Plaintiffs strike key win in antitrust lawsuit after judges deny the UFC’s appeal

MMA: UFC 246-Modafferi vs Barber

A pair of judges with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the UFC’s request to appeal class certification in its ongoing antitrust lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by former UFC fighters seeking damages from the promotion, alleging that the UFC suppressed fighter pay through anti-competitive tactics such as shutting out competition and controlling the market for top-level fighters from 2010-2017.

The plaintiffs include former UFC fighters Cung Le, John Fitch, Kyle Kingsbury, and Brandon Vera, among others, and they seek $811 million to $1.6 billion in damages from the Las Vegas-based promotion.

In August, the lawsuit was granted “bout class” certification in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The UFC’s legal team said they anticipated the decision and planned to appeal the decision by federal judge Richard F. Boulware. In response, the plaintiffs filed a 30-page opposition brief in September, stating the promotion’s appeal did not address “extensive evidence in support of class certification”.

The decision by the judges is a key win for the plaintiffs, who can now move forward with the trial. The UFC’s legal team has not yet commented on the decision. The promotion is also dealing with another antitrust lawsuit headed by Kajan Johnson, who fought for the UFC from 2014-18. That case is similar to the one headed by Le, however, it covers fighters who competed from June 2017 to the present day.

The UFC has filed new motions in the antitrust lawsuit, insisting that there is robust competition among MMA promotion companies. The UFC argues that its multi-bout exclusive contracts reflect “legitimate business justifications” and are industry “standard.” They ensure UFC has “enough athletes available” to compete in more than 40 UFC events per year, as fighters are occasionally sidelined with injuries. The UFC also defends its business practices, stating that the company was purchased for just $2 million in 2001 when it was hemorrhaging money and at risk of bankruptcy.

The plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit have revealed the fighter contracts of several fighters, including ex-champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Matt Hughe. The contracts were revealed as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit. The UFC’s legal team has filed two motions in the antitrust lawsuit, one of which could lead to the case’s dismissal while the other could delay the tentative trial date of April 2024 by several months. The presiding judge, Richard Boulware, will review them.

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