The Muhammad Ali Act: An explanation and why the UFC may enter boxing
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In early November 2017, Dana White, the face of the UFC, the largest and most prominent MMA promotion, announced that he will be “getting into boxing, 100%.” How UFC’s entry into boxing will affect the sport is anyone’s guess. White has managed to foster contentious relationships with Bob Arum of Top Rank and Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions, before he has even entered the sport, which will certainly make matchmaking very difficult in the future should he follow through with his promise. The only certainty is that if the UFC does crossover into boxing, it will be subject to Federal regulation in the form of the Muhammad Ali Act. As a result, Dana White and the UFC will be forced to approach their fighters much differently in the squared circle than they are accustomed to in the cage.
Congress passed the Muhammad Ali Act in 2000 because of boxing’s long and infamous history of corruption and exploitative practices. The Act aims to mitigate that history by limiting the influence of promoters and sanctioning bodies to the detriment of the fighters. The key provisions of the Act, many of which run contrary to how the UFC conducts business, are as follows:
- A contract between a boxer and promoter is limited to no more than 12 months and contracts wherein a fighter must grant rights to a promoter, or a promoter must grant his rights in a fighter to another promoter, in order to secure a future fight against a specific fighter under contractor with the same promoter are barred.
- A contract requiring future promotional agreements in order to participate in a “mandatory” bout under the rules of a sanctioning body are barred.
- The Association of Boxing Commissions (an association made up of the boxing commissioners of the individual states) is required to develop guidelines for objective and consistent written criteria for rating fighters.
- Sanctioning bodies are required to post and explain any change in a fighter’s rating.
- Sanctioning bodies are required to submit to the Federal Trade Commission and Association of Boxing Commissioners a complete description of the organization’s ratings criteria, policies, and general sanctioning fee schedule, bylaws, appeals procedure for its rating system, and a list of the organization’s officials who vote on the ratings of boxers.
- Sanctioning bodies are required to provide boxing commissions regulating a boxing match with a statement of all charges, fees, and costs assessed to the fighters, and all payments it will receive from a promoter.
- Promoters are required to provide the boxing commission regulating a boxing match a copy of the contract with the fighter and a statement of all fees, charges, and expenses the promoter is assessing against the fighter, including any portion of the boxer’s purse the promoter will receive, and training expenses assessed against the fighter, all payments, gifts, or benefits from the promoter to the sanctioning body, and any reduction in a boxer’s purse contrary to a previous agreement between the promoter and boxer.
- Promoters are barred from having a direct or indirect financial interest in the management of a boxer.
- Managers are barred from having a direct or indirect financial interest in the promotion of a fighter or to be employed, or receive compensation from the promoter.
Currently, boxing is the only combat sport covered by the Act. That may soon change, however, as the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act slowly makes its way through Congress. The Expansion Act simply adds the phrases “fighter,” “combat sports competition” and “mixed martial arts” to the original Act, and therefore, will bring MMA under the cloak of federal oversight. In short, the Expansion Act will neuter the current business practices of the UFC.
While there is no guarantee that the Expansion Act will become law - it literally takes years for most bills to even work their way through Congress and receive a floor vote in order to become law - the UFC may eventually be forced to change its business practices. Therefore, it is safe to speculate that Dana White’s intention is to enter boxing where he can learn to operate within the confines of federal law without damaging the UFC brand. He’ll be able to bring the knowledge gained in boxing back to MMA and ensure the UFC’s strength for years to come. If that is the case, then White is one of the most fortunate promoters to be given this opportunity in the history of the fight game.
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