THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT 12/4: The formation of the MMA Athletes Association could shake up the sport, but several key issues could undercut efforts

By D.R. Webster, MMATorch contributor

Tim Kennedy (Photo credit Joshua Lindsey © USA Today)

This week’s edition of the Sunday Supplement takes an in depth look at the formation of the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association and the reaction to the big announcement.

Five Top Fighters Along With Bellator Founder form the MMAAA

Wednesday night, an impressive gathering of big names in MMA announced the formation of the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association.

At the helm of the association are five top fighters, all currently tied to the UFC: Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Tim Kennedy, Donald Cerrone, and T.J. Dillashaw.

Those five fighters are joined by Bellator founder and former boss Bjorn Rebney, acting in the role of advisor/consultant to the association.

The association is focusing solely on the UFC at this point in time and their goal is to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for all UFC fighters to achieve three goals, which they called the pillars of their initiative. First, provide compensation to past fighters who have suffered from their time in the Octagon. Second, provide current fighters with 50 percent of revenues rather than the low 8 percent that they currently get. And third, set up pensions, medical coverage, and a safety net for current and future fighters alike.

The announcement has been met with a largely positive reception and, according to Tim Kennedy, hundreds of fighters have already been in contact to join up. However, many people have called into question the involvement of Bjorn Rebney, who has had issues with fighters in the past during his time with Bellator and is not a well-respected or well-liked figure in MMA, which could prove detrimental to the effort.

Infamously, he once sued former Bellator Champion and current UFC fighter Eddie Alvarez over a contract dispute, while many other fighters, most famously Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, have been very critical of Rebney and how he does business.

There is the suspicion here that Rebney has ulterior motives due to his former involvement with Bellator and having a vendetta against the UFC. Also, the fact that he has has been accused of engaging in some of the practices that he is now accusing of the UFC undermines his involvement with the association.

Rebney was let go by Bellator two years ago and replaced by former Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker, a change which was welcomed by many fighters. The company has thrived under Coker’s leadership.

One legendary fighter also weighed in on Rebney’s involvement this week after the announcement. Randy Couture praised all of the five top fighters involved, but questioned the motives of Rebney. “We have a great respect for those five athletes, and we are happy and we are excited that they are standing up,” he said. “I think everybody has a question about what Bjorn’s motives are and what exactly is going on there and I think that’ll come out in time. His reputation as a promoter precedes him a little bit and so it’s interesting now that all the sudden he’s for fighter rights and all these things that obviously as the CEO of a major fight organization he didn’t demonstrate that same feeling.”

With many questioning Rebney’s involvement, one of the five fighters, Tim Kennedy, appeared on The Luke Thomas Show this week and spoke about why Rebney being involved was necessary.

“Not to sound like a dick, but he’s almost a necessary evil,” Kennedy told Thomas. “We can’t go into the conversations without understanding the nuances and subtleties that existed within the promotion – the things that promoters do to garner money, the types of partnerships they create, from vendors using the arenas to sponsors with the promotion to ticket sales to pay-per-view sales to website content to partnerships with networks. Those are things that I don’t know, Cain Velasquez doesn’t know, T.J. doesn’t know, GSP doesn’t know, Cowboy (Cerrone) doesn’t know, and even the lawyers don’t know that because they’ve never been a promoter trying to work every single angle.”

He also defended Rebney’s motivations. “These are the things I know about Bjorn: His heart right now is 100 percent in the right place to maybe right wrongs of what he’s done as a promoter and take care of fighters like he’s never been able to before,” he said. “His job as a promoter is to make money and to drive sales, to drive content, and that’s what he did very successfully. Now his job is to ensure that the fighters, for the first time, have an opportunity to be fairly compensated. So he has the knowledge and the expertise that maybe nobody else besides Scott Coker and Dana White have.”

With the Professional Fighters Association and the MMA Fighters Association already competing in this space to little success so far, Kennedy believes that the involvement of Rebney will be key in becoming successful where the other organizations were not, due to a lack of real first-hand experience and knowledge.

While a lot of the spotlight has been on Rebney’s involvement, looking at the five fighters, it’s a strong union of five high level names, four out of five still active at the top level in the UFC and major names in their divisions, the other being a legend of the sport. It’s a great start for the association.

The other attempts at this concept such as the PFA and MMAFA have been doomed to fail due to the lack of big name fighters being on board as well as them being run mainly by people who are not from the world of MMA.

Now we have an association for fighters run by fighters which is necessary to create a movement here. Also, these fighters are in their primes and are well-respected which is a big deal here. Despite Rebney’s cons, one pro that he has going for him is that he is from the MMA world, founding and running what is now the second biggest MMA promotion.

From here it should be interesting to see who else joins up. Of course, we can expect to see a lot of lower level fighters joining up, which will help raise their numbers quickly no doubt. However, getting one of the biggest names in the sport right now is also high on their agenda and would be a massive statement moving forward.

During this week’s announcement, GSP basically extended an invitation to Conor McGregor, whom he said she be getting paid even more than he is making (music to Mystic Mac’s ears, no doubt) among other things.

To get McGregor on board would be a real coup. McGregor does feel like he should be getting more for what he brings to the UFC and spoke at length about this in the UFC 205 post fight conference, going as far as to mention that he should have a percentage of the company.

Now that the UFC has stripped him of the Featherweight Title, ending his historic dual championship reign, perhaps the timing is right here to convince McGregor to use his power to really change the game.

One big name who is less likely to get involved, though, is the returning Ronda Rousey.

Rousey is represented by one of the UFC’s new owners WME-IMG and thus it’s highly unlikely that she will go against her own people to join this effort. This brings up another noticeable issue here as most the top fighters who have formed the MMAAA are represented by CAA, the rival agency of WME-IMG, bringing in another rivalry outside of the sport which could cause issues for the movement.

However, while CAA apparently support their clients in the venture, they are not directly involved according to the group.

Another point which has been raised is the fact that the association is only focused on the UFC at the moment, leaving fighters from other organizations out in the cold still including Bellator, WSOF, and beyond. That plays into the idea that this venture is more of a vendetta against the UFC rather than something to redefine the entire sport for every fighter, something which would add even more legitimacy to the association and it’s surely something they will look at in the future.

Whatever happens, a big splash has been made by the MMAAA so far and this could be the start of something huge in the history of MMA. It remains to be seen how successful it will actually be in terms of achieving all of their goals in the long run, but this is the best that it has looked in regards to a fighter movement in a long time.

It takes a lot of guts on the parts of Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Tim Kennedy, Donald Cerrone, and T.J. Dillashaw to take the stand despite possible ramifications for their own careers in order to try to change the game. This could be their defining legacy overall long after their fight careers are gone.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: UFC 206 loses its main event, UFC scrambles to make new top match Pettis-Holloway more relevant

(D.R. Webster writes “The Sunday Supplement” for MMATorch each week and also authors the MMATorch Daily Trivia feature. He has written for Daily Record Sport, WrestleTalk TV, Sports Kings, and a variety of other combat sports sites and publications, including review shows and DVDs, news reporting, columns, and fantasy articles.)

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