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Could anti-trust lawsuit against UFC have ramifications for WWE?

Mixed martial arts fighters Nathan Quarry, Jon Fitch and Cung Le have filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the UFC for monopolizing the sport of mixed martial arts.

From the Associated Press story:

Mixed martial arts fighters filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Tuesday, alleging the organization is a monopoly that chokes off competition, crushes athletes' earnings and controls the right to market their names even after their deaths.

"UFC has taken over the entire industry and dictated its terms upon the fighters ... they don't have any rights. It's the new religion, as it were ... it's time for things to change," said Nathan Quarry, who is a plaintiff in the suit along with Cung Le and Jon Fitch.

Only Le currently has a UFC contract, although he said at a news conference that he would not fight if called up for a bout.

The federal suit was filed in San Jose, where Le lives. It's being brought by high-profile firms involved in suits against such giants as Apple, Google and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

At a news conference, lawyers declined to put a price tag on the damages being sought.

However, they argued that MMA fighters receive only a fraction of the earnings they could make in a competitive market and their paydays are far less than those of professional boxers.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, names Zuffa LLC, the Las Vegas-based company that does business as the UFC.

I'm no legal expert, but the issues Quarry, Fitch and Le contend in their anti-trust suit sound eerily similar to a lot of the issues that wrestlers have faced for years, especially those within the WWE.

For all intents and purposes, the WWE has monopolized the wrestling business. Sure, other wrestling promotions do exist, and the WWE hasn't done anything to prevent the current companies from thriving, but the stranglehold the WWE has on the industry is reminiscent to the one the United States Football League sued the National Football League for during the 1980s. The WWE literally purchased its competition (World Championship Wrestling) back in 2001, which definitely helped the company take over the industry.

Maybe the WWE is doing everything it can within the letter of the law not to monopolize the wrestling business, which would render an anti-trust suit pointless, but if there is evidence the company has indeed monopolized the industry, the wrestlers that work for the company today and those that have worked for it in the past should pay close attention to the how this plays out.

Also from the AP story:

According to the lawsuit, the UFC has achieved a monopoly over the years by buying up competitors such as Strikeforce and locking out rivals by its control of elite fighters, major sponsors and TV and arena venues.

While there are MMA competitors, such as Bellator, the suit contends that UFC now controls about 90 percent of the revenues derived from live elite professional MMA bouts. The suit says UFC's revenues are estimated at about $500 million a year from promotion of live events and from "merchandising, licensing fees, sponsorships, advertising fees, video game fees, and digital media revenue streams."

The UFC also holds the exclusive worldwide rights to fighters' names and likenesses in perpetuity, ensuring that the fighters cannot freely license themselves for commercial products or promotions even after their UFC contracts expire — and the UFC's control doesn't even expire after the fighter's death, attorney Michael Dell'Angelo said at the press conference.

The suit contends that fighters who worked with rival sponsors or promoters have faced retaliation, with the UFC refusing to book their bouts or barring them from UFC promotions such as ad campaigns or video games.

At the news conference, lawyers wouldn't detail what changes they want to make in the current system.

WWE wrestlers are classified as independent contractors, not emplyees, but the WWE changes their ring name, so that the company can trademark and brand it. For instance, if Dolph Ziggler left the WWE tomorrow, he can no longer promote himself under that name, as it legally belongs to the WWE.

WWE wrestlers also can't seek outside sponsorship opportunities as they choose.

I don't expect anyone within the WWE to band together to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the WWE anytime soon. After all, Le is the only one in the suit that is currently under contract with the UFC.

But if this reaches class-action status, and Quarry, Fitch, Le and others win, it may be worth looking into for the wrestlers' sake.