GSP, ‘Cowboy,’ Velazquez among UFC stars to form MMA Athletes Association

The National Basketball Association’s players formed a union — the NBPA — in 1954. Players from the National Football Association and Major League Baseball followed suit just two years later, in 1956.

Since unionizing, the players of America’s top three sports have prospered greatly, bringing about free agency and collective bargaining agreements designed to balance power and finances between ownership and athlete.

Mixed Martial Arts boasts numbers nowhere near the sales or fan numbers of “the top three.” But, since seeing 75,000 buys of its first Pay-Per-View event in Sept. 2001, the original MMA competition, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has seen popularity growing exponentially, culminating in what Forbes predicts was between 1.7 and 1.9 buys of its mist recent event — UFC 205, on Nov. 12.

That massive growth in popularity ushered in a lucrative transfer of the company’s ownership in July 11, when a partnership led by the William Morris Endeavor talent agency (WME-IMG) bought the organization for $4 billion.

Now, like their baseball-, basketball- and football-playing counterparts before them, several linchpin members of the fighter’s fraternity have formed the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association.

Among the founding members of the MMAAA is former Bellator MMA CEO Bjorn Rebney, who asserted that at this time there no interest in unionizing.

Rebney, who was replaced at Bellator in 2014, summed up the goal of the association, according to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto:

“In essence, what the association is going to achieve for the athletes is a settlement to address the past wrongs, driving up [revenue split] to 50 percent up from 8 percent, and a benefits package that provides a safety net.”

Joining Rebney in the formation is former long-time champion Georges St-Pierre.

Also serving as board members of the MMAAA, and responsible for recruiting fellow active members MMA fighters are Tim Kennedy, former champs TJ Dillashaw and Cain Velazquez, a San Jose native, and fan favorite top contender Donald Cerrone. All four active fighters are currently signed to the UFC, which is the only promotion presently being addressed by the MMAAA.

In a press conference marking the announcement of the association, Cerrone acknowledged the certain angst on the part of the fighters, but said:

“Absolutely there is still fear, but it needs to be done. Standing with the five guys here, these are big names. We just need the rest of the guys to not have fear and stand up with us. We’re putting ourselves out there.”

Along with a pay raise, of which fighters have long lobbied for, and increased revenue share, the MMAAA is after insurance and pension plans, neither of which are currently available to fighters.

Four of the five fighters involved in the undertaking are currently represented by the talent and sports agency Creative Arts Agency (CAA), which is a direct rival of WME-IMG. Addressing the potential conflict of interest, Rebney said that CAA is not a direct backer of the MMAAA.

The UFC has not yet issued a statement in response to the announcement.

An 11-year veteran who is now considering a return to the sport after three inactive years, St-Pierre issued a call to action in the direction of his scrapping companions during the press conference:

“I know a lot of fighters want to remain anonymous, but I’m telling you guys, come see us. It’s time to stand together.”