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Fighters strike out at UFC with antitrust lawsuit

Mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has been hit by an antitrust lawsuit from a group of fighters who claim the series has an unfair monopoly grip over the MMA market.

The federal suit has been filed in San Jose and its plaintiffs include Nathan Quarry, Cung Le and Jon Fitch. Le, a middleweight whose suspension over testing positive for abnormal levels of human growth hormone was rescinded in October, is the only athlete of the three to currently hold a UFC contract. He told ESPN: “They control our career, and that's a choice we as fighters should have. And we don't have that choice.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, lawyers declined to name the price tag on the damages being sought. The suit names UFC’s Las Vegas-based parent company Zuffa LLC and claims that MMA fighters only receive a fraction of the income they could receive in a competitive market, and earn far less than professional boxers.

According to the lawsuit, the UFC has developed a monopoly by buying up competitors such as Strikeforce and locking out rivals by its control of elite fighters, major sponsors and TV and arena venues. The suit states that the UFC controls around 90 per cent of the revenues gained from live elite professional MMA bouts, estimating its annual income at about $500 million (€400m) from promotion of live events and “merchandising, licensing fees, sponsorships, advertising fees, video game fees, and digital media revenue streams.”

The plaintiffs also state the UFC holds the exclusive worldwide rights to fighters' names and likenesses in perpetuity, while athletes who have worked with rival sponsors or promoters have faced recriminations from the series.

Responding to the lawsuit, the UFC said: “The UFC is aware of the action filed today but has not been served, nor has it had the opportunity to review the document. The UFC will vigorously defend itself and its business practices.”