Leslie Smith and Project Spearhead vs. UFC: Round 2
Leslie "The Peacemaker" Smith. | Leslie Smith Facebook

Leslie Smith and Project Spearhead leveled a direct blow against the UFC Friday, June 29, knocking them back against the cage and onto one knee.

Region 4 of the National Labor Relations Board found in favor of Smith’s unfair labor practice charge and said it would be filing a complaint against the UFC, barring settlement.

“In this initial step, this is the best-case scenario, that the NLRB will have investigated the charge and determined that there was enough merit to file a complaint and prosecute the charge on behalf of Leslie,” Lucas Middlebrook, Smith’s attorney, said while speaking to MMAfighting.

Middlebrook explained that the NLRB investigation had determined there was merit to the case—claiming that UFC fighters are direct employees and not independent contractors—and that Smith was retaliated against for union activity when the UFC released her.

“Once the evidence is presented in a hearing in front of an administrative law judge, I believe at a minimum a determination will be made that the fighters are statutory employees,” said Middlebrook. “But I also believe that a determination will be made that by their conduct that they violated the National Labor Relations Act when they released Leslie.”

The UFC will have a chance to respond, and then a hearing will take place in Philadelphia, where Region 4 of the NLRB is located. The UFC is also free to enter into a settlement agreement—though highly unlikely.

But that was Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, Middlebrook tweeted out that Region 4 had put the case on hold.

“Late today Region 4 informed us it had been instructed, post-decision, to send case to D.C. for review. Opinion: UFC, unable to prevail on merits, pulled political strings to delay responsibility. Blatant delay tactic—Leslie will take all legal means to ensure Region 4 decision stands.”

With the UFC pulling this political stunt, the case will now be reviewed by the NLRB’s Division of Advice before any decisions are made whether or not to proceed with the charge.

We should keep in mind that we are now dealing with a conservative, Trump administration labor board, hellbent on overturning any Obama-era pro-worker policies—look at how quickly the “joint-employer” ruling was overturned after years of fast food workers organizing and hitting the strike lines with the national Fight for $15 campaign.

Not to mention Trump’s executive order last year revoking the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order Obama put in place to ensure companies with federal contracts would comply with 14 labor and civil rights laws. The order included two rules that impacted women workers: paycheck transparency and a ban on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or discrimination claims.

Trump effectively made it possible for businesses with federal contracts to continue forcing sexual harassment complaints into secret hearings, where the public and other workers will never find out about the rampant sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination occurring in their workplace—not surprising given Trump’s own record when it comes to abusing women.

The UFC ended its contractual relationship with Smith in April after the bout against Aspen Ladd in Atlantic City was canceled due to Ladd missing weight. Smith had offered to take the fight at a later date if the UFC extended her contract. Instead, she was paid off and shown the door.

“I am surprised,” Smith said in April. “I think that it opens up an examination of how they feel about my activities in organizing the fighters recently. I think with this unusual behavior we have to ask what are the circumstances leading to this?”

The UFC has not returned any requests for comment from Friday night and seems to have a different version of events when it comes to Smith’s release, but has not made any comments regarding that.

Smith’s case moving forward—after the delaying tactic—would be the first step in creating real change within the UFC. The labor board’s determination that fighters are direct employees extends to them the legal protections most workers—excluding government employees, farm workers, independent contractors, and supervisors with limited exceptions—have under the National Labor Relations Act.

More importantly, it gives fighters the legal right to organize.

Let’s stand in solidarity with Leslie Smith (click here) and Project Spearhead by spreading the word. and calling out the UFC for its BS treatment of fighters, and shady legal tactics.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.