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How the 'U' in UFC could mean union, too

The UFC was just sold for $4 billion to talent agency WME-IMG at a record-breaking price for a sports franchise. 

One veteran baseball agent believes it's time the fighters have more say in their welfare, and he wants to organize them. "You're talking about one employer, the UFC, that has 600 or so employees, and they tell them when to fight, who to fight, what to wear when they fight," said Jeff Borris. 

Borris, an attorney, said he became interested in creating a union after fighter Nate Diaz's agent asked him to look over the contracts for both UFC 196, when Diaz beat Conor McGregor, as well as their rematch this weekend.

Nate Diaz punches Conor McGregor during UFC 196 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Getty Images

"I looked at the agreements, and I couldn't believe what I was reading," he said. While the payment agreements seemed appropriate, the demands on things like publicity commitments and endorsements "wouldn't fly in any of the other sports." So he created the Professional Fighters Association (PFA), a self-funded attempt to start a union. 

UFC President Dana White did not respond to CNBC's request for comment, though Borris said White told him the union idea won't fly because fighters are independent contractors, not employees. 

This week Borris has been trying to meet with as many fighters as possible to convince them to sign up with the PFA, though he was reportedly asked to leave a UFC event by security. Later Borris held a separate news conference where he explained that if he can get written support from 180 fighters, he can go before the National Labor Relations Board to have the PFA recognized. 

I'd like dental

The fighters themselves have been surprisingly willing to talk about the possibility of organizing. "I feel like it's inevitable," said Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, a popular lightweight and welterweight fighter. Cerrone said he only has medical insurance to cover injuries during fights or fight camp, "but I have no dental. I'd like dental." 

Others agreed. "We go out there, and we train, put our bodies through the ringer, really lay our lives on the line," said bantamweight fighter Cody Garbrandt. "We'd like to have insurance, 401(k), all that stuff." 

"It would be great for us," said female bantamweight fighter Elizabeth Phillips. Japanese fighter Takeya Mizugaki said through a translator, "I wonder why it didn't happen sooner." 

Newcomers are less reluctant to discuss the issue. "Whatever they do, I'm sure it's in the best interest for us as the athletes," said first-time fighter Mike Perry. Max Griffin, who just signed a four-fight deal, took a neutral tone. "I'm the new guy, so I'm just trying to see what happens." 

Supporters may end up with a very big name in their corner. "I see it as something maybe in the future to get involved with," said McGregor.  

For most fighters, however, Colby Covington may have summed it up best. "I think a union could be good, but I'm not going to be putting my name out there to be at the front of the list," he said. "I don't want to step on UFC's toes. I want to better my career and my life." 

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