Agent Jeff Borris on forming PFA: Unionization of UFC fighters 'long overdue'

LAS VEGAS -- Longtime baseball agent Jeff Borris and labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook are spearheading an effort to unionize UFC athletes through the formation of the Professional Fighters Association (PFA).

The group will hold a news conference Thursday at the MGM Grand in advance of Saturday's highly anticipated rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz at UFC 202.

Borris, who has represented more than 500 professional baseball players, told ESPN.com that the unionization of UFC fighters is "long overdue."

"The UFC is on the same plane as MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL -- their employees should be unionized in order to protect and safeguard their fights," Borris told ESPN.com. "Every single athlete who is under contract with the UFC is currently being taken advantage of. From the guy who is fighting for $10,000 to show and $10,000 to win, all the way to the very top. Every single one of them."

The UFC declined to comment on the PFA through a spokesperson. While the PFA is not the first group to advocate fighter rights, it is arguably the most aggressive effort to date to see fighters unionize.

Borris intends to spend approximately six months getting in front of "as many athletes as I can."

According to Middlebrook, the group needs to collect authorization cards from 30 percent of the UFC's roster, which features roughly 600 total athletes. The PFA expects the UFC to challenge its fighters' right to unionize on the basis that they are independent contractors rather than full-time employees. Should the National Labor Relations Board deem UFC fighters employees, the process would then move on to an election phase.

In order for a union to be recognized, Borris would require support from a simple majority of the workforce. He has promised to only move forward with the PFA, however, if the support is far more overwhelming than a simple majority.

One challenge Borris specifically mentioned is helping athletes overcome a fear of retribution from the UFC should they support the union.

"I'll use the round number of 600 total athletes -- I'm not going to go to war with these guys if only 301 of them vote me in to be the executive director," Borris said. "That would show there are fragmented groups within the whole. So far, after talking to the fighters I have spoken with, I don't notice any fragmentation whatsoever. They all stand united.

"I think the success from the baseball union's perspective has been the brotherhood that exists, and that's what I would need to go to bat against the UFC. I'd need roughly all 600 fighters."

Borris said his interest in unionizing UFC athletes began earlier this year, when he was asked by an associate at Ballengee Group sports agency, Lloyd Pierson, to look over his client Nate Diaz's contract for UFC 196. Borris said he was shocked by several terms of the contract, all of which were in place absent any collective bargaining agreement.

"The UFC is on the same plane as MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL -- their employees should be unionized in order to protect and safeguard their fights. Every single athlete who is under contract with the UFC is currently being taken advantage of." Jeff Borris

Matters such as drug-testing policies, licensing agreements and media responsibilities are all dictated by the UFC.

As a specific example, Borris pointed to the recent debacle between the UFC and McGregor, one of its biggest stars. Earlier this year, the UFC pulled McGregor from a scheduled fight at UFC 200 on July 9 because he refused to interrupt his training camp to fly to Las Vegas for a scheduled news conference and photo shoot.

Borris found it unacceptable that a process isn't in place to settle that type of dispute via a third party.

"In my view of the world, there should be a grievance procedure in place between the UFC and any one of its fighters," Borris said. "In this example, a third-party arbitrator would make that ruling, as to whether Conor should fly in from Iceland or he shouldn't. It would not be this unilateral decision by the UFC to go and retaliate by yanking both Conor and Nate off a card where they are scheduled to make millions of dollars."

The UFC has always been a private company, meaning its financial information is not public. PFA estimates, however, that athletes currently receive only 15 percent of the organization's revenue, compared to a far more even split in other leagues.

Middlebrook, who has counseled the National Basketball Referees Association and the Professional Soccer Referees Association, added that the PFA would fight for benefits such as comprehensive medical care and retirement.

"Athletes have coverage based on fighting, but if they get a sinus infection, they're not covered," Middlebrook said. "To me, those are big parts of what we're doing. Post-employment benefits -- 401[k] program where the UFC matches. That's very typical of a [collective bargaining agreement]."

According to Borris, the PFA has received support from other players' associations, including that of Donald Fehr, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association and current executive director of the NHL Players' Association.