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MMA fighters association finally has a face, blemishes and all

Fans sit in their seats at UFC 203 on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
(AP Photo/David Dermer)

Another one.

Mixed martial arts’ long, labored journey toward protecting the rights of the fighters involved took yet another step toward realizing its goal Wednesday, unveiling the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA).

Helmed by noteworthy industry names such as former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and ex-UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Wednesday marked the latest first chapter in what could be a drawn-out series between fighter and promoter.

St-Pierre and Velasquez were also joined by former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, former lightweight title contender Donald Cerrone and perennial middleweight contender Tim Kennedy.

While not quite Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor, the MMAAA has taken greater strides in establishing its presence than, say, the Professional Fighters Association (PFA) — a group that made a bit of a splash earlier this year, but has yet to reveal what fighters are in support of its endeavors.

It’s also made a sizable effort in comparison to the MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA), a group that’s long been in existence, but struggled to get anything rolling after it only managed to convince fighters of yesteryear — like Jon Fitch, Nate Quarry and Brandon Vera — to join the fight. Based on their popularity or presence within the sport, the voices of those affiliated with the MMAAA will be heard louder.

“I’m here today to talk about these problems, and also to make the situation better,” St-Pierre said in a media conference call. “Like I did in the past, maybe to the UFC I will be seen as a villain right now, like I was when I came out with the performance-enhancing drug problem. But the bottom line is now that situation has been rectified. In fact, I’m here talking about these problems that we have now is because I want this situation to be rectified and I want everybody to be happy — on both sides.

“I’m one of the rare fighters that came out who’s wealthy and healthy nowadays,” he added. “I can’t say that about most of the guys.”

To many, Nov. 30, 2016 could be the day fighters fondly look back on as they remember when it all began. When fighters finally start receiving their fair share of the pie; when the athletes start being recognized more as employees of the UFC and not independent contractors who are denied certain common benefits like pension, health care, disability and a share in licensing, merchandising and media revenue — all things that exist in the contracts of professional athletes in the NBA, NFL and MLB.

This truly could be one major step forward for UFC fighters of tomorrow.

It could also be two steps back.

Those two steps back? They come in the shape of Bjorn Rebney, former founder, chariman and CEO of Bellator MMA. While Bellator is thriving (relatively speaking) as the sport’s No. 2 promotion on the planet today, it’s perceived by some to be in spite of what Rebney accomplished while with the company. Most of that credit rests on Scott Coker’s shoulders, the company’s president who was put in place after Rebney parted ways with Bellator in 2014.

“I was so happy,” Tito Ortiz said of Rebney’s departure a few years back (via My MMA News). “I was real calm. Bjorn Rebney just made empty promises. He promised so much and he never followed through. At all.”

In short, Rebney’s way of conducting business was perceived to be the antithesis of what any fighter’s union should stand for.

In not-so short, well..

What’s more, the MMAAA is the latest group to throw its name into the hat, both expanding the field and thinning out collective efforts.

It comes just a few months after famed MLB agent Jeff Borris introduced his plans to advocate on behalf of underrepresented mixed martial artists in the UFC. Supported by sizable associations like the NFLPA, MLBPA, NHLPA, NBAPA and MLSPU, the PFA seemed to carry a head with enough steam to move forth its efforts.

The MMAAA reveal also comes just one day after UFC women’s bantamweight Leslie Smith and Lucas Middlebrook — PFA’s labor representation and attorney to Nick Diaz — cut ties with the association. Two of its supporters gone the moment trust was severed.

With Rebney preparing to implement the strategies he’s created for the past two years, the next few steps will be as intriguing as they are crucial.

“Those strategies, I think, will be very effective in achieving those goals. And at some point, I’m quite comfortable our phone will ring,” Rebney said of negotiating with the UFC.

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