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Several MMA agents looking to modify or lighten their industry footprint

By Zach Arnold | August 9, 2013

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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.

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:

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).

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.

Topics: Bellator, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 16 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

16 Responses to “Several MMA agents looking to modify or lighten their industry footprint”

  1. Steve4192 says:

    On the subject of the rule change for three-point stance knees, I am not thrilled with how they are going about it.

    The simpler solution would be to get rid of the three-point stance altogether rather than placing the burden on the refs to determine intent. Why have referees try to ‘interpret’ whether a fighter has his down out of need or out of gamesmanship? Why not just make it legal to knee a guy in a three-point stance, regardless of his motives?

    I have faith in guys like Big John and Herb Dean to make that interpretation, but they are the exception, not the rule. Most MMA refs are clueless goofs and are bound to fuck it up. When it comes to reffing, less is more IMO. Get rid of the judgement call altogether and just change the definition of grounded to NOT include the three-point stance. Viola!

  2. Phil says:

    I’m not sure the Ali Act would be that great for mma, at least right now.

    It doesn’t really make sense until someone besides the UFC proves they can make money selling PPVs. The Ali Act would give them a chance, since they would get a swing at top guys, but those guys would be taking a huge risk (a risk that Couture stopped fighting for once he saw the numbers).

    It also wouldn’t help the bottom guys. I know we’re supposed to say that the Facebook guys should be getting more than 6k to show, but the reality is that they are only even worth that as part of a long term deal.

    Applying the Ali Act to mma today would only accomplish destroying the UFC’s business model, which will make some people happy, but is it smart to break the only thing that works? They will either take the top guys and move on, or take their ball and go home, and I don’t think that will be good for the guys in the middle and the bottom of their cards.

    • Steve4192 says:

      Honestly, the Ali act would DECIMATE the regional/local MMA scene. There are a shitload of agents/managers out there who run their own promotions as a way to get their clients fights. Guys like Monte Cox would be fucked if the Ali Act was applied to MMA.

    • nottheface says:

      First, I would hope it was a specific MMA fighters bill of rights instead of just enforcing the Ali Act since the business model between the two is so vastly different.

      Second, I don’t see why a preresquite to getting better deals would be another ppv promotion? The fact that Lombard, Alvarez, Overeem, Melendez, and Diaz got contracts much bigger than almost any other non-champion fighters already in the UFC, many with more name value, reveals how much those MMA contracts limit a fighters leverage (Bellator would be worse if they had any leverage outside the contracts). I don’t see how limiting the rights a promoter has to a fighters image, the length of the champions clauses, exclusive negotiating and matching peroids, or removing the one-sided right to cut after a loss would kill the UFC or MMA? If the UFC’s business model is making ridiculous profits instead of just good profits, than yes it might kill it. Either than that all it would do is increase fighters leverage.

      • Phil says:

        All that stuff would be fine, but if the UFC can only do 1 fight deals, the whole thing comes crashing down.

        The only way for things to get better for the fighters is to get organized, and they aren’t going to get organized because the top dogs are happy.

  3. nottheface says:

    In my defense i followed up that tweet by referring to Prof. Zev Eigen\’s observation from my union piece that an asociation would be needed to enforce a bill of rights.

    As for Malki, his comments remind me of similar ones made by Jason Genet recently on the UG. From what both of them say it is obvious that they have to represent the UFC as much as they do their own client, since they are dependent on their largess. Both basically confess that they have no say in how much their fightters get paid by the promotion and all they can do is focus on sponsoships, an area they might have some control over.

    If I was a fighter though I would be alarmed and scared that two of the bigger managers in the business seem to know so little about how organized labor works in sports and are so blaise about improving fighters leverage.

    • Rob Maysey says:

      Agreed. The fact of the matter is they have such little leverage the “agent” becomes a defacto representative of the promoter. . . the party whose interest they do not represent.

      They will deny it until they are blue in the face–that is what Kawa is doing.

      As to his comments about the NFLPA–they are laughable. More accurate–if MMA had the protections in place that NFL players have, the Kawa’s of the MMA world would be out of work.

  4. RST says:

    Kawa’s arguments against unions are the same “”representative” arguments against unions from the first place.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    I am pro fighters union. I have been for years.

    Has anybody noticed the trend of WSOF & Bellator fighters who can’t stop talking about Zuffa?

    • Rob Maysey says:

      Also 100% true–and goes to show, there is only one dominant promoter in MMA, and virtually all athletes want to compete in the UFC–it is the only place to truly make money.

  6. david m says:

    There is no legitimate reason why knees to the head on the ground aren’t allowed. I think soccer kicks, knees, and stomps should be allowed. Why allow punches and elbows but ban those?

    • Steve4192 says:

      I loved all those techniques in Pride and other ring-based organizations. I’m not sure how I feel about them in cage-based organizations. Unlike in a ring, you can use the cage to trap a guys head and repeatedly maul him with those strikes. I’d be all for allowing those strikes in the middle of the cage, but up against the fence is a different story.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        Exactly. I am for knees on the ground… but not in every position. When a fighter is laying on the ground in the corner between the canvas and the cage, getting knees is dangerous.

        So right away that position would have to be banned from knees.

      • david m says:

        There is definitely a danger of getting one’s head/neck trapped against the cage, but that happens with elbows and punches as well. Obviously, stomps and knees have the potential to do a lot more damage than elbows, but so what? That just means the ref will watch closer, and it makes takedowns much more of a high risk, high reward proposition. In Pride, if someone shot for a takedown and got stuffed, the guy who defended (often Mirko) would have a front head lock and be able to throw knees at the head of the wrestler. In the UFC, when someone shoots for a takedown and the sprawl successfully blocks it, the guy who sprawls can’t make the wrestler pay.

        • Steve4192 says:

          As I recall, knees off the sprawl were fairly rare. They are pretty easy to defend by running the pipe on stuffed takedowns rather than just giving up on the shot. Watch what Ben Askren does after a shot is initially stuffed. As long as you keep circling off to the side, you are relatively safe from knees.

          It was the wrestlers/grapplers who wreaked havoc with grounded knees. Takedown, pass to side control, blast the dome with knees. They were also nasty from north-south. We even saw some from the crucifix and scarf positions.

        • Megatherium says:

          Yes knees to the head on the ground were the wrestlers main weapon. I remember being impressed with Matt Lindland’s use of them in his debut at UFC 29. It turned that was the last event they were allowed. I was pretty impressed that he and other wrestlers were able to adapt to the rule change at the time.

          I would be in favor of reinstating knees and kicks to the head when BOTH fighters are grappling on the mat. And I would get rid of elbows to the head on the ground. Slicing elbow attacks do spoil fights. And they make a mess of floor.


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