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Georges St-Pierre’s new fight: urging better pay and benefits for UFC athletes

Georges St-Pierre could make a case to be the most important fighter in UFC history, and the former welterweight champion on Wednesday launched what he says is the most significant business battle yet for his peers.

St-Pierre, former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, popular lightweight Donald Cerrone and former Bellator executive Bjorn Rebney presented an outline of plans to create a trade association for fighters that would seek to increase pay and improve health benefits for UFC athletes.

In light of the July sale of the UFC to Beverly Hills talent agency WME-IMG for $4 billion and an expected windfall from a television deal next year, St-Pierre and the new Mixed Martial Arts Athlete Assn. object to fighters’ receiving only an estimated 8% cut for each dollar of the roughly $600 million the UFC generates in revenue annually.

Collective bargaining agreements in major team sports typically call for a nearly 50-50 revenue split with ownership.

“I know a lot of agents and fighters will receive threats from the UFC, but I want to let you know something: I’ve made this my personal fight and we are not going to be bought to shut up,” St-Pierre said. “We’re not going to let any fighters down.

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“This same thing has happened in every sport and now it’s happening in the UFC. It’s going to happen whether they like it or not. Guys, come and see us. It’s time to stand altogether.”

St-Pierre (25-2) hasn’t fought since successfully defending his welterweight belt in 2013. During St-Pierre’s extended hiatus he objected to what he perceived as lax UFC drug screening, and talks to arrange his comeback fight at UFC 206 on Dec. 10 in Toronto failed.

Cerrone, who was often willing to replace injured fighters on short notice, earlier this month began questioning how equitable the UFC’s pay scale was as the company’s market value was placed beyond that of the Dodgers.

“I feel fear, but it needs to be done,” Cerrone said. “What’s going to happen? I have no … idea, but I’m here and let’s run it until the wheels come off.”

UFC President Dana White and a company spokesman did not respond to the comments, other than by White’s texting an emoji of a face with rolled eyes when told the fighters expressed fear of repercussions for mentioning an association.

“The structure the UFC has employed for over a decade and that WME-IMG has adopted and perpetuated is outrageous and unfair to the very athletes responsible for providing the UFC business, and that’s what we’re going to change,” Rebney said.

The fighters’ association will be “supported” by WME-IMG rival agency CAA, according to an official.

Some mixed martial arts agents have expressed concern that Rebney is leading the campaign, given that he previously brokered tough deals against fighters while heading Bellator.

Rebney said he’ll press for a “settlement … prior to filing suit” to pay active and former fighters, de-emphasizing his interest in a pending class-action lawsuit previously filed against the UFC.

“Why would you want to give away 33% of what you’re going to get to attorneys … when you can win this without going that route?” asked Rebney. “This structure is by no means a money grab … we’re going to negotiate a [collective bargaining agreement] that includes a benefits package that is comparable” to what athletes in the four major sports have.

Etc.

Gennady Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, said Wednesday that the World Boxing Assn. has instituted a seven-day deadline to receive contracts for the unbeaten middleweight champion’s mandatory title defense against the WBA’s secondary champion, Daniel Jacobs.

Loeffler says he has a “positive outlook” about making a deal with Jacobs’ manager, Al Haymon, for a fight being eyed for March 18 at Madison Square Garden.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


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