The plaintiffs in the UFC Antitrust lawsuit have just won a major victory.
On Dec. 9, Judge Richard Boulware granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, paving the way for the litigation to continue through the judicial system. The information comes six months after Boulware stated a decision would be “forthcoming,” following a set of rulings on various other motions in the case. As Boulware said during last year’s hearings, he “couldn’t see the case proceeding” if the motion to certify the class was not granted.
The origins of the civil case date back to December 2014 when a group of former fighters including Jon Fitch, Cung Le, and Nate Quarry alleged that the UFC had unlawfully monopolized the market for promoting live mixed martial arts events through various anti-competitive practices. Throughout the six years, the lawsuit has traveled through the U.S. court system, evidentiary hearings have released a deluge of information about the UFC’s business practices. This information has included financial data surrounding fighter pay relative to revenue, which is at the heart of the class certification debate.
Both sides of the dispute have presented expert testimony and academic models to bolster their case. The plaintiffs have employed Dr. Hal Singer, who alleges that wage share should be used in regression models to determine if the UFC’s business practices were an abuse of monopsony power. Meanwhile, the UFC has employed the services of Dr. Robert Topel, who argues that wage levels in a linear regression model prove the promotion hasn’t done anything out of bounds. The difference between the two experts on what fighters should receive in terms of damages is about $1.6 billion.
In a hearing on Sept. 17, the judge stated he wanted to check-in with both counsels to determine if the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted the class certification in any way. After both sides seemed to indicate that it had not, Boulware said that he was in the process of finalizing his order and that it was heading in the direction of being in favor of the plaintiffs. Two months later, Boulware made the certification official, certifying the bout class. However, he did not certify the identity class, meaning fighters who collected payments for their image rights (posters, toys, video games, etc.) during 2010-2017 would have to file suits individually.
Although this is a major win for the plaintiffs, it’s important to note that the UFC will certainly appeal the decision. That means an appellate court will review most of the same information and arguments again to decide whether Judge Boulware’s ruling should be upheld or overturned. Depending on how those proceedings go, another appeal of that court’s judgment is likely to follow.
Despite this being an important part of the UFC antitrust lawsuit, we still have a long way to go to determine if class certification will be granted, let alone an actual trial that could have real implications for the UFC.