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Baseball agent Jeff Borris takes a crack at starting a UFC fighters’ union

Dana White stands between Nate Diaz, left, and Conor McGregor during a July 7 news conference for UFC 202.
Dana White stands between Nate Diaz, left, and Conor McGregor during a July 7 news conference for UFC 202.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

An attempt to unionize UFC fighters was launched Thursday night at a news conference by a baseball agent who claims the organization has “bullied” its athletes.

Jeff Borris, who’s heading the Professional Fighters Assn., opened his remarks by criticizing UFC President Dana White as “disingenuous,” and new owners Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel as disinterested in the union quest.

Borris said Emanuel told him over the telephone, “in a tone only my wife speaks to me in, ‘Don’t ever call me again. … I don’t want to have anything to do with you.’

“Right now, the biggest problem I’m having is intimidation. … In the octagon, [fighters] are world-class in defending themselves. Outside the octagon, they are getting bullied, and it’s embarrassing. The UFC … they’re laughing at these fighters, and something needs to change.”

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With Borris seated in front of him, White said at the UFC 202 news conference Wednesday that he didn’t know anything about the group.

The uphill battle of organization was reflected in the fact that just one contracted UFC fighter, Leslie Smith, attended the session. Ex-UFC fighter Matt Mitrione asked questions and offered assistance in connecting Borris to UFC fighters.

Attorney Lucas Middlebrook, who represents UFC fighter Nick Diaz, said the union needs to collect authorization cards from 30% of the estimated 600 fighters in the UFC stable to prompt an election. The Professional Fighters Assn. is hopeful to make significant strides in the process during the next six months.

Half of the membership would need to approve unionizing to arm the group with National Labor Relations Board certification and collective-bargaining powers. Those powers include the ability to inspect the money UFC is receiving from television, pay-per-view events, a Reebok apparel deal, gate sales and advertising.

Borris said in private conversations with fighters, “I don’t need to educate [them]” about issues such as minimum pay, pensions, medical benefits and drug policy.

“When I talk to them, they know they need these protections,” he added. “I’m asking the fighters to empower the group I’ve assembled … to teach them how not to be bullied.”

Currently, beginning undercard fighters can earn a minimum $10,000 plus a $10,000 win bonus. They are without medical benefits outside training and fighting and lack a pension.

In light of the company’s recent $4-billion sale from casino magnate Lorenzo Fertitta to Emanuel’s Beverly Hills talent agency, WME-IMG, and a coming new television deal expected to surpass Fox’s former $700-million package, Borris is seeking a fairer share for the fighters.

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Borris represented baseball stars Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson and said after “climbing a lot of mountains in baseball, I can do a lot of good for people who are really in need, and I find a lot of satisfaction in that.”

He said while baseball owners and players split profits nearly evenly, he believes UFC ownership pockets more than 80% of profits, passing back about 15% to the fighters.

“They don’t have to turn over their books and records. I don’t think it’s anywhere close to 50-50,” Borris said.

“They can play with people’s fates, and I just don’t think that’s right.”

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Borris said one of the “nightmare” events that caused him dismay was seeing troubling clauses in both bout agreements between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, who fought in the record-selling UFC 196 in March and will be in the main event at UFC 202 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Instead of all fighters being at the mercy of UFC directives in situations such as fight publicity commitments, Borris said he would seek more uniform language specifying the extent of such side work.

McGregor balked at leaving Europe for a promotional appearance in Las Vegas and was kicked off UFC 200 in July without a grievance process in place.

Borris said he also aims to share with all managers the payments the UFC delivers to fighters from pay-per-view profits.

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“As an agent in baseball, I have the information at my fingertips — what every single player is making — that assists me in helping me to negotiate,” Borris said. “UFC wants to keep the agents in dark.

“Right now, the UFC dictates what happens. They dictate everything, and they’re going to continue to dictate it until someone pushes back.”


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