I’m a casual fan of mixed martial arts (MMA) and have been to one UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) event live. It was great, but I don’t have a desire to spend a ton of money to see another event. I’ve never paid for a pay per view, but do watch some of the fights that are on Fox. Unlike soccer, the Bears or the Cubs, I don’t go out of my way to watch though.
All of that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that UFC fighters are considered independent contractors, but there is no way that would ever hold up at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. That’s one place where I don’t think fighters would get screwed like they currently are.
Many companies call their workers independent contractors. Just because they say it, doesn’t make it so. When it comes to injuries on the job, and of course fighters will have lots of those, the test as to whether or not you are an employee often comes down to right of control.
If fighters were truly independent contractors, they would be able to fight for any promotion at any time of their choosing. That is not the case as the UFC, sensibly I might add, prevents them from fighting anywhere else. But that control indicates they are employees. It’s not much different than Jay Cutler not being allowed to moonlight in the Arena Football League to make some extra bucks.
Another right of control factor is a new one. It used to be that these fighters, most of whom are poorly paid, could greatly supplement their income via their sponsors. They would put sponsor names on their gear and get paid more for that than they would the fight. The UFC crushed that and now only allows fighters to wear outfits that say Reebok as they are the official UFC sponsor. A true contractor would be able to wear whatever they want. When an employer provides a uniform, that is certainly a sign they are an employer. It’s the same when they supply tools which in this case could be gloves or the actual ring they are fighting in.
A final reason that I believe any MMA fighters could win an Illinois work comp case, especially those in the UFC is what happens before a fight. It’s mandated for many of the fighters that they make appearances which of course help sell the fight and make the UFC money. But the lack of free will is a control issue which again hints at employment.
For fighters, to bring a case in Illinois they’d have to either get injured while fighting or training here, or have the last act to make their contract official occur in Illinois. For most that will limit them to injuries from fights here, but they should certainly be aware of their rights. If they suffered a career ending injury or a bad loss which lead them to getting cut to a lower paying league, they could likely win a claim for wage differential benefits.
The problem is that it will take a gutsy fighter to bring this case as they surely would be retaliated against. Efforts to start a union have been shot down and the UFC owners are ruthless.
We would love to help a fighter change how their fellow athletes are treated. From our standpoint it’s not much different than helping a truck driver or anyone else who has been wrongly mis-classified. We are all about getting justice for our clients and our state wide network of experienced lawyers takes great pride in getting great results.