By Zach Arnold | August 9, 2013
This will definitely be "The Year of The Pav"
— Ken Pavia (@KenPavia) August 7, 2013
Ken Pavia and Malki Kawa, two of MMA’s biggest names in the agent/manager space, are indeed colorful characters. They also make waves when they drop comments on business issues in the industry.
Case in point: Malki recent commented on why MMA fighters should not unionize:
“A lot of people seem to think we need a union,” Kawa said. “What I don’t think they realize is that with unionization, like in football, the managers and the athletes are both regulated by these unions, and everything ends up becoming slotted. So you fall into a slot, and that’s what you get paid. Unless you’re at the very top of the game, that’s just what you’re getting paid, and you really don’t have an opportunity to make more money. There’s a minimum standard set, and because of that, the manager’s rate may go down to as little as 2 percent or 3 percent, because there’s no more negotiations. I would much rather there be negotiations so I can try and get more than the minimum standard for my client.
“Maybe a guy doesn’t sell pay-per-views the way Georges St-Pierre does, but he still sells tickets. You make an argument for that guy. You can say, ‘Hey, he deserves it. You make money off this guy.’”
And he believes the economics of MMA still provide plenty of opportunity.
“If Jon Jones was saying what Tim Kennedy was saying or Benson Henderson was saying what John Cholish was saying, I would tell you there’s a huge problem in the UFC because those are guys who are selling tickets and who people want to watch,” Kawa said. “I’m not trying to bash Kennedy or Cholish or Fitch. I’ve met them, and they’re great guys. But let’s not throw out all the hate and the blame on the UFC and call Dana a jerk and Lorenzo Fertitta greedy. At the end of the day, Viacom has more money and more reach than a lot of people, and you still have fighters making $2,000.”
Naturally, Kawa’s comments drew a lot of heat online from both people inside and outside the industry. Offline, some of the comments were harsh as well.
@robnashville As I tweeted before where else do you see managers saying their clients are paid enough?
— John S. Nash (@heynottheface) August 7, 2013
One of the notions that has been floated around is the value of an Ali Act in MMA. The UFC has tried to fight this wherever possible. Yes, the prospects of having an Ali Act should scare a fight promoter… but the obvious has to be stated:
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) August 8, 2013
Rob & I went back and forth on the true value of the Ali Act (mostly on the civil litigation side). I agree that having an Ali Act would not be a fruitless endeavor for MMA, but it’s not a cure-all panacea.
As for Kawa’s arguments against unionization, wouldn’t a rising tide lift all boats when it came to negotiated rights and salaries? Conversely, Kawa seems interested in having leverage only for the fighters he represents and getting as big of a % there rather than seeing the floor for fighter salaries get elevated. I don’t know if that’s short-term logic or if it’s grounded in long-term realities for the business. Not every agent in MMA is going to stay on top long-term…
Interesting that Malki also raised the issue of a Fighters Association perhaps regulating agents (similar to what the NFLPA does).
MMA illustration of NFL agent story: Rampage made $15.2M in UFC '07-12. Works out to $1.5-3M commission (10-20% standard). $138-276k/fight.
— Adam Swift (@AdamMSwift) August 7, 2013
One thing is for certain: reputable names in the world of MMA agents are looking to either lighten their footprint or get out of the business entirely. I won’t mention specific names but I can assure you that a couple of agents (who are not uncles, cousins, or family flunkies of fighters) who have made a good career representing successful MMA fighters are looking to invest their time and money elsewhere. The universal complaint about where things stand right now has to do with sponsorship money. The combination of UFC’s sponsor tax/bribe and companies not seeing enough value in putting money into sponsoring non-main eventers has caused a collapse for sponsor revenue. Fighters who are not upper-echelon simply aren’t attractive now to potential sponsors in 2013. It’s why potential sponsors are considering unconventional deals (like sponsoring Bloodstain Lane).
Without sponsorship money, it’s harder for fighters to get quality agent/manager representation because the money that once existed a few years ago doesn’t exist now.
The agents in question that I’m referring to would rather put their resources into investing in businesses that are combat sports-themed or into ventures outside of MMA altogether. The bottom is falling out relatively quickly here and the end result is that the Malki Kawas and Ken Pavias of the world will benefit from consolidation. It may or may not mean that their clients will benefit but consolidation means that agents such as Malki will fight hard against any sort of Fighters Association — and UFC loves seeing this play out publicly. As long as agents and runners keep telling fighters they don’t need any sort of Fighters Association protecting their rights, promoters can maintain their current power structure.
Another trend that’s changing in MMA – knees
There has been discussion about the elimination of a rule that prevents a fighter from giving a knee to a grounded opponent who utilizes a last-second three-point stance in order to cause a referee to issue a warning or disqualify the striker. At the Association of Boxing Commissions meeting a couple of weeks ago in San Antonio, the following line of thought was agreed upon by the major state athletic commissions: allow referees to interpret the rule in the rules meeting before shows.
So, in a state like California, a referee like Herb Dean, John McCarthy, Mike Beltran, or Jason Herzog will be able to tell fighters that the last second attempt of a grounding technique, like a three-point stance in order to avoid a strike, will not save you from getting blitzed and it will not result in your opponent losing a point on scorecards. The general reaction in the business to this new interpretation of the rule has been relatively positive. It will be interesting to see how long it takes a state like Nevada to implement a new interpretation of the rule for UFC events.