Leslie Smith Leads Attempt to Form UFC Fighters Union with Newly Established Project Spearhead

By Tristen Critchfield Feb 13, 2018

The ongoing struggle to provide mixed martial artists with a union has proved largely fruitless in recent years, but now there is a new player in the fray.

UFC veteran Leslie Smith has founded Project Spearhead, which is intended to unite athletes within the Las Vegas-based promotion for a unionization effort. MMAFighting.com was first to report the news.

“Project Spearhead is an Association of professional mixed martial artists intended to spearhead the process of moving toward unionizing all professional mixed martial artists,” reads a statement on the Project Spearhead website. “Project Spearhead is a democratic, fighter-led organization wherein fighters make all Association decisions, including hiring professionals and Association governance free from outside influence.

“Project Spearhead will operate on parallel paths,” the statement continues. “While collecting authorization cards to spearhead the union movement, Project Spearhead will also operate as an Association of fighters and secure benefits for its members such as health care, access to legal review of contracts and access to reputable financial planners. The ultimate goal is for all fighters, across every promotion, to speak with a unified and collective voice.”

Smith will serve as the interim president of the organization, while UFC flyweight Kajan Johnson has been appointed as interim vice president. Additionally, attorney Lucas Middlebrook, who defended Nick Diaz in his marijuana case against the Nevada Athletic Commission, will help with Project Spearhead.

One of the main goals of Project Spearhead is to provide UFC fighters with the benefits afforded employees at most companies. Right now, it claims that the promotion classifies its athletes as independent contractors while treating them as employees.

According to the site, “the UFC is treating us like employees even though they are misclassifying and still paying us like independent contractors.” If UFC fighters were classified as employees, they would be eligible for worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance and the right to form, join and be represented by a union. The UFC “wants to maintain control over us without the legal responsibility that comes with having employees,” the site claims.

Conversely, if the UFC chooses to recognize its fighters as independent contractors, that should result in less rigid standards in areas such as USADA supervision and uniform and sponsor guidelines. In recent years attempts at unionization with the Professional Fighters Assocation (PFA) and MMA Athletes Association have opened with promising beginnings only to fail in the long run.

Smith, who is scheduled to face Aspen Ladd at UFC Fight Night 128 on April 21, told MMAFighting that fighters who sign authorization cards to join the union will remain anonymous. She believes that whether it’s Project Spearhead or otherwise, a union for UFC fighters is inevitable.

“There’s no doubt that this is gonna happen,” Smith said. “A union is going to happen. It’s impossible for it not to happen at this point. It’s just whether it’s gonna happen right now and with this effort or if this is just gonna be another one and then there’s gonna be another effort that comes up in the future. I’m not even against that. That’s fine. Whatever ends up being, if it works out that’s great. But this is my last chance to make a full-on effort when I can.”


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