The Ali Act In MMA? Not So Fast….

The Ali Act.

This might be the most beloved, yet misunderstood, set of rules and guidelines in all of boxing. Introduced in 1999, and enacted in 2000, the Ali Act was set in place for several reasons, including:

1. Protecting the welfare and rights of boxers.
2. To assist commissions with the oversight of the sport.
3. Increasing integrity and sportsmanship within the boxing industry.

The Ali Act was an amendment of the 1996 Professional Boxing Safety Act, adding legislation to combat exploration, conflict of interest, enforcement, and other additional amendments as a response to systemic issues within the sport. Fast forward 17 years however, and even with the Ali Act still in place, it is hard to notice any affects on the sport at all.

This fact makes the efforts spearheaded by former MMA fighter, and current Congressman Markwayne Mullins, even more confusing to some. Mullins, who last competed as a professional in 2007, became the Congressional representative for Oklahoma’s 2nd district in 2012, and has been involved in several congressional committees, including subcommittee’s on Water and Power, and Indian and Alaskan Native Affairs. But unless you are a resident of Oklahoma, or political follower, this might be the first time hearing his name.

In principal, the Ali Act appears to be a groundbreaking piece of legislature, meant to help clean up the assumedly dirty from top to bottom sport of boxing. But can anyone name anything that the Act has been responsible in truly changing within the sport? In today’s boxing world, fighters still face issues with promoters and promotions, face health and safety issues, and still do not make what the masses consider “fair pay” in most cases.

During the years largest card, Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, six fighters made less than $15000 on a card that brought in a reported 400 million. Outside of the nearly 130 million dollar payouts to Mayweather and McGregor, the remaining 14 fighters made a total of 1.85 million dollars. The fact that the card was even headlined by an 0-0 fighter raised more the enough red flags to the boxing world, and when rules were altered to allow the use of 8 oz. gloves, rather then the stipulated and mandated for the weight class 10 oz. gloves. The allowance, made by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, not only went against its own set of rules, but drew the ire of the Association of Ringside Physicians for allowing the change.

On the same card, Gervonta Davis was set to defend his IBF Super Featherweight title against Francisco Fonseca, although a missed weigh-in stripped Davis prior to the bout. Fonseca was ranked no higher then 9th by the IBF at the time of the bout, and essentially jumped 8 other fighters by getting this title shot. Also, Badou Jack made his Light Heavyweight debut and defeated Nathan Cleverly for the WBA (regular) title. This bout was made due to the WBA allowing Cleverly to bypass his mandatory challenger in Dimitry Bivol, who is now the WBA champion following Jack’s vacation of the title, citing his desire to face bigger names within the sport then Bivol.

In only one card of the hundreds held in 2017, we see several violations of the spirit of the Ali Act, and almost no one cared. But what does this have to do with the possible inclusion of the Act in MMA? Well, if you have followed any of the ongoing hearings on Capitol Hill regarding this, you have surely seen a video clip between Mullins and current UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner. Ratner, a former Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, was present to address concerns and answer questions regarding perceived improprieties within the MMA, most notably the UFC.

In transcripts from MMAJunkie, Rather and Mullins both gave statements and answered questions:

While arguing how the Ali Act would take away the matchmaking power from the promoter, Ratner is quoted as saying:

“We put on the fights that the fans want to see. Fighters, fans and sports reporters keep MMA promoters accountable. H.R. 44 would remove from the promoter the decisions regarding when and against whom fighters are matched, and might force inter-promotional fights. Because different promotions have less comprehensive health and safety standards than the UFC, our fighters would be endangered.”

This statement applies to boxing directly as well, as promotions such as Top Rank and Golden Boy commonly set the matches for plenty of fighters, and networks such as HBO and Showtime can decide who faces who based on television contracts with set promotions.

This was met by a stern response from Mullins, as the following dialogue between the two show:

“If the UFC is considered a professional sport, then it should be on a merit-based rankings system,” Mullin said, “When the fans know the No. 1 contender actually has a shot at the title. Because we haven’t seen that at (Middleweight). How did Dan Henderson – and I like Dan Henderson, this is no knock on him – but he wasn’t even in the top-10, and when was he last in the top-10? He got to fight Bisping for the title shot. Did the (No.) 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 (ranked contenders) refuse?

“When Dan Henderson fought Michael Bisping, it was a natural rematch from a fight four or five years ago” Ratner countered.

“But then it wasn’t a title shot, but yet it was for a title shot,” Mullin shot back. “Then that means the world championship belt that the UFC has isn’t really a world championship belt. It’s really what (UFC Chief Operating Officer) Lawrence Epstein personally told me: It’s simply an award they bestow on the best fighter that night. That’s insulting to every professional athlete. How did (Georges St-Pierre) get a fight for the title when he hasn’t had a fight in four years, much less at 185 pounds, where he never fought for the belt?”

“St-Pierre hadn’t fought in four years, you’re absolutely right,” Ratner answered.

“So how did he get a title shot?” Mullin questioned.

“St-Pierre was a former champion,” Ratner replied, “a former pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, according to our. …”

“So he still didn’t fight for a title,” Mullin persisted. “He fought for an award bestowed upon the best fighter of the night.”

Many will agree that the last two Middleweight title shots were far from what was expected, or deserved, but is that reason to involve the American government? How many UFC or boxing title shots go to the top ranked contender? Another quote from Mullins sadly seems to highlight just how far off this proposal truly is. After admitting he was an advocate for the Ali Act 20 years ago, Ratner was met was this from Mullins:

“Alot of it was the manipulation that was going on in boxing. And you don’t see any similarities right now on the manipulations the way they do it? There is no backstop for MMA fighters, its take it or leave it. And thats why I say the UFC has become the Don King of MMA. When you were saying that MMA fighters were treated the same as boxers, what I’m trying to say is that they are not even close. You make a broad statement like that, you’re misleading Congress and you are misleading the American people.”

It should come as no surprise that any member of government would over-blow anything to make their point, but this is something else. Yes, there was plenty of manipulation in the sport of boxing 20 years ago, but there still is now, as there is in MMA. Yes, Ratner did say MMA fighters were treated the same as boxers, and how is that not true? Mullins has conveniently forgot the massive point that the Ali Act is nothing more then a footnote to many Athletic Commissions now, and quite honestly, has been since its inception.

Far too many seem to want to point fingers at the UFC for acting like boxing in the 1990s and later, without realizing that boxing now hasn’t changed much itself since these same years. It feels like every week we see controversial decisions, fighters futures decided on finances and not skill, promoters using any leverage they can to get what is best for them, not the sport. But for some reason, the UFC is to blame for acting like a sport that essentially stayed the same despite the Ali Act coming into play?

Without it being said in so many words, it seems that the inclusion of the Ali Act is meant to allow fighters to receive better compensation for competing. In a perfect world, this would be fantastic, but this is the real world and not every dream is achievable. We have all heard many, many times the comparison between UFC fighters and athletes in sporting leagues such as the NFL, NBA, EUFA, etc. Sure, some professional athletes do make 20-30 million dollars a year, but these leagues and teams have far superior earnings which allow gigantic contracts for their athletes.

Based on the UFC themselves, their profit was 450 million dollars in 2106. Varying reports have the real number closer to 150 million, as the UFC did not take into account expenses before releasing this figure, but lets say they made even half that amount, 225 million dollars. Professional sports teams such as the Boston Celtics took in a revenue of 173 million dollars in 2015, with far less athletes to compensate and far larger television revenue streams then the UFC has.

So far in 2017, the UFC has brought in close to 210 million in PPV revenue, 3.5 million buys at $60 per, and another 40 million in live gate moneys. Even if the remaining 7 events do well, a 300 million dollar year is a stretch. Now factor in the pay handed out to the 400-500 athletes on the roster, the millions put in to PPV events and many other expenses. Surely the revenue is more then just what was mentioned, but the balance between the two shouldn’t be far off. So where is this massive pay raise fans expect for fighters to come from?

Better yet, how do smaller promotions maintain their costs when pay is legally raised? The Ali Act will affect all of MMA, not just the UFC, and the expectations, if they become reality, could shut down many out of a basic lack of money to continue. But even then, if a fighter competing on a card such as Mayweather/McGregor can take home only $7500, what do people expect a bottom tier UFC fighter to receive?

Despite the assumption that boxers make substantially more then MMA fighters, the truth is that while some do make massive amounts of money, ie Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, etc, most boxers are taking in a respectable figure to compete, but they are not taking in the millions such as an NFL or NBA player either.

During this past weekends UFC Fight Night 120 card, 8 fighters took home over $100000 dollars, with Diego Sanchez close with $95000. The evenings lowest payout was $10000, still $2500 more then the lowest on the Mayweather/McGregor card. In fact, 13 of the 26 fighters brought home at least $50000, as opposed to 8 of a possible 16 on the Mayweather/McGregor card. Fighter pay in the UFC, while still lower then some feel is right, has gone up based on the fighter in recent years. We see several taking home over $500000 a night, and many more well over $100000. What did people expect these athletes to make exactly when using boxing as a comparison, when boxers still take home paltry salaries as well?

This has alway been the problem with things such as the Ali Act. People will let emotion and desire get in the way of reality, and opinion will trump fact far too often. The Act has shown almost no true progression in the sport of boxing in nearly two decades of existence, yet it needs to be applied to MMA now?

Mullins and company surely have the best interest for all MMA athletes, but a misleading perception of the facts helps no one. For every knock on the UFC, be it the rankings, fighter pay, contracts, whatever, the exact situation is happening in the world of professional boxing to this day, perhaps worse. So what will the Ali Act to do help MMA when it hasn’t put a dent in the world of boxing?

As long as Athletic Commissions are allowed to act essentially independent from one another, nothing will change in either sport. Live gates and sales have taken over from the competition of the sports, and television contracts and obligations rule the land with the largest bidder seemingly gaining control. The Ali Act could never have imagined such a time and is not equipped to handle today’s combat sports landscape, and there is no reason to pretend is does for self serving reasons. Both sport need serious overhauls in many aspects, this is universally agreed on, but inserting the government into private business isn’t the answer.

It hasn’t proven to have worked in the past anyway.

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Jasyn Zangari

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