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

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 Associati…

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