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Court denies UFC motion to dismiss antitrust charges; suit moves forward

LAS VEGAS -- U.S. district judge Richard Boulware denied a motion to dismiss antitrust charges filed against Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, in Nevada court on Friday.

Zuffa's attorneys filed the motion on Feb. 27 in response to an antitrust lawsuit filed by current and former professional fighters in December. The lawsuit accuses the UFC of controlling a monopoly in mixed martial arts and engaging in anti-competitive business practices, intended to eliminate rival promotions and limit fighter compensation.

In its motion to dismiss, Zuffa argued several points, including whether the complaint provided facts supporting UFC fighter contracts are anti-competitive and whether Zuffa's acquisitions of other promotions have had an anti-competitive effect.

Following an approximately 90-minute proceeding, Boulware ruled all matters require further litigation and denied the full motion to dismiss, keeping the entire complaint intact.

Both sides were represented by multiple attorneys. Of the 11 fighters named on the lawsuit, Nate Quarry, Cung Le and Kyle Kingsbury were present. Le, 43, is still under UFC contract but has publicly stated he does not want to fight for the promotion again, after a drug-testing-related incident last year. UFC Chief Legal Officer Kirk Hendrick was also in attendance.

"As we have consistently stated, UFC competes in a lawful manner that benefits athletes around the world and has created a premier organization in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA)," the UFC said in a statement. "We look forward to proving that the allegations in the complaint are meritless."

The case was originally filed in the Northern District of California, but Zuffa successfully filed motions to have it transferred to Las Vegas in June. UFC headquarters is located in Las Vegas.

"I think this was a great victory for us," Quarry said. "Zuffa came out and wanted to try this case in its hometown and they won that, but we won the right to fight the fight. We get to prove what's known to be true, which is Zuffa has controlled the market and manipulated the market. It has phenomenal fighters like Cung Le under contract in perpetuity. His only option is to completely retire from the sport and let his dream die."

The Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Competition opened an antitrust investigation of Zuffa in 2011, after its purchase of the fight promotion Strikeforce. The FTC closed that investigation in 2012.