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Project Spearhead & Leslie Smith: Fighting For Labor Rights Against UFC

In May 2017, when bantamweight Leslie Smith was still under contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, she attended the UFC’s first annual athlete retreat in Las Vegas, the sport’s mecca. It was an occasion for celebration for UFC management and its new overlord, the powerhouse talent agency William Morris Endeavor, which had paid $4 billion for the promotion the previous year. And it marked the remarkable rise of a once-fringe sport that John McCain famously derided as “human cockfighting.”

One of the retreat’s marquee events was a Q&A with Kobe Bryant. Smith rose and asked the former NBA star, “How essential to your personal negotiations and the success of basketball in the world do you believe a players association has been?” Bryant replied that NBA players “understand completely that a rising tide raises all boats. … So when you guys have this union and you operate on the same page together, it will 100 percent fortify the sport and make the sport better, not just for the present but for future generations coming.”

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