UFC’s Second-To-Last Effort To Prevent April 2024 Antitrust Trial Fails

Business


Yesterday was not a good day for the UFC. Around midday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit posted a one-page document with a short but incredibly powerful sentence in the final paragraph: “The petition for permission to appeal is denied.”

With those eight words, the UFC’s second-to-last hope to avoid a monumental antitrust trial that will surely captivate the MMA industry evaporated.

The promotion had asserted that the expert witnesses for the five now-former UFC fighters serving as plaintiffs had (1) incorrectly used a novel “wage share” theory to demonstrate fighter injury from the UFC’s alleged anticompetitive conduct and (2) assumed a common impact across fighters. In denying the UFC’s petition, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the UFC, but the court’s order didn’t provide an explanation for its reasoning.

If the Ninth Circuit had accepted the petition, the entire case would’ve been paused for what was previously estimated to be 2-3 years for the appeals process to play out.

That pause is no longer in play.

Within hours of publication of the Ninth Circuit’s order, U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware of Las Vegas – the trial judge in the case – issued a minute order not only confirming his previously announced April 2024 trial date, but speeding up certain proceedings.

Just three days ago, Boulware agreed to extend the deadlines for plaintiffs and the UFC to file follow-on summary judgment motions due to the workload each side had to bear with other motions in this case and a related lawsuit brought by former fighter Kajan Johnson. The extensions gave the plaintiffs an additional 21 days to file their opposition to the UFC’s motion for summary judgment and the UFC an additional 43 days for its reply.

Then yesterday, after learning of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, Boulware collapsed those extensions to just nine and three days, respectively. It was a strange occurrence since the judge presumably believed three days ago that his class certification order would hold up and the case would move to trial as he originally intended.

While his change of heart was a bit perplexing, the close of Boulware’s minute order was clear as day: “…this case is set for trial on April 8, 2024. The parties are notified to be prepared to proceed to trial on that date; the Court will NOT grant a continuance,” he wrote.

Since August, Boulware has been adamant this almost nine-year old case will be “fast tracked” for trial early next year, and UFC attorneys had already requested a slight push back and noted a possible trial conflict with an unrelated case. Boulware’s wording certainly made clear he’s “NOT” interested in any potential conflict.

So it’s almost 100% safe to mark your calendar for the start of what will surely be a historic MMA antitrust trial on April 8 next year. Outside of a settlement, the only other potential trial barrier is for the judge to grant the UFC’s summary judgment motion, believing no reasonable juror would ever side with the plaintiffs so trial is unnecessary.

Given the excoriation Boulware issued the UFC in his class certification order, such a steep about-face at the summary judgment phase seems unlikely.

I’m planning to be in Las Vegas in April.



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