UFC Owner Reaches $335 Million Antitrust Settlement With Fighters

TKO Group, owner of UFC and WWE, has reached a settlement with mixed martial arts fighters who alleged in multiple antitrust suits that the UFC shut down competition and served as a monopoly, holding down fighter pay. The former UFC fighters sought $1.6 billion and a shift in how the UFC conducts business. The company could have been liable for billions more in damages, as damages are tripled in antitrust suits.

The settlement was reached March 13 and was revealed Wednesday in a filing with the SEC, though full details have yet to be released and the agreement awaits approval from a judge. It included two similar class action suits, the first of which was initially filed in December 2014 and the latter in 2021. The original suit was led by fighter Cung Le, with the class action growing to include more than 1,200 fighters who competed for UFC between 2010 and 2017.

That suit alleged, “The UFC has engaged in an illegal scheme to eliminate competition from would-be rival MMA Promoters by systematically preventing them from gaining access to resources critical to successful MMA Promotions, including by imposing extreme restrictions on UFC Fighters’ ability to fight for would-be rivals during and after their tenure with the UFC. As part of the scheme, the UFC not only controls Fighters’ careers, but also takes and expropriates the rights to their names and likenesses in perpetuity. As a result of this scheme, UFC Fighters are paid a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive marketplace.”

Plaintiffs in the suits included numerous big-name MMA fighters, including Le, Jon Fitch, Nate Quarry, Brandon Vera and Kyle Kingsbury. The settlement equates to nearly $300,000 per member of the class, though some fighters have opted out of inclusion.

The fighters alleged that UFC had violated Section 2 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which outlawed monopolies. The company’s use of restrictive contracts continues to be controversial, with the possibility that entertainers in similar positions, such as those under contract to TKO Group’s WWE, could file a similar suit. However, WWE has recently allowed its wrestlers to do more outside appearances, which could help it to avoid similar litigation.

The settlement will be paid in installments, according to the filing, and TKO believes that the settlement will be tax deductible. TKO Group’s majority owner is Hollywood entertainment talent and media company Endeavor.

The company continues to face competition, albeit on a much smaller scale than UFC itself. That includes the rival Bellator promotion, sold last year by Paramount, which recently scored a streaming deal on Max.

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