The Ten Most Notorious Lawsuits in MMA History

(“Objection, your honor! There’s no way Mr. Jackson can do justice to the character of B.A. Baracus!”)

By CagePotato contributor Jim Genia

Last week, legendary promoter/murderer Don King filed a legal injunction against the Shine Fights organization to put the kibosh on their “Worlds Collide: Mayorga vs. Thomas” main event, a bout that would’ve seen pugilist Ricardo Mayorga — whom King manages in the realm of boxing — take on UFC vet Din Thomas in the pro boxer’s MMA debut. Though the event’s subsequent collapse can’t completely be blamed on King, his legal cock-blocking of the headlining attraction certainly didn’t help.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a handful of legal documents and a judge have affected the MMA world, and though the history of the sport is a relatively short one, it’s a history rife with broken contracts, copyright infringements and countless other court-based fisticuffs. Who’s filed a lawsuit against whom? How many fighters know too well the insides of a courtroom? What happens when you sell the UFC a lemon? The answers to these questions and more can be found when examining the top ten lawsuits in MMA history.

10) Zuffa v. The Ghost of Pride: There’s an old Greek saying that goes, “Buying from the Yakuza is like passing out at Mike Whitehead’s house — one way or another you’re going to get screwed.” Zuffa learned this the hard way when they purchased the Pride Fighting Championship from Dream Stage Entertainment, for they soon discovered that the whole thing had been held together by organized crime money and Scotch Tape (and not even real Scotch Tape, but that cheap knockoff stuff you buy at the dollar store). Consequently, in February 2008, Zuffa filed suit against DSE alleging that they were sold a clunker. DSE in turn countersued, complaining that Zuffa went back on its promise to keep Pride alive.

9) Ken Shamrock’s Career v. Zuffa: When the Devil wants someone’s soul and needs a favorable contract drawn up, he consults with the same law firm that Zuffa uses. This doesn’t bode well for those who compete in the Octagon and end up locking horns with their employers. In fact, as Ken Shamrock found out when he sued Zuffa claiming they owed him another fight, this usually means you’re screwed. Shamrock’s argument was that the contract he’d had with them — which would’ve bound him to another bout should he have miraculously defeated Tito Ortiz in their third meeting back in 2006 or had he not retired — went both ways. The judge did not agree, rendering “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” into “The World’s Most Broke Man” when he was ordered to pay Zuffa’s resulting legal fees. Petey, my mortgage payments!

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8) Suckers v. the Fertittas: Remember when you’d go to a restaurant or to some party and you’d always see the UFC and Xyience together, sometimes holding hands and giggling and acting affectionate, and even though they said they were “just friends” you knew something was up when they’d disappear for a while and return with their clothes disheveled? Do you remember that? Well, those people who bought shares of Xyience (a.k.a., suckers) remembered that, and when the supplement company went bankrupt, they filed suit against the Fertittas alleging that the owners of the UFC had a hand in all the shadiness that went down.

7) Juanito Ibarra v. Anyone Who’s Ever Talked Smack About Him: In the old days, if you didn’t like what someone wrote about you then you could legally slay them in a duel. This was called “Ye Olde Libel Killing,” and though it put a definite cramp on free speech, it made for some fun times whenever the Sunday paper came out. But how we handle libel claims has changed. Case in point: trainer Juanito Ibarra, who didn’t like what Tito Ortiz and most of the blogosphere were saying about him and decided to sue them all. Amazingly, this tactic got Ibarra nowhere, and such anonymous Internet personalities as “SuperArmbarMan12” and “DontKnowCrapAboutFiting2007” were allowed to continue on their merry way unmolested.

6) Zuffa v. Pirates: The Somali pirates have been terrorizing the shipping lanes off the coast of Africa for some time now, hijacking oil tankers and cargo ships with AK-47s and RPG launchers and ransoming the booty for millions of dollars. But this scourge pales in comparison to those unauthorized persons who stream live UFC events over the Internet, and in March of this year Zuffa began hunting down these dastardly Web brigands, firing off lawsuits like salvos of cannon fire. The result? There are still Somali pirates out there, and I still have not paid to watch a UFC pay-per-view since 2002.

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5) Mikey Burnett’s Skull v. The Ultimate Fighter: A funny thing happened to Lion’s Den fighter Mikey Burnett when he was on the fourth season of “The Ultimate Fighter”. It seems that when he put on a helmet and ran head first into a wall, he was somehow injured. Crazy, huh? Burnett seemed to think so, and he brought a lawsuit against the production company behind TUF alleging —among other things — that the work environment they thrust him into wasn’t safe. This is akin to a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashing into an aircraft carrier and suing the US Navy for making their ships too hard, with the only difference being that we got a good laugh out of Burnett yelling “Bonzai!”

4) BJ Penn v. Zuffa: Hawaiian superstar BJ Penn was sick of the UFC paying him in pineapples, so after choking out welterweight champ Matt Hughes at UFC 46, he demanded better compensation or he was hitting the road. Zuffa suggested he hit the road. But Penn, with lawsuit and UFC belt in hand, felt that possession was nine/tenths of the law and that there could be no welterweight championship bout unless he was one half of it. The judge disagreed on certain aspects of Penn’s argument. However, when it became clear that the case was going to drag on into the later rounds and cardio was going to be a factor, Penn opted to settle. He was tired, you know.

3) Don King v. Shine Fights: Here’s an idea: when you want to sign a fighter to a main event, make sure he’s not under contract with anyone else. Unfortunately, this stroke of genius never occurred to Shine Fights, who thought that because Mayorga would be fighting an MMA bout and not a boxing match, they could get away with not reading the fine print on the stack of documents Don King had made the pro boxer sign. This is like flagrantly attempting to take another man’s wife out to McDonalds and then to a room at the Holiday Inn. Sure, his routine may involve taking her to Burger King and the Motel 6 and what you’re offering may be slightly more romantic, but the dude is still well within his rights to kick in the door and blast you with a shotgun. Shine Fights is lucky King opted to use an injunction in lieu of a gat.

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2) Pregnant Woman v. Quinton “Vehicular Rampage” Jackson: Quinton Jackson, a truck with his face and name plastered all over it, a police chase and the nickname “Rampage.” If this isn’t a recipe for the best episode of “Cops” ever, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, the big bummer in this situation was that a pregnant woman sitting in a car that Jackson ran into claimed to have miscarried as a result of the former UFC light-heavyweight champ’s antics. She did, however, later drop her lawsuit against him.

1) Zuffa v. The Natural: In 2008, Randy Couture bailed on the UFC while he was champ. This was different than the time he left the company to fight (and lose) in Japan back in 1998, or the time he retired because he couldn’t defeat Chuck Liddell, for in this instance he held a press conference to complain about the size of his paychecks. Zuffa fired back with a press conference of their own, a lawsuit, a fish wrapped in newspaper and a bloody horse’s head in his bed. You see, even if you’re the beloved elder statesman of mixed martial arts, you absolutely cannot get away with speaking ill of Zuffa (even if it’s the truth). The resulting lawsuit — which alleged that Couture injured the company by making false statements and that he was in breach of contact if he were to hook up with another fight club — pretty much ensured that he was a giant, 225-pound radioactive hot potato to other promotions. Couture eventually grew tired of the courtroom battle and returned to the cage where he belonged.

Jim Genia can be contacted at, and he loves you like a brother.