Updated: Aug 7, 2022
In 2016, former UFC fighter Mark Hunt sued the UFC, Dana White, and Brock Lesnar on the heels of UFC 200. Hunt claimed that the UFC and White, specifically, knew that Brock Lesnar had taken performance-enhancing drugs and let him fight anyway. Lesnar won the fight, but the decision was overturned when it was revealed that Lesnar failed a drug test. With that, Hunt alleged a slew of wrongdoings, including fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, battery, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
In 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Nevada dismissed the majority of Hunt's claims. All claims against White and Lesnar were dismissed. The only claim that remained was the alleged breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. However, that claim was later thrown out after the UFC secured a summary judgment. Now, on September 24, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit brought the case back to life.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of two of his claims: fraud and battery. The 2019 dismissal of Hunt's claims of unjust enrichment, racketeering, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing was affirmed. Still, this serves as a massive breakthrough for Hunt, as the district court will have to re-hear his claims for fraud and battery with new instruction from a higher court.
As for the fraud claim, the Ninth Circuit held that Dana White's statement promising that Lesnar "will be the most tested athlete on this card" could form a basis for fraud as it was a false representation of material fact.
While the district court felt that any damages arising out of fraud were too speculative (projecting Hunt's purse had he won and Lesnar not taken PEDs), the Ninth Circuit took a different route. The court envisioned damages through a different lens than wins and losses: withdrawal. Had Hunt known of the doping scheme, he claims he would have dropped out of UFC 200. With that, damages become a bit easier to discern, according to the court. This theory of damages is "far more susceptible to proof."
As for Hunt's other revived claim, battery, the court hashed out the doctrine of assumption of the risk in sport. A battery is an intentional and offensive touching of a person who has not consented to the touching. Did Brock Lesnar commit a battery by fighting Mark Hunt in the octagon? Would the UFC be vicariously liable? The Restatement identifies assumption of risk as "[c]onsent to conduct that is merely negligent, creating an unreasonable risk of harm." In the NFL, for example, a running back cannot claim that a linebacker committed a battery after a routine tackle caused an injury. Athletes assume the inherent risks of the game. But did Mark Hunt assume the risk that he would have to fight someone taking performance-enhancing drugs? It's a question I look forward to the U.S. District Court in Nevada answering.
The Ninth Circuit also reversed the dismissal of Hunt's civil conspiracy claim, as it is predicated on the fraud and battery claims. Conduct Detrimental will keep tabs on this lawsuit as it makes its way back to the district court on remand. It has been a busy year for the UFC and litigation.
UPDATE: Mark Hunt caught wind of this article and posted the following on Instagram:
The caption reads:
"This was never about money 💴 and it never ever will be, if it was I would have made different decisions leading to this point. This was about a fair and even playing field for ALL fighters. Dana White, Lorenzo Fertita, Frank Fertita @ufc never ever gave me and many other fighters an even playing field to compete. The battle is back on and at least some justice has been served. UFC fighters are still fighting for peanuts 🥜 16 percent (shared) is nothing considering you are putting your life in the hands of another when you enter the octogon. A UFC belt should hold prestige but it’s worthless when fighters are cheating and it takes away the integrity of the sport. What do you think people??? I love seeing your thoughts 💭 good or bad 😎"
Jason Morrin is a third-year law student at Hofstra Law School in New York. He is the President of Hofstra’s Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Additionally, he is a Law Clerk at Geragos & Geragos. He can be found on Twitter @Jason_Morrin.