MMA's first major "trade" – putting the UFC-One Championship deal for Askren & Johnson into context
Published 31 January 2019 By: Jacob Debets
On 27 October 2018, an historic and unprecedented transaction involving the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Singapore’s One Championship was finalised1, with the UFC “trading” former flyweight champion and pound-for-pound great Demetrious Johnson for One Championship’s retired welterweight champion Ben Askren.
This article aims to dissect this deal and the rich history of “trading” athletes in professional sports, before assessing what legal and cultural implications -- if any -- it may have for the MMA industry at large.
It first provides an overview and history of the trade “systems” that occur in league sports in the United States, underscoring that today, these trades are highly regulated by virtue of collective bargaining agreements, the relevant players association/unions and (historical) litigation brought against management (readers already familiar with this background may want to skip immediately to the next section).
It then briefly describes the major differences between single entity MMA “leagues” and their stick-and-ball counterparts, spotlighting the various legal and extra-legal tools that the UFC has traditionally used to restrict fighter mobility and depress fighter wages.
It finally provides an overview of the Johnson/Askren deal, highlighting its essentially ad hoc and fact-specific nature, before assessing the impact that this deal is likely to have on the MMA industry. It concludes that although it may lead some promotions and fighters to explore the “trade” route in limited circumstances, its overall impact will likely be negligible.
Get access to this article and all of the expert analysis and commentary at LawInSport
Already a member?
Articles, webinars, conference videos and podcast transcripts
This work was written for and first published on LawInSport.com (unless otherwise stated) and the copyright is owned by LawInSport Ltd. Permission is granted to make digital or hard copies of this work (or part, or abstracts, of it) for personal use provided copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage, and provided that all copies bear this notice and full citation on the first page (which should include the URL, company name (LawInSport), article title, author name, date of the publication and date of use) of any copies made. Copyright for components of this work owned by parties other than LawInSport must be honoured.
- Tags: Anti-Trust | Competition Law | Employment | Major League Baseball (MBL) | Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) | National Basketball Association (NBA) | The National Football League (NFL) | The National Hockey League (NHL) | UFC
- A comprehensive guide for sports bodies on tackling discrimination
- Can you “temporarily step down” from an employment role? A view on Craig Bellamy’s position
- FIFA’s proposed solidarity mechanism reforms – an effective solution or a lost opportunity?
Jacob is a freelance writer and recent JD graduate from Melbourne Law School. He will be commencing as a trainee lawyer in 2019 for Arnold Bloch Leibler, in their Workplace Advisory team. In the interim, he is working on a book analysing the economic relationship between the UFC and its athletes, as well as academic papers on the influence of technology on legal education, and the labour dimensions of the "gig economy". You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.