What in the World? What in the World Fight League, to be exact. Ariel Helwani, of ESPN and MMA Fighting fame, announced via his page Friday that a major player in the MMA space has emerged under the name of World Fight League. The announcement comes amidst tumult in the combat sports world, with commissions staging subpar celebrity boxing fights and prominent UFC fighters campaigning for better fighter pay.
What Does the World Fight League Entail?
The World Fight League reportedly strives to become the leader in mixed martial arts, and their decision to have a structure similar to the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB could send them on their way to prominence in the sports world. Their plan, according to Helwani, includes things such as a CBA, or collective bargaining agreement that allows the athletes to function more as a union akin to the MLBPA or NFLPA. They would have the power to negotiate their collective revenue-sharing agreement, which would reportedly be a 50/50 split, as well as campaign for season length and other stipulations that the major sports leagues do.
Their plan also includes health care, something that should be mandatory given that combat sports are so brutal and unforgiving to the athletes. Guaranteed contracts are also on the line, which is something that major sports leagues have implemented for years that give their athletes some sort of financial stability. Fighters like Spencer Fisher, long retired, would be given pension plans to reward them for their service to the company and assist them in the event that working a normal job becomes impossible.
The league was established as a nonprofit on May 3, 2021, an interesting business decision for a fledgling league like this. Fellow upstarts like the XFL and AAF folded due to money issues, but the ownership group is headed by several current and former athletes from the NBA, NFL, and other leagues, including several MMA world champions, so money should not be an issue, at least from the start.
Format of the League
The league will reportedly consist of four conferences: North America, South America, Europe/Africa, and Asia/Oceana. Each conference will consist of anywhere from eight to 24 teams, and the framework is currently in place for a North American conference. There are six approved franchise owners for the North American conference, but they claim they have multiple proposals lined up for not only the North American but other conferences.
Each team will roster 24 athletes, with three athletes per weight class in the eight divisions. The format for the competition has yet to be established, but it would most likely have one of the three athletes from each weight class fighting every three weeks or so in an NFL style-schedule.
This raises major questions, however. The format for declaring a team winner has yet to be determined, and the length of a season additionally has yet to be hashed out, with a 16-week season in the style of the NFL being a time crunch for the league. The offseason needs to be substantial, as the grind of MMA and the grind of professional sports can easily wear down its athletes, and the only way to do it is a condensed season. Four fights a year for these fighters seem slightly ambitious considering the length of camps these fighters go through for their respective opponents, especially because a 16-week season would only allow for a four-week turnaround for fights.
Generating Star Power
As a brand-new league, it is vital that they attract the biggest names in MMA to stay relevant. The UFC is the only real relevant MMA league in mainstream sports media, and the WFL’s best chance for legitimacy is to attract free agents who have contract gripes with the UFC.
Stars like Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier have long had issues with the UFC and its pay structure being show and win, so the WFL’s guaranteed contracts can be a lucrative option, especially if they exceed what the notoriously stingy UFC can offer. However, benefits such as health insurance and retirement pensions should sway these two men, as Gaethje previously indicated his desire to lay it all on the line for his career while Poirier is, in his words, doing everything he can to provide for his family.
Needless to say, the WFL cannot afford a transcendent star in Conor McGregor, but the next-best long shot would be Jon Jones. The former light heavyweight champion defeated men such as Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, and Shogun Rua on his run to the greatest title reign in the sport’s history. However, he stepped away from his 205-pound title after his win against Dominick Reyes because he was chasing a heavyweight super fight against now-champion Francis Ngannou.
Jones did not get the super fight, as his contractual demands were too large. A newly-formed WFL could potentially afford to pay Jones, and if money really is the issue, the WFL could set a major precedent for fighter pay, especially if the UFC loses out on Jones. Fighters could begin to be paid their worth, and their salaries could begin to approach that of other professional sports, especially major ones.
All in all, the WFL faces major roadblocks now, but could realistically supplant the UFC as the foremost MMA organization if they can straighten out their own scheduling conflicts and the format of the fights. Could the WFL become a legitimate competitor to Bellator and the UFC? Let us know in the comments
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