Sterling latest to question role of MMA manager

October 20, 2017

The role of an MMA manager may seem very simple as far as the job duties may entail.  But, there are many facets to it.

MMA Junkie recently posted an article which questioned whether a manager was necessary for fighters.

From reading the article you might infer that the negotiating process with the UFC does not seem like a negotiation at all.

It was an interesting read featuring Aljamain Sterling as he no longer is represented by management.  Previously, Sterling was represented by Malki Kawa.  As you may know, Kawa represents Jon Jones as well as several other top tier fighters.  He also has a couple NFL players.

The article talked about Sterling and his decision to manage himself deeming it a raise since he would no longer have to pay Kawa his 10 percent.

Sterling was a sought after free agent not too long ago and his free agency was chronicled in interviews.  In the end, he re-signed with the UFC.  He indicated that the UFC’s offer was “more lucrative” than the original 20K and 20K he received.  He noted that the then World Series of Fighting came in second and then Bellator.  Sterling’s deal doubled his last payday of $14K to show and $14K to win as he was given $30K and $30K by the UFC.

But since Sterling re-signed with the UFC in February 2016, he has gone 2-2.  The previously unbeaten and media darling Sterling lost some of the shine his undefeated record had provided him.

Sterling’s win over Renan Barao at UFC 214 this past July revealed he makes $33K and $33K which is just $3,000 more than where he originally started after the new UFC contract.

Sterling notes in the Junkie article that he does not receive any sponsorships (due in part to the Reebok deal) or any ancillary activities.  Kawa indicated that the phone was not ringing for Sterling and his matches were essentially decided by the UFC matchmakers.  Without much outside business, Sterling decided that it was time to part ways with his manager.

The issue of fighter management in the UFC is an intriguing question.  Obviously, Sterling’s perception of a manager is limited to just negotiating contracts, securing sponsorships and the handling of promotion which usually is via social media.  Previously, the landing of sponsors for fight nights was the main role of the manager.  But, with the Reebok deal, the Octagon patches of a few years ago are gone.  Only a small portion of UFC fighters are securing outside the Octagon sponsors or in-person appearances.  There are other duties of a manager based on the fighter relationship which may encompass everything from handling travel to logistics questions in training prior to a fight as well as media relations.

The article does talks about the need for a manager when negotiating a new deal with the UFC and/or the possibility of providing counsel to a fighter when dealing whether to take certain fights (e.g., taking fights on short notice).

Then there is the question of what to do if a drug test is flagged by USADA.  Recently, Lyman Good’s manager David Fish, also an attorney, filed a lawsuit against several supplement manufacturers after Good was flagged by USADA.  It appears that Good took a supplement that did not reveal all of its contents.  As a result, Good was flagged for testing positive for a banned substance and received a six-month suspension.  It is in these instances, where counsel is needed for the athlete to determine the facts in assessing what to do if a test is flagged.  There are cases like in Good’s scenario where a tainted vitamin supplement might have caused the failed test.  But, it would seem that a manager would help assess the situation and piece together a plan to address the issue with the regulators as well as the media.

Aside from the above scenario, the question that must arise for the dominant demo of UFC fighters not named McGregor is what value add does a manager have in their career.

Earlier this year, Demetrious Johnson was upset with how he was treated by the UFC as he lashed out at the company.  Soon thereafter, he hired Kawa as his manager.  Notably, he indicated in an interview that he did not know if he would be paid for UFC 215 after Ray Borg had to bow out due to illness.  Fortunately, the fight was easily rescheduled for UFC 216 but no word if Johnson was compensated for having to train for UFC 215 only for it to be cancelled.

The manager question is not just limited to Kawa but the examples reflect a question of worth to a fighter’s career.  The utility of a manager is questioned in other sports as athletes have just retained attorneys to look over contracts and paid less overall.

We will see if Sterling’s decision to represent himself is a trend or an anomaly.

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