If Local 226 has it's way, Jeremy Stephens will be pulled from this Saturday's UFC on Fox pending resolution of his legal charges. Mandatory Credit: Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

UFC on Fox: Local union's attack on the UFC only hurts the fighters

With UFC on Fox 5 only days away, an angry union with a bone to pick with the Fertitta brothers has demanded fighters be pulled from the card. FanSided’s Elton Hobson thinks the union’s attack probably won’t hurt the Fertitta’s bottom line – but it could prevent hard-working, blue collar fighters from making a living.

 

We’re just days away from perhaps the greatest free card in UFC history. And with names like Nate Diaz and BJ Penn on the card, there’s been smack talk and heated rivalries aplenty to help whet fan appetites.

It’s a shame, then, that MMA headlines are increasingly being dominated by a rivalry that has nothing to do with the men stepping into the cage Saturday night. At least, not directly.

The Culinary Workers Local 226, a union that represents culinary industry professionals in Las Vegas and Nevada, has appealed to Fox to cancel “UFC on Fox 5” only days before the event is set to go down – or at least, prevent certain fighters from competing on the card.

In a letter to Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports Media Group, union representatives pointed to Jeremy Stephens and Abel Nazario Trujillo – two fighters with past or present legal problems – and demanded the two be removed from this Saturday’s card.

In their letter (which can be viewed in it’s entirety here) the union alleges that booking these men on the card “raise serious questions about FOX’s programming judgment.” I thought canceling Firefly after one season already proved that, but that’s just me.

It’s clear from the article that it’s Stephens, not Trujillo, who is the real target of the union’s objections. Stephens, you may recall, was arrested last October on the day he was scheduled to face Yves Edwards on UFC on FX, stemming from an outstanding assault charge dating back to 2011.

Dana White tried to move heaven and earth to get him to fight that day (a move for which he is harshly criticized in the union’s letter) but it eventually fell through. Stephens is scheduled to face these charges in court next year.

The letter represents the latest salvo in a war that stretches back years between the UFC and the culinary workers union. The union operates the anti-UFC website www.unfitforchildren.org, and has repeatedly attacked Dana White and the organization in the past for everything from homophobia, to rape insensitivity, to being sponsored by the United States Marine Corps.

Actually, that’s not entirely true – the part about the union being at war with the UFC, that is.

The true target of the union’s ire is Station Casinos, the casino chain owned by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, who also happen to own the UFC. As part of their effort to unionize culinary workers at the casino chain, Local 226 has made a point to attack the UFC on multiple occasions.

As a bargaining tactic, I get it. If you keep frustrating the Fertitta’s business ventures – even if they have no relation whatsoever to your struggle to unionize culinary workers at a Las Vegas casino – you might convince them to come back to the table. I also won’t pretend to know the whole history of the labor dispute between these two parties. Luckily for me, that really has nothing to do with MMA, the UFC, or this weekend’s card.

At least, that’s the way it should be.

The strange and sad irony in all this is that the true targets of the union’s smear campaign – namely, the fighters themselves – are exactly the kind of blue collar, working class folks unions are supposed to stand for. Hell, how many times have we seen a “fighters union” get bandied about as a possibility for MMA’s future?

By forcing Jeremy Stephens off the card, you’re not hurting Dana White or Lorenzo Fertitta’s pocketbook. Stephens is a fun fighter, but he’s not a guy who’s bringing in the ratings. Hell, he’s not even fighting on the main card. The letter accurately points out that really, anyone could fill Jeremy Stephens’ spot. One gets the feeling that his spot on this card is Dana White “paying him back” for the drama of last October.

For better or worse, White and the UFC have decided they have Stephens’ back in this one, the same way they decided they had “Rampage” Jackson’s and Chael Sonnen’s back as well. White has decided to believe Stephens’ argument, and that’s all well and good. Neither I, White, nor the culinary workers union actually know the truth about Jeremy’s case.

That’s why we have a legal system. And until you’re found guilty in one, you have a presumption of innocence that, at the very least, allows you to continue working to support yourself.

That’s a sentiment I would hope a union could respect. And if you honestly think no member of a workers union – including Local 226 – has ever shown up to work while facing criminal charges, I’ve got some horse meat and a stadium in Russia to sell you. 

Tags: Jeremy Stephens MMA UFC UFC On FOX

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