Opinion: Fighters Vote Against Their Interest, Shock Nobody

By Jacob Debets Oct 23, 2020
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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As the weeks leading up to the United States presidential election turn to days, fighters on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster have been making consistent and conspicuous appearances in support of the incumbent.

In the beginning, the most visible figure in this respect was Colby Covington, the former interim welterweight champion and longtime MAGA ambassador. In the buildup to and aftermath of Covington’s bout opposite Tyron Woodley in September, “Chaos” took every opportunity he could to amplify the administration, its more controversial talking points and his personal relationship with President Trump. He attended a Trump rally on Sept. 14 in Henderson, Nevada, shot an awkward “promo” with the president (Covington was enthused he would be tuning in to the fight) and received a congratulatory call from the White House during his post-fight ESPN interview (during which Trump confirmed he had done as promised). Later, when Trump participated in the first presidential debate opposite Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Cleveland, Covington was invited to attend as the president’s guest. He could be heard shouting his support for Trump as the event wrapped up.

Covington has been joined by other UFC representatives in the campaign effort in recent weeks. At the same Henderson rally in September, interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and former two-division titleholder Henry Cejudo were spotted in the audience. They were later namedropped by the president in his speech and posed for pictures with him, alongside Covington, their manager, Ali Abdelaziz, and UFC President Dana White. Back on the East Coast, Jorge Masvidal, the onetime welterweight title challenger and inaugural BMF champion has teamed up with Donald Trump Jr. in a bizarre “Fighters Against Socialism” tour across Florida, during which he has implored Hispanic voters to support Trump and prevent a Biden-Kamala Harris administration from implementing “Cuban-style communism” and “destroying America.” In between, these and other influential MMA figures have steadily been expressing their support for Team Trump on social media, buttressing a similar stream of pro-Trump content that has been produced by the UFC over the last four years.

All matters of identity politics aside, what has been missing in the commentary about this trend is how clearly a re-elected Trump government conflicts with athletes’ interests as prizefighters—particularly in relation to the size of that prize and the market conditions which mediate these and other financial outcomes.

As has been extensively catalogued and scrutinized here and elsewhere, the close ties between the UFC and the president have consistently been underlined as keys obstacles to fighter-friendly economic reforms. This has been demonstrated in respect of Leslie Smith’s attempt to organize a fighter’s union in 2018-19. It culminated in her being released from the promotion and a subsequent complaint to the National Labor Relations Report being allegedly dismissed at Trump’s behest; in the ostensible thwarting of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which would have extended economic rights afforded to boxers to their counterparts in MMA; and in fears that Trump appointees may attempt to intervene in the class-action antitrust lawsuit against the UFC to ensure a favorable outcome for the promotion.

Covington, Masvidal, Cejudo and Gaethje have gone on record criticizing the UFC’s pay structure and argued that fighters deserve a larger piece of the revenue from the promotion’s operations. In fact, the first time Masvidal made the communist Cuba comparison was in respect to the UFC’s coercive contracts earlier this year during a very public dispute over his pursuit of a fight with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Cejudo, meanwhile, “retired” from the sport in May, in part due what he regarded as dismal compensation.

The unregulated, monopolistic and predatory capitalism the UFC has mastered to the detriment of its athletes and the wider MMA market is exactly the kind of capitalism which Trump’s administration champions. Fighters would do well to heed that reality, but don’t hold your breath.

Jacob Debets is a lawyer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.


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