“The only sound approach to collective bargaining is to work out an agreement that clarifies the rights and responsibilities of the parties, establishes principles and operates to the advantage of all concerned.” -Charles Edward Wilson
Boxing, or combat sports to be more accurate, has always been seen as a more archaic form of sporting and entertainment than mainstream sports such as basketball, baseball, and football. While that is due to the seemingly high level of visceral violence and offensive characters, it’s also due to the lack of evolution that other sports have had in the past.
One major lack of evolution seen in combat sports is the act of collective bargaining for rights and benefits for all parties. Basketball’s player’s association, NBPA, for example, has allowed for the players to receive 50% of the revenue from the TV Network deal. In combat sports and boxing specifically, that is but a fantasy to have at this point.
Recently for a cousin to boxing, MMA, the idea and formation of a “Fighter’s Union” has now become a reality. An organization such as PFA, Professional Fighters Association, has gained industry-changing credibility at an alarming rate for some in this industry already gaining support from major UFC fighters. Plus a media conference rumored to be an announcement concerning a “Fighter’s Union” featuring legends such as Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrone, Tim Kennedy, T.J. Dillashaw, and former president of Bellator MMA Bjorn Rebney is set to take place this Wednesday. Running parallel with that development, that same organization, or maybe another, may lend their hand in boxing to help fighters in this sport also gain rights and benefits that other high-level athletes receive.
Over a week ago, certain high profile PBC boxers expressed interest in private about unionization with the help of PFA. For the time being, they will be anonymous to potentially protect them from any backlash. One of them expressed interest by being a spokesperson as well. They were put in contact with Lucas Middlebrook, a founder of PFA, counsel to NBRA and PSRA, and he represented UFC superstar Nick Diaz in his banned substance case for marijuana. However, those high-profile PBC boxers are now “radio silent” for an unknown reason.
When these discussions happened one said, “This won’t upset Al [Haymon] will it? He’s taken care of me…I don’t want to upset Al.” Whether a sense of loyalty or behind the scenes intimidation persuaded these boxers to change their minds is unknown and any speculation on it is purely that. But at the same time, these boxers truly did believe in the need for more rights and protections. Other items discussed between us were the tragedy of Prichard Colon and Nick Blackwell just to name a few. Those situations weigh heavy on the minds of these young men and women, which will only continue to push them towards collective bargaining.
Boxing almost took a huge step right now, but yet there’s still some archaic traditions and holds on this sport that prevents it from evolving and changing for the better of all parties. When Middlebrook was asked about the involvement of PFA in boxing, since it was created for UFC fighters at first, was, “PFA is willing to talk to all entities-ideally I would love to see a union that is made up of all professional fighters administering separate contracts…”
Like any change, it can either be rapid or glacially slow and unfortunately the precedent for collective bargaining in sports is the latter. This was the first step into the vast ocean of modernity for boxing. It was a quick dip of the toe for the sport, nothing changed yet, but like all things, it takes the first step to truly get started.
Part 2 will come out later this week. It will be an in-depth interview with Lucas Middlebrook concerning the specifics of issues facing the movement of unionizing in boxing and combat sports.