Competition in mixed martial arts
Ultimate trust-busting championship
Oct 7th 2011, 6:52 by T.M.
IN 2000 the United States Congress passed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, a law that sought to protect boxers from unscrupulous promoters and sanctioning bodies. Because boxing has no single governing organisation and its fighters are not unionised, promoters used to wield inordinate market power. As the industry’s “matchmakers”, they could refuse to arrange a fight, venue or broadcast deal unless boxers surrendered a disproportionate share of the proceeds and signed a long-term promotion agreement. The act tried to crack down on “coercive contracts” and level the field between fighters and promoters in negotiations. The law has rarely been invoked, but has occasionally provided some redress. Last month Fernando Guerrero, a rising middleweight boxer, filed suit against Prize Fight Promotions, alleging that the company failed to disclose proceeds of two of his televised bouts as the law requires.
However, the law only applied to boxing. In the decade since its passage, boxing’s primacy among combat sports in America has been challenged by the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA), formerly known as cage fighting. A Brazilian import, it incorporates a range of techniques, including boxing, jujitsu, wrestling and kickboxing, and originally had few regulations. In the 1990s its American promoters rebranded it and formalised its rules in an effort to fend off accusations of barbarity. MMA has since grown in popularity in both the United States and Europe, and has moved from fringe venues and the outer reaches of the cable television dial to snazzier sports arenas (usually attached to Las Vegas casinos) and broadcast networks.
When MMA was first brought to America, a number of promotion companies vied to organise events. But in recent years the industry has consolidated under the aegis of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which has bought up most of its rivals, including Strikeforce this March. In August UFC inked a $100m-a-year deal with the Fox network in the United States to begin broadcasting its fights in November.