The Rickety Old Shack

Leslie Smith To Sue UFC Over Dismissal

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Not long after news of Leslie Smith's release from her UFC contract broke (link), speculation began that this is a situation that *cough* ultimately may work to her benefit — and the aims of Project Spearhead. It now appears that Smith will be testing those waters, and Project Spearhead released the following statement via Twitter (link):

The UFC, through its actions against our President, [Leslie Smith], has forced this movement to a stage where legal filings are necessary to protect our rights. Please consider donating to the cause no matter the size of any donation. https://www.gofundme.com/leslie-smith-legal-defense

This follows with reasoning I put forward in my original posting, and was echoed by many others, including those with a legal background. The UFC, through the machinations involved in releasing Smith from her contract, may force a determination of the fighters' employment status by the National Labor Review Board (NLRB). Combat Sports Law, in their article (link) on the matter, specifically notes Sections 8(a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act, which seem pertinent:

"An unfair labor practice for an employer ... by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization...

This seems to be exactly what the UFC did in this case; they uncharacteristically paid a fighter her show and win money, despite not fighting, considered this the equivalent of fulfilling the remaining fight obligation of her contract and then refused to re-sign her. This is despite Smith being a top-ranked fighter with a winning UFC record (4-3), recipient of 4 Fight Of The Night bonuses in Invicta Fighting Championships and a Fight Of The Night bonus at UFC on FOX 22. There is no performance-based rationale for cutting a fan-friendly fighter like Smith.

The UFC is not required to re-sign fighters for any reason, it is entirely at their discretion, but it makes their actions look worse. A reasonable person would have to conclude that there was a determined effort made to get out of the contract, made all the more obvious by the fact there was no renegotiation at all — it was just a hard pass on any new deal. While legal challenges take time to work through the system, I am of the opinion that Smith has a good chance at success — and I'm a bit shocked by the UFC's sloppiness here.

Some fans have wondered why Smith needs to raise funds for this effort. While the majority of purported 'fans' asking the question are doing it rhetorically, it does bear mentioning that lawyers aren't cheap and the justice system moves anything but quickly. Crowdfunding is a fact of life these days, and it would have been foolish not to use it; if you don't want to support her financially, you don't have to. Even with pocketing $62,000 (before taxes) from UFC 223, Smith has not fought in 9 months, that money is disbursed to coaches and trainers, and then there is the rest of life's expenses. If your assertion is that a fighter at Leslie Smith's pay grade is resourced enough to wage a solo legal battle with the UFC, you are deluded.

From my layman's perspective, this issue seems very clear. That being said, my opinion decides nothing, and the legal process will have to weigh the arguments made from both the UFC and Smith's lawyers. This isn't just ticking-off some boxes on a form and waiting for someone to just read the document. There is a chance this effort fails, but regardless it accomplishes what the initial goal of Project Spearhead — it's a battle won, in a war that is still ongoing.

—by Derek

Published: April 26th, 2018.