MMA Barometer: Is a Fighters' Union on the Horizon?
MMA Barometer: Is a Fighters' Union on the Horizon?

This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.

In recent months, a hot topic in all of mixed martial arts has been fighter salaries and the possible formation of a fighters' union. The dispute over fighter salaries has reached a fever pitch since the Fertitta brothers sold the company to the WME-IMG group for $4 billion after purchasing it for a mere $2 million in the year 2000. After the final price was disclosed, fighters in the UFC realized how low their salaries were in comparison with the profits made by the organization. This has had an impact on some outspoken fighters more than others, such as Al Iaquinta, who retired from the sport because he claims his income from fighting is not sufficient to live off of. Furthermore, Tim Kennedy has alluded to the fact he will only break even on his fight with Rashad Evans at UFC 205 after expenses like paying coaches, managers, gym fees, medical expenses and other miscellaneous expenses. These are just two examples of fighters struggling due to what they claim are low salaries. This has led to the idea of creating a fighters' union similar to those of other major sports, such as the NFL Players Association or NBA players association.

If a fighters' union is created, it will allow the athletes to have a voice in the pay they receive and would possibly lead to a profit-sharing agreement similar to those between owners and players in the NFL and NBA. A unified UFC roster would allow the fighters to act as one, and if they decided not to compete until salaries were more in line with the profits of the UFC, it could force the UFC's hand to raise fighter pay. One major roadblock is the stigma of being one of the first fighters to start the movement. Fighters are concerned with being blackballed by the UFC for upsetting management by opening difficult negotiations that could possibly lead to a strike by the UFC roster. Because of this, many fighters have been hesitant to join the movement to start a union. Another growing trend in response to the alleged insufficient salaries in the UFC has been fighters defecting to Bellator MMA once they become free agents. Bellator is owned by Viacom, which gives them access to essentially unlimited funds and allows fighters to be awarded higher salaries. Furthermore, fighters in Bellator can use individual sponsors with individual contracts that are far more lucrative than the UFC's sponsorship agreement with Reebok. If a fighters' union is created it will change the landscape of mixed martial arts. Athletes would finally get the compensation most believe they deserve for competing in such a grueling sport, and forming a fighters' union would be the first major step in that direction.

As always, below is your MMA Barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.

Rising

Gegard Mousasi
Ever since a highlight reel knockout loss to Uriah Hall, Gegard Mousasi has been on an impressive three-fight winning streak with two consecutive KO/TKO victories. That makes Mousasi a winner in five of his last six fights, and he is undoubtedly in title contention as he is currently the No. 5-ranked UFC middleweight. One or two more victories should give Mousasi his first crack at UFC gold, and he will likely square off with the winner of Yoel Romero and Chris Weidman, or Jacare Souza (who was scheduled to fight Luke Rockhold, though Rockhold withdrew due to injury). The winner of the Romero/Weidman fight will likely get a shot at Michael Bisping's middleweight strap, and it would only make sense for Mousasi either the loser or Souza. The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion is certainly deserving of a UFC title shot based on his work over the last year and a half, and a UFC title would be the ultimate addition to an already impressive resume.

Mousasi's biggest advantage in his fights is in the standup. His kickboxing is excellent and his hands are better than almost any opponent he comes across. This was exemplified in his matchup with Vitor Belfort at UFC 204, where Mousasi thoroughly outclassed the veteran martial artist en route to a TKO victory against the cage, where he unleashed a barrage of punches on Belfort in the second round. Along with his superior striking, Mousasi is above-average in all aspects of mixed martial arts. He even boasts a submission victory over Jacare Souza under the DREAM promotion. Mousasi's kickboxing, overall well-roundedness, and experience (48 professional fights) make it so he is a difficult opponent for any UFC middleweight. As he continues to improve, Mousasi will most likely get his long awaited UFC title shot in the near future.

Next Fight: TBA

John Lineker
Arguably the heaviest hitter in the division, John Lineker has been on fire since making the move from flyweight to bantamweight. After missing weight numerous times Lineker was forced to move up to 135 pounds, and he has not disappointed. Rather, the 26-year-old has won three fights in a row at bantamweight, including an impressive decision victory over John Dodson on Oct. 1. The No. 2-ranked UFC bantamweight has an exciting style that contributes well to daily fantasy rosters due to significant strikes, and the fact that the fight has a real chance of ending at any second. Lineker prefers to stand and bang, and has heavy hands that every opponent must respect. This was evidenced in the Dodson fight, where Dodson was moving backwards the entire bout in order to avoid Lineker's power. That could have been the difference in the fight as it allowed Lineker to control the Octagon for the majority of the fight in a razor thin split decision. Lineker's boxing skills and devastating power make him a dangerous matchup for the entire division.

The only question mark with Lineker is his ability to make weight. He started out in the 125 pound flyweight division, but was forced to move up to bantamweight after missing weight four times. It seemed as if the issue was behind Lineker until the weigh-in for the Dodson fight. Lineker missed weight by one half of a pound, setting a UFC record by missing the required mark for the fifth time in his career. This is troubling because fighters can weigh in up to one pound over the class limit in non-title bouts, and must be exactly at the class limit for title fights. The UFC will understandably have doubts about putting Lineker in a title fight if he is having difficulty making weight for a non-title affair. Lineker has the skills to compete with any bantamweight in the world, but until he gets his weight cut under control, he may have a hard time getting a title shot. It would be in Lineker's best interests to hire an expert similar to esteemed nutritionist Mike Dolce in order to have a successful cut and continue his title run.

Next fight: TBA

Alexa Grasso
Grasso enters the UFC with a lot of hype and sporting a perfect 8-0 record. Four of her victories have come via KO/TKO, and three have been in 36 seconds or less. A native of Mexico, Grasso will fight in her home country for the first time since 2014. The Mexican strawweight is a creative and devastating striker, as evidenced by her quick knockouts, but also a competent grappler who is a two-time no-gi white/blue belt national champion. One important aspect of Grasso's style is it can result in quick finishes, but it also lends well to going the full 15 minutes in a fight; four of Grasso's eight victories have come by decision.

Grasso's UFC debut against Heather Jo Clark will be a good test for Grasso's overall skills. Clark is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also has two knockouts in seven victories. Grasso is likely expected to beat Clark who has a record of 7-5, but UFC jitters have gotten the better of more accomplished fighters than Grasso. Nonetheless, Grasso will likely win her UFC debut and, if she continues to put on spectacular performances with her striking, could be an interesting future matchup for UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Next Fight: Heather Jo Clark, UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs. Ferguson (Nov. 5, 2016)

Check Status

Will Brooks
After a successful UFC debut with a unanimous decision victory over Ross Pearson, Will Brooks suffered a setback against Alex Oliveira. Brooks seemed to be in control early, but Oliveira utilized the clinch against the fence and damaged Brooks' ribs in the first round. From that point, Brooks was obviously injured and just trying to survive. Eventually Oliveira crumbled Brooks with knees to the body in the third round. This was a bad loss for Brooks, as Oliveira is unranked in the UFC lightweight division. However, there is a silver-lining to the loss: Oliveira missed weight by a whopping five pounds. This gives Brooks somewhat of an excuse for being roughed up in the clinch, as strength and weight are important in grappling situations, particularly up against the fence as this fight was most of the time. Furthermore, Brooks was very successful in the first round prior to his injury, which leaves room for the notion Oliveira landed a "lucky punch" (or knee in this situation). Had he not hurt Brooks with a knee to the body in the first round, the fight might have had a very different outcome. Some would view these as excuses, but they are legitimate reasons as to why Brooks was at a disadvantage.

Even though Brooks suffered a brutal TKO loss, he will be able to bounce back. As a former Bellator lightweight champion it is obvious he has the skills to compete with the best lightweights in the world. Hopefully Brooks will get a chance to avenge his loss to Oliveira, he would probably like the chance to make Oliveira pay for his post-fight antics as Brooks was still down on the canvas. Whoever his next matchup is, look for Brooks to show his championship grit and come back with a victory.

Next Fight: TBA

Falling

Joshua Burkman
Since his return to the Octagon in 2015, Burkman has lost four of six fights, with one win over KJ Noons and a loss to Hector Lombard which was overturned to a no contest after a failed drug test by Lombard. In his latest outing, he was narrowly outpointed by UFC newcomer Zak Ottow. Burkman was in unfamiliar territory, as he matched up with Ottow at welterweight, but it was the Octagon debut of a relatively unknown fighter who a veteran like Burkman should find a way to defeat. It is rumored that Burkman's future is at lightweight, but at 36 years old, it could be difficult for his body to handle the cut to 155 pounds.

Burkman is long in the tooth with over 40 professional MMA fights. This experience can be very beneficial, but an older fighter must deal with diminishing physical tools. The Peoples' Warrior is one of the most game fighters on the UFC roster, and is willing to engage in a firefight with anybody. That being said, he seems to lose those battles at this point in his career. Burkman has only suffered one knockout loss since his return, but his brawling style has not resulted in wins. This could be due to diminishing speed which was apparent in his fight with Ottow. Ottow, a welterweight who is not known for his kicks, was able to land leg kicks at will against Burkman. That raises the question of how Burkman will deal with the speed of UFC lightweights. Burkman's exciting style most likely does not leave him in danger of being cut from the roster, but that same style does not seem to be the correct strategy to get wins in the Octagon.

Next Fight: TBA

Phillipe Nover
Over his UFC career, Phillipe Nover has just one victory in six fights. Following a five-year hiatus, Nover returned to the UFC in 2015, and since his return Nover has won once in three fights, losing in his last two appearances. In his last fight, Nover was defeated in a featherweight contest by former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao. There is no shame in a loss to a fighter of Barao's caliber, but if Nover loses three fights in a row, he may have to work his way back to the UFC by winning in smaller organizations. Nover was thoroughly outpointed by Barao, being out-struck 64-39, as well as being taken down three times. Barao is a more skilled fighter than Nover, and Nover's next contest should be against an opponent ranked outside of the top 15 in the featherweight division to create a more exciting matchup.

The key for Nover seems to be winning the takedown battles. In every UFC loss, Nover's opponent has achieved more takedowns. In Nover's sole UFC victory, he landed more takedowns than his opponent. Even though he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Nover is more effective when in top position and struggles from his back. He should work to improve his takedowns and takedown defense before his next fight so he can have a better chance of getting on the winning track.

Next Fight: TBA

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Dahl
Evan Dahl is a law student who has been a die-hard MMA fan for over a decade. Outside of MMA, he roots for the Broncos, Brewers and Bucks.
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