The Labor Tribune

Labor News From Our Region

Mixed Martial Arts fighter fired for fighting for a union

January 7, 2019 by admin in Labor News From Our Region with 0 Comments

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS fighter Leslie Smith (left) in a recent bout with Jessica Eye. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) recently declined to renew Smith’s contract after she spoke out in favor of forming a fighters’ union.

Leslie Smith speaks out; is canned. Seeks help with legal fees

“Nobody should have to sacrifice their dignity pleading for basic rights. But sadly, due to worker misclassification, many working people don’t have access to employer-sponsored health insurance, fair pay, workers comp and, most importantly, collective bargaining rights.”

With that strong comment, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Leslie Smith exposed a sport that has many trade union spectators when she announced recently that she was technically fired by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) the largest MMA promotion company in the world with a net worth of $7 billion — for endorsing collective bargaining.

As she put it, “I spoke up in favor of joining in union with my fellow MMA fighters.”

Smith spent the last four years fighting under the UFC banner. Her contract expired in the summer and instead of renewing it, UFC declined, making her a free agent.

“Before I was fired, I was on a three-fight win streak in my division, ranked ninth in the world, and had won my last fight by technical knockout, “ she said, adding UFC “…had even recently presented me with the ‘Fight of the Night’ award for exceptional fighting skills.”


“But this all changed when the UFC effectively ended my fighting career because I spoke up in favor of joining in union with my fellow MMA fighters. The UFC misclassifies fighters as independent contractors, so we don’t have access to collective bargaining rights. This means that we can’t negotiate for more control over our careers or a legitimate share of the revenue we’re generating.”

While fighters make $12,000 a match, they take a brutal beating, have no benefits, no health insurance and no share of the substantial revenue generated at each fight program. It’s not like the $7 billion UFC enterprise could not afford to be fair with its fighters, Smith said.

Smith sued the UFC for unfair retaliation. NLRB Region 4 upheld her charges but the Republican-controlled national NLRB overturned the Region 4 decision with the flimsy excuse that Smith was not specifically discriminated against for her union work, therefore the charge was not warranted.

Never one to back down from a fight, Smith is continuing her organizing work.

“Fighters need a union,” she said. “I look forward to a future where we can all succeed without exploitation.”


“I have been one of few UFC fighters to publicly speak in favor of a fighter’s union,” Smith said. “I recently launched Project Spearhead, an organization that is currently collecting authorization cards from UFC fighters to file with the National Labor Relations Board.”

But, Smith noted, that there are extensive legal costs involved.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help with Smith’s legal fees. To contribute, go to

As of Jan. 7, some $5,510 had been raised towards the $20,000 goal.

For more information, there are two videos online.

The first features Smith talking about her struggle before an Economic Policy Institute audience. It can be found at The second is a Full Frontal with Samatha Bee interview and can be found on YouTube at

Tagged , , , , ,

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Search by keyword
Recent Posts
  • Missouri joins nearly half of U.S. states raising minimum wage
  • Union calls for reinstatement of fired, suspended St. Louis County prosecutors
  • Foundation seeking labor, donations to reopen historic Miner’s Theatre, built in 1918 with donations from local union coal miners
  • Photo gallery: Cement Masons Local 527 honors longtime members
  • IBEW 1’s Tom George will be honored at Kortkamp award luncheon March 27
  • Social media helps union sister’s husband find kidney donor
  • 2019 St. Louis Women’s March: turning inspiration into action this Saturday, Jan. 19
  • St. Louis City Labor Club to host pinball fundraiser Jan. 26
wordpress visitor counter

505 South Ewing Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63103

Ph: 314.535.9660
Fx: 314.531.6131

View Larger Map

Contact us with your comments and news tips!

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Message