Cole Miller Calls out the UFC as We All Wait for Possible News of a Fighters' Union
As I write this, the mixed martial arts world is holding its collective breath waiting for a media conference call this afternoon promising an “industry re-defining” announcement. Though no information has leaked yet about the 4PM EST call, rumor is that the announcement will concern plans for a fighters’ union, which wouldn’t be news in itself if it weren’t for the fact that the call will involve Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrone, Tim Kennedy, and T.J Dillashaw, each one an MMA superstar and, more importantly, a longtime UFC company-man with a history of cozying up to management. If these guys are involved in the formation of a union, you know the ground of the labor debate in MMA has shifted.
It’s a shift we’re starting to see in the strangest places. Yesterday, Sherdog released a remarkable video interview with Cole Miller in which the UFC veteran, who got his start with the promotion as a member of the cast of season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter way back in 2007 and who during his tenure has hardly been known as a rabble-rouser, tore into his longtime boss for what he sees as a pattern of mistreatment after the last-minute cancellation of UFC Fight Night 97 in the Philippines in October, a card Miller was set to fight on. That event was called off by the UFC after headliner B.J. Penn had to pull out due to injury, leaving Miller (and likely many others like him) with only a third of his show money with which to pay for the now-pointless nine-week training camp he’d just completed.
“So, nine weeks away from my family, I think I profited four or five hundred dollars. So that worked out pretty good for me,” Miller said with obvious contempt. “[Then] instead of getting rebooked two weeks later I get rebooked two months later, so I have to come another second training camp to get paid for one. So that’s what it feels like. I don’t even want to be here right now,” he said, pointing at the gym behind him. “It doesn’t make me want to fight harder for my family. It makes me want to fight less. It makes me want to quit and go get a job at Starbuck’s or something.”
Before his October fight against Mizuto Hirota was cancelled Miller says he was inspired to make another run through the featherweight division. Now, preparing yet again to fight Hirota, the Georgia native says he feels almost nothing.
“I don’t even want to do this training camp,” Miller said. “I don’t want to do this session. Straight up: don’t want to be here. … Right now I’m just like anybody else going to work on a Monday and they don’t want to. I’ll just punch the clock. That’s all I’m here doing right now.”
Not even the fact that this fight will be the last on his current UFC contract seems to be motivating Miller. In fact it seems to have merely brought into bolder relief his frustrations with his longtime bosses. “I don’t think they even want me fighting for them, just by the way I feel like I’ve been treated,” he said. “It’s like, it’s not how you take care of your people. So they’ll probably let me go even if I win, which … whatever.”
So now the UFC and its new owner, talent agency WME-IMG, which purchased the promotion for $4 billion dollars back in the summer, could be facing a true push for unionization, a push that for the first time could be coming from some of the biggest names in the sport. Former UFC fighters Cung Le, Jon Fitch, and Nate Quarry spearheaded an anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC back in December 2014 as part of a pro-labor push, and the newly formed Professional Fighters Association (founded by baseball agent Jeff Boris and labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook) had been counting on UFC fighter Leslie Smith to act as a sort of liaison with fighters and to come up with a list of potential candidates to serve on the group’s fighters board (a relationship Smith ended yesterday after the confidential list she’d compiled ended up in an MMAJunkie.com article earlier this month), but aside from casual declarations of support for a union from fighters like Cerrone, Kennedy, and heavyweight star Mark Hunt, and more and louder gripes about working conditions from fighters like Miller, there’s been little movement on the part of big names to get involved.
Whether that changes at 4 o’clock today, and whether if it does this new group will be affiliated with Boris’ PFA, remains to be seen. But if big names like Georges St-Pierre (whose star continues to burn bright even on sabbatical) and Cain Velasquez are on board with the idea of a union that will give cover to fighters with less name recognition and less bargaining clout to join up as well. And numbers will be key if fighters hope to unionize. In order to start the process, a union would need to get over 50% of the 600 fighters on the UFC’s roster to sign authorization cards before going to the promotion and seeking voluntary recognition. Assuming the UFC refuses (which, when it was owned by the notoriously anti-union Zuffa, it definitely would have, but now that it’s under new ownership we can’t say with certainty), the group would then have to go to the National Labor Relations Board with the support of 30% of the roster to file an election petition. If it can then get over 50% support in the NLRB election the union would be officially recognized. And with that a brand-new day in the history of MMA would begin.
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