidden agreements between promoters and boxers.8 After two boxers died in Las Vegas in 2005, this Commission was at the forefront of mandating better and more stringent regulations for protecting the health of boxers.9 And through its collaboration with the Cleveland Clinics Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, this Commission is currently leading efforts to come up with new ways to prevent permanent brain injury -- not only among fighters, but also among others who may suffer from brain trauma. Your regulatory leadership is all the more critical in the sport of mixed-martial arts. Unlike many other professional sports, such as basketball, football and baseball, the sport of mixed-martial arts lacks a league or governing association that would establish fair business practices. In addition, MMA fighters primarily compete as independent contractors, rather than as employees of a club or a team, which means they often lack the protection of federal labor and employment laws. For thousands of these athletes, state athletic commissions are among their only defenders against exploitative business interests. We strongly urge this Commission to take a leadership role in protecting mixed-martial arts athletes and adopt the Bill of Rights we submit to you today. We also encourage this Commission, as a member of the Association of Boxing Commissions, to push for the adoption of these ten rights in every state where it is currently legal to hold professional mixed-martial arts events. Given the importance of Nevada as a global fighting center, the opinion of this Commission will carry enormous weight in other states. We also believe the Commission should take advantage of its power to issue and revoke licenses to hold business interests accountable for any practice, including coercive contracts, that are detrimental to the sport. Finally, we strongly urge members of this Commission to reach out to the community of mixed-martial artists in this state. Visit them at their gyms. Talk to their agents and their trainers. We encourage you to learn more about the conditions that deter current or aspiring professional MMA athletes from speaking out publicly and critically about their employment conditions. Thank you for your time.

Submissions:   A Bill of Rights for Professional Mixed Martial Artists UFC fighters say low pay simply brutal, ESPN.com, Jan. 15, 201

Senate Report 105-371, June 21, 1999, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-105srpt371/html/CRPT-105srpt371.htm Garcia, Oskar, Associated Press, Nevada passes rules to make boxing safer, USA Today, July 13, 2006, http://www.usatoday.com/sports/boxing/2006-07-13-rule-changes_x.htm

A Bill of Rights for Professional Mixed Martial Artists

The following is a list of rights that all professional mixed-martial arts fighters deserve and should expect. The observance of these rights will promote dignity, uniformity and professionalism in the sport of mixedmartial arts. These rights include the following:

1. Equal protections for all fighters. You shall have the same legal protections currently afforded to professional boxers under state and federal law. This includes extending the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 and its protections against exploitative treatment of boxers to professional mixed-martial arts fighters. 2. Right to work. You shall have the right to sign non-exclusive contracts to participate in any professional mixed martial arts events of your choosing, where such opportunities are available. This right includes the right to refuse to sign exclusive or automatically renewing contracts with a promoter that does not guarantee sufficient opportunity for you to fight in professional events and earn a living. 3. Inalienable right to your own name, likeness and image. You shall have the right to refuse to give any promoter and/or manager the right to your own name, likeness and image beyond the duration of the contract you have with the promoter and/or manager. This right includes the right to participate in professional mixed martial arts events, where such opportunities are available, without being required to sign additional contracts to give the promoter, manager and/or anybody else the right to your own name, likeness and image. 4. Free market of sponsorships. You shall have the right to choose your own sponsors outside of any professional mixed martial events in which you participate under a promotional contract. Outside of such events, no promoter shall restrict or prohibit you from signing sponsorship contracts with firms that choose to support you; nor shall any promoter or other entity require you to sponsor a particular product, business, or individual as a condition for participating in a professional mixed martial arts event. 5. Transparency of contracts and payments. You have the right to receive a detailed and written financial accounting, certified by your local athletic commission, of any and all revenues associated with a professional mixed martial arts event in which you participated. The report shall be provided to you by the event promoter in a timely manner and shall include a description of all payments, gifts or benefits the promoter received from the event, including, but not limited to, gate ticket sales, payper-view sales, other TV revenues, and other sponsorship payments. 6. Fair share of revenues. All professional mixed martial artists who fight in a professional mixed martial arts events shall have the right to receive no less than 25 percent of all revenues as reported in the detailed financial accounting to which they are entitled. The accounting report shall include,

but is not limited to, gate ticket sales, pay-per-view sales, other TV revenues, and other sponsorship payments. 7. Freedom of association. You have the right to join an association or union of professional mixedmartial arts practitioners in order to negotiate with a promoter the terms of your participation as a fighter in any professional mixed martial events without fear of retaliation or reprisal. 8. Right to healthcare insurance for training and fighting. You have the right to healthcare insurance that provides medical coverage for, at a minimum, all injuries sustained during, or while training for, your participation in a professional mixed martial arts event. This insurance shall be provided by the promoter at the time when you sign a promotional contract, and the cost of this insurance shall be borne by promoter. 9. Right to fair fights. You have the right to be ranked publicly by an independent mixed-martial arts sanctioning body that uses objective, consistent and written criteria for measuring professional fighters. The sanctioning body shall not have any financial interest in or any financial association with any professional fighters, promoters or professional mixed-martial arts events. You shall also have the right to have independent judges and referees to officiate any event in which you participate. These officials shall not have any financial interest in or any financial association with any professional fighters, promoters or managers except their compensation by the athletic commission for their work at the event. 10. Professionalism. You have the right to be treated with common courtesy and professional respect by other fighters and by promoters and managers. For mixed martial arts to become a mainstream sport accepted by the general public, participants in the sport must act in accordance with commonly accepted standards of courtesy, decency and respect in their public interactions with one another and in their interactions with the public.