Recently retired UFC star Urijah Faber said he hasn’t gotten much of chance to research the organizations trying to unite fighters for better working conditions.
But even without looking into them, he thinks there are too many doing the job.
“Three unions? C’mon,” said Faber (34-10 MMA, 10-6 UFC), who hung up his gloves at this past Saturday’s UFC on FOX 22 with a win over Brad Pickett (25-13 MMA, 5-8 UFC). “How are you going to have a union and have three friggin’ unions? I’m not super educated on it, but I would think there can’t be three unions if they’re going to work well, and if they’re actually trying to unify.”
Faber is referring to the MMAFA, PFA and MMAAA, three of the best known groups in the industry. Over the past year, the organizations have contacted fighters and promoted their respective causes with varying degrees of success.
The MMAFA and MMAAA are not unions, but trade associations that afford different benefits to fighters, who are independent contractors and are not legally allowed to unionize.
Faber said he’s been contacted by all of the groups, though his focus has been on his fighting career and business prospects outside the cage, and thus he hasn’t looked into any of them seriously. His knowledge of the people behind the groups is even less.
“The biggest thing I know about Bjorn Rebney is his dad was the (Winnebago) guy,” Faber said of the MMAAA figurehead, whose father was indeed the subject of a viral sensation and subsequent documentary.
But the former WEC champ and four-time UFC title challenger is well aware of the friction between WME-IMG and rival agency CAA, whose MMA clients have aligned with the MMAAA.
“In the fight world, that’s like Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva at the prime of Chael talking about slapping Anderson’s wife on the ass,” he said. “And CAA’s behind this union; it’s their way of getting their hands on the MMA game, I feel like.”
Now that he’s transitioning out of professional fighting, Faber presumably would have more time to lend his voice to collective bargaining efforts. The issue is how much time he would have. He is opening a new Team Alpha Male location in his longtime hometown of Sacramento, Calif. He is working on a TV idea with producers from the hit show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” And he has a variety of small businesses in the nutrition industry.
Still, he isn’t opposed to the idea of being a conduit between the talent and promotions.
As one of the more popular and well-known figures in the sport, he enjoyed a good relationship with UFC brass; he was given four chances to win a title in the octagon. He thinks that history could be leveraged into a productive conversation about how to make the sport better for everyone.
“I would rather work with and build a relationship with the UFC brass and be somebody that can say, hey, if you guys don’t want to do a union or be part of a union, let’s talk about some things that could really help us out as fighters,” Faber told MMAjunkie Radio. “I don’t think having three different groups trying to do a union is the answer. If we’re going to do a union, it has to be unified. It has to be one group, and we all have to come to the same conclusion. We have to work with the UFC and say OK, this is what we’re trying to do. I’d like to pick Dana (White)’s brain and Ari Emanuel’s brain and say, ‘Hey, what’s the problem with having a union? Why wouldn’t you want it? Why would you want it? What are some of the good things that a union could do?’
“I don’t think these guys are unreasonable, and they want to take care of people. So I would work as a go-between. I think it makes better sense for good relationships to talk to organizations, and everybody work toward some better ideas.”
Faber expects to visit Las Vegas soon and hopes to meet for an exit interview of sorts with UFC President White. After that, he would like to meet with UFC co-owner Emanuel, with whom he has a somewhat personal connection.
Before Emanuel, the co-CEO of entertainment powerhouse WME-IMG, helped broker a deal to buy the UFC for over $4 billion, Faber briefly served as jiu-jitsu instructor for the executive’s son. Around the same time, he learned of Emanuel’s background as a wrestler.
“I think there’s definitely a voice of reason that could reach that guy because I think he cares about the fighters, as well,” Faber said.
But for the whole thing to work, he said, the other side of the table has to approach the issue as one voice. And that voice needs to be the one that’s really looking out for the long-term interest of fighters.
“It has to be from the right heart, the right place, and with the right people,” Faber said. “I’m going to research it because I definitely am going to be a part of this sport in a lot of different ways.”
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