In a key victory Thursday, around 1200 current and former UFC fighters were class action certified by a Nevada district court judge, a big step in an antitrust case against Zuffa/UFC that has been going for six years.
By doing so, the case now becomes consolidated, meaning that each of those fighters do not have to file individual lawsuits against Zuffa/UFC. Instead of the possibility of 1200 separate cases, there is now just one. Zuffa/UFC is expected to appeal.
The New York Times speculated Zuffa/UFC could be required to pay around $5 billion to the fighters. The fighters' experts estimated the pay losses at $1.6 billion which are then tripled in antitrust cases. It's unclear whether Zuffa/UFC will attempt to settle the case with the judge saying he needs to know within a week if there is a request for mediation. The judge still has to rule on a Zuffa motion for summary judgment to get the case thrown out.
The fighters were certified by Richard Boulware II in a specific class: bout class. That includes any UFC fighter that competed once or more in the U.S. from December 16, 2010, through June 30, 2017, who doesn't opt out of the suit. The other class (identity) was not certified and would have included each and every UFC fighter "whose Identity was expropriated or exploited."
The plaintiffs, led by Cung Le, Nate Quarry, Brandon Vera, Kyle Kingsbury, Jon Fitch, and Javier Vazquez, contend they are owed back pay because the UFC signed them into long-term agreements and then bought up the competition, stifling the market.
Experts agreed this was a significant ruling for the fighters and even could have implications outside MMA due to this being a monopsony case vs. a monopoly case. In the case of the former, it is when there is one dominant player who controls a monopolized market. The NYT noted that most monopsony cases never reach trial so each time it does, it sets a precedent.
The percentage of what UFC fighters earn vs. what athletes in other organizations earn has been a sticking point as Zuffa's lawyers have argued that "wage share" shouldn't apply because those other players have unions who negotiate those terms and that fighters have benefited from the company's success. While some leagues like the NBA have a 50/50 revenue share agreement, court documents show UFC fighters receive roughly 20% in revenue.