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Sunday, May 31, 2015

No Holds Barred: Ernesto Aguilar on MMA, Labor, Inequity, and the Reebok Ripoff 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman spoke with Ernesto Aguilar.

He is a writer and the program director of Pacifica radio station KPFT in Houston, Texas, and serves on the board of directors of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, the oldest community radio network in the United States.

This past week, an article he wrote for the Guardian of the U.K. was published, called "Ronda Rousey makes $3m a year but most UFC fighters don't get what they deserve".

We spoke with Ernesto Aguilar by phone Friday.

"I've been a follower of mixed martial arts for a long time, and I think from the time I started to watch, I began to have some questions about it," he said.

"I grew up as a boxing fan here in Texas. Houston has been a big fight town for many, many years. George Foreman is of course from here, and so I've always been a fan of combat sports. And when I got into MMA, I was curious about what the outcomes and the futures for fighters were. It was something that's always been in the back of my mind. And thinking about the sponsorship deal and just some of the fallout of that, seeing the issues that so many mixed martial arts fighters are facing, not just post-career, but during their careers and having to figure out ways to make ends meet, and also just realizing frankly that when these deals end up happening, as we saw with the Eddie Alvarez contract a few years back, and that was a pretty lucrative contract, these contracts seem to tend to favor the promoters."

All these types of conditions have led to a brewing MMA fighter rebellion. This is seen in many ways, including numerous fighters filing class-action lawsuits against Zuffa's anti-competitive practices, and a torrent of public statements and interviews by fighters condemning UFC's new multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Reebok as robbing the fighters of thousands and thousands of dollars of sponsorship money which up until now they have relied upon to a great degree as income, especially with the small percentage of overall revenue going to the fighters, a percentage which is far less than in other comparable sports, and even less than the historically corrupt sport of professional boxing. This Reebok ripoff has been a turning point in this incipient fighter rebellion, and there is now open talk of fighters banding together to form some type of union or association.

"You brought up this thing about class struggle, and about fighters getting organized," Ernesto Aguilar said. "This also is going to require, I guess in my opinion, that fans more actively push promoters to see the benefits of fighters being organized as well."

While fighters may rightly have a fear of retaliation from the promoters for trying to protect their long-term interests and organizing, fans do not.

"We as fans need to be pushing that envelope, pushing promoters to more actively step up and provide the labor protections that they should. And if they're not willing to, we need to ask representatives and politicians to get involved," he said.

We discussed the legal fiction that these MMA fighters under exclusive contracts are individual contractors; how there are comparisons between this fighter rebellion and the grape boycott and strike activities of farm workers organized by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union; why the UFC-Reebok deal is "a very bad deal for fighters"; the issue of traumatic brain injury in combat sports and how a relatively more dangerous style of fighting has been emphasized by MMA promoters than in the past; the role of many members of the media as shills for promoters; and much, much more.

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