Project Spearhead, the newest “Fighter Association/Union” to pop up, shows a clear plan to better fighters

2 Mar , 2018,
Pannie Tran

So here’s a bit of the the backstory, at the 2017 UFC Athlete Retreat the UFC had brought out special guest speakers to give their own little “Ted Talks”. One of those guests was Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, and one of the UFC athletes to attend was Leslie Smith (currently 2 fight win streak since fighting Cris Cyborg, exploded ear, 5 FOTN bonuses – 4 in Invicta – 1 in UFC). And Leslie Smith asked him about Unions.

What They Are Fighting For whether or not they unionize:

“The UFC can choose to either pay into our needs and respect us as employees with a say in all decisions affecting us.”


“Treat us like the independent contractors that we are being called and lighten up with the USADA supervision, uniforms and restrictions.”

“We need to have either the autonomy of being independent contractors like the UFC claims we are or we need to get benefits and a seat at the table as employees since the UFC treats us like employees.” –

All this can be found on their website neatly under the “Why Associations” tab.

Next, is the process, which is also concisely explained and outlined on the website for Smith’s fellow fighters.

Union Process

  1. Once 30% of the fighters have signed cards we shall have approximately 150 cards, and we will submit them to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) where the NLRB will look at a list of 11 factors to decide whether or not we are independent contractors or employees. No names will be released by either the NLRB or the organizers of Project Spearhead, so everyone can sign without worrying about retaliation from the UFC.
  2. If the National Labor Relations Board determines we are employees and therefore eligible to unionize, then we will have an election, and in order to prevail, Project Spearhead will need 50% of the fighters plus 1, a simple majority, to vote in favor of Project Spearhead.
  3. If there is a simple majority in favor of Project Spearhead, elections will be held to determine the officers and Executive Board of the union. Once those positions are filled, we will move to choosing topics and working toward a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the UFC. The CBA will deal with whatever topics we decide are imperative to a healthy and productive fighter’s life.

Among Project Spearhead are Kajan Johnson, who is on a 3 fight win streak in the UFC and also made headlines at the 2017 UFC Athletes Retreat by asking the “difficult” questions just like Smith did, and lawyer Lucas Middlebrook, who defended Nick Diaz during his marijuana case against the Nevada State Athletic Commission and has experience with sports collective bargaining, as “counsel for the NBA referees union and the Major League Soccer referees union.”

Smith is happy to be at the forefront of this effort, but wants to make clear that it’s not her union; it’s for all fighters. There will be a democratic processes (hence all the interim labels attached to Smith, Kajan Johnson and even Al Iaquinta). Smith said she and partner Lucas Middlebrook have always visioned a ‘grassroots, fighter-led’ union.

tl;dr Despite the star power of the Bjorn Rebney team and previous attempts, it appears Leslie Smith and co, have finally drawn up some clear plans and strategy of how to make a union happen in the UFC or at the least have the National Labor Relations Board outright say you can’t unionize you are Independent Contractors and improve from there. Legal clarity.


Current fighters publicly on board with Project Spearhead:

Leslie Smith

Kajan Johnson

Al Iaquinta

Justin Ledet (3-0 UFC, undefeated heavyweight)

“What sets this effort apart from its predecessors is a call to action that is clear, precise and easy to understand. Project Spearhead notes that UFC fighters are either independent contractors or employees but presently only enjoy the worst of both worlds.” – Erik Magraken, lawyer and longtime MMA law writer 


What do you think? Please leave a comment, any feedback negative or positive is appreciated 😀