ONE Championship issues agent certification requirements

April 29, 2019

ONE Championship announced that it has strengthened its agent certification with minimum requirements and eligibility requirements.

A glaring requirement to be an agent for ONE Championship is being a resident in Asian for one year.  In addition, the agent must not have a criminal record, no history or current ongoing matters of legal or lawsuit activity with any activity.  There is also a requirement that the agent must have 10 years of related experience in the martial arts industry and must have a college or university degree.

The announcement comes at a time when the company announced a TV and Film Production Arm One Studios to complement its current assets.

Unlike other professional sports like MLB, NBA or NFL which requires certifications for agents to represent players, the standards are cleared by player associations.  Here, it does not appear that that is the case.  Moreover, the requirements can seemingly eliminate many agents for any instance that have had a contract dispute with a fighter even if the agent was in the right.

The move may be seen as a way to protect fighters and safeguard the money they make and ensure that only the most experienced in the business are involved.  On the other hand, one may argue that this is a way to control the fighter pool to ensure that the promotion has a cadre of agents that will cede to ONE Championship in contract negotiations knowing that they could be de-certified.  It also forecloses many U.S.-based agencies without an office in Asia.

We shall see if this new certification requirements equates to a foreclose of access to ONE fighters especially those like Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Sage Northcutt who had representation in the U.S.

Former managers of Bellator Heavyweight sue for breaching representation contract

February 15, 2019

The former manager of Vitaly Minakov has sued his current manager Ali Abdelaziz along with Minakov in Orange County Superior Court in California last month.

RusFighters LLC, Minakov’s former agency is suing Minakov and MMA Manager Ali Abdelaziz alleging breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations and declaratory relief.  The lawsuit was filed on January 16, 2019 in Orange County Superior Court as one can infer that Bellator’s contract has a clause that all lawsuits arising under the contract are litigated in Orange County.

Minakov has a showdown against fellow heavyweight Cheick Kongo on Saturday night.

According to the lawsuit, Minakov signed a contract with RusFighters to represent him in February 2016.  Minakov agreed to pay RusFighters 20% of the gross “performance compensation” he receives for each fight.  The heavyweight’s former agents claim that the contract ended on February 13, 2019 and he could not retain another agent until this date.

The Complaint states that Minakov signed on with Abdelaziz in August 2018 and he helped the heavyweight sign a six-fight deal with Bellator with a downside of $300,000 per fight with a total minimum value of $1.8 million.

Payout Perspective:

This appears to be an accusation of client-poaching with Abdelaziz working with Minakov without RusFighters knowing.  One need only look to the Leslie Smith/Nate Diaz agent dispute to see that switching agents may lead to disputes. This lawsuit is gaining some notoriety since it includes Abdelaziz, one of the more polarizing agents in MMA (just ask MMA fans).  Without a response yet from Minakov, one might expect that he will claim that the contract with his former agency was oppressive (20% gross) and/or they did not deliver what Minakov wanted.  The 3-year deal between Minakov and RusFighters will certainly be challenged.  The terms (6 fights x $300K per fight) that Abdelaziz allegedly negotiated for Minakov seem to be at the top of end for a Bellator fighter.  RusFighters may have been able to obtain the same terms but that is difficult to know at this point.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

UFC 228: Payout Perspective

September 12, 2018

Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective.  This time we take a look at UFC 228 which took place at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas.

Woodley submits Till

Tyron Woodley used a D’arce Choke to earn his BJJ Black Belt and retain his UFC welterweight belt.  Woodley submitted Darren Till and earned a performance bonus.  Despite the belief by many that Till was the contender to dethrone Woodley, the champion had little difficulty with him.

Next up for Woodley looks to be Colby Covington.

Mottano stripped of title

The second title of the evening was scrapped due to Nicco Montano being sent to the hospital presumably as a result of trying to cut weight.  As a result, her fight with Valentina Shevchenko was taken off the card and Dana White stripped the TUF winner of her flyweight title.  Shevchenko will have the opportunity to fight for the flyweight title at a yet to be determined date.

Stripping Mottano of the title hurts her pay scale since she now will receive only $3,500 from the Reebok Outfitting Policy.  As the champion, Mottano (who never defended the title) would have made $40,000.

Attendance and Gate

The event drew 14,073 for a gate of $1.7 million at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.  There have been 5 PPVs in Dallas and of that UFC 228 was the lowest gate of the 5 held there since UFC 103.

Bonuses

There were a variety of finishes and stoppage for UFC 228 that could have received the $50,000 bonus.  Woodley, Jessica Andrade and Irena Aldana and Lucie Pudilova earned the bonuses.

Ratings

The UFC 228 Prelims on FX were the lowest of the year drawing only 560,000 viewers and peaking with 683,000 viewers.

The prefight show on FX averaged 271,000 viewers according to Nielsen.

The post-fight show on FS1 drew 64,000 viewers.

Sponsors

Fight week saw the announcement of 3 new “Official” UFC sponsors.  Nemiroff became the “Official Vodka of the UFC,” P3 became the “Official Protein Bar of the UFC,” and Blackheart Premium Spiced Rum became the “Official Rum of the UFC” in the US.  Nemiroff and P3 were in the Octagon for UFC 228.  Also in the Octagon was Motel 6, MetroPCS, Modelo, Toyo Tires, Harley-Davidson the movie Predator was also featured and Monster Energy had the middle of the Octagon.

The movie, Predator also sponsored the Embedded episodes.

Toyo Tires sponsored the backstage interview which was seen on Facebook.

Odds and ends


The visual seems to tell the story that most BJJ practitioners know. It’s hard to be awarded black belt in jiu jitsu.

If you watched the Embedded episodes, you may have noticed Woodley wearing a CbdMD shirt which one might infer, he is a sponsor.  In fact, the company sent out a PR release congratulating him.  I’m sure this is something that Woodley and his camp have looked into and ensuring that he does not cross the UFC Anti-Doping Policy.

One of the judges in the Esparza-Suarez fight mistook Suarez for Esparza in the first round and gave Esparza, not Suarez a 10-8.

Xbox put out a tweet gaging interest in the event.

By the way, what was up with the poster? I realize that Till is taller but did they have to make him look like a giant?

This is an ominous tweet with a quote from Shevchenko’s manager.

One might infer that Shevchenko was not paid her fight purse or her win bonus for making weight despite her opponents’ trouble. Once again, this is an overarching issue that manager’s must handle in the contract. Until there is a union, association and/or collective bargaining unit that will address this situation, the athletes are at the mercy of the UFC.

There was a Fan Experience held in Dallas prior to UFC 228 with numerous sponsors and athletes:

There were over 200,000 google searches for Tyron Woodley Saturday.  On Friday, there were over 200,000 google searches for UFC 228.

Conclusion

UFC 228 was an entertaining event with a lot of finishes including Tyron Woodley making it known that he is one of the top UFC stars in the company.  But, going up against two other boxing events on the same night may have hurt PPV purchases.  Also, the big GGG-Canelo fight occurring the following week may have detracted the casual fan on a budget from purchasing this PPV.  It would appear that this event is likely to have drawn around 175,000 to 200,000 PPV buys.

Talent agencies CAA and WME battle once again in MMA

November 4, 2016

The Hollywood Reporter ran an article on Thursday on the ongoing war between talent agencies WME and CAA continuing in mixed martial arts.

CAA has signed many UFC athletes including Cain Velasquez, Rory MacDonald and T.J. Dillashaw.  It has repped GSP for some time.  Of course, its rival, WME, acquired the UFC.  Thus, the uncomfortable scenario of the two agencies negotiating against each other.

Per the article, CAA signing on UFC fighters occurred prior to the purchase by WME-IMG.

The Hollywood Reporter mentions 90 UFC fighters have come together to try to create a union led by Professional Fighters Association’s Jeff Borris.

Last week, Bellator’s VP of Digital, Eric Burak was featured in the Sports Business Journal.  In the interview he indicated that there is further growth MMA citing the fact that CAA represents a “handful of stars.”  While Burak mentioned “major agencies” were getting involved in MMA, he did not specifically mention WME.

Payout Perspective:

The Hollywood agency battle between CAA and WME is ongoing and has happened in various arenas in sports and entertainment.  MMA is just another one of those areas.  The interesting note here is the behind-the-scenes work that each agency may or may not be doing related to the current state of MMA.  The fight to unionize UFC fighters would impact both WME and CAA as to how the management and representation of MMA fighters goes in the future.

Benavidez goes at it alone without an agent

May 23, 2015

MMA Fighting reports that Joseph Benavidez has fired his agents at MMA, Inc. citing the looming Reebok sponsorship deal as a reason for the departure.  The news is another example of the changing landscape of UFC business.

Benavidez’s managers at MMA, Inc. represent some notable UFC fighters Paige Van Zant, Urijah Faber and Chael Sonnen.  The article also states that UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw also left MMA, Inc.

If you count his WEC time of service plus his UFC fights, it which would put him in the $15,000 range under the Reebok sponsor pay scale.  Benavidez is a fan of the Reebok deal stating that he has not received $15K in sponsors since his title fight against Demetrious Johnson in December 2013.  Thus, the Reebok deal, for Benavidez, would be good for him.

Benavidez has not closed out future representation but like everyone else in the industry, they are waiting to see the results of the new deal.

Notably, UFC fight managers were set to meet this weekend to discuss UFC business.  The meeting was set up by Benavidez’s now ex-managers at MMA, Inc.

Payout Perspective:

Benavidez leaving his agents to go at it alone is a direct result of the Reebok sponsorship deal.  It’s clear that fighters realize that the sponsorship market is changing and are not clear the worth of an agent at this point.  Based on this, it reveals that the primary service an agent does for fighters in MMA is obtaining sponsors.  Aside from that, fighters like Benavidez believe that they have sufficient support to go at it alone.  Obviously, Benavidez is a veteran and belongs to a fight camp that provides the support needed for a fight.  The future of the agent in the UFC is uncertain.  It will be up to agents to show that they add value for a fighter and not just through fight night sponsors.

Cerrone to lose out on sponsor money after Reebok deal

May 20, 2015

Yahoo! Sports reports that Donald Cerrone is set to lose $60,000 in sponsorship money due to the new Reebok sponsorship deal.  However, Cerrone appears ok with it.

Almost 2 years ago, Cerrone signed on with Kevin Harvick’s sports agency and picked up some key non-endemic MMA sponsors which include Budweiser and Fram.  Notably, both are UFC sponsors (Bud Light is the actual UFC sponsor although I am not sure if there is a true difference in sponsorship between Bud and Bud Light).  He also has had golf-cart operator EZ-Go and others on his shorts in the past too.

Despite losing the sponsor money, Cerrone remained upbeat about the change in policy in the UFC.  He acknowledged he will not make the “big money” but thinks it will work out.  He stated that his sponsors will stick with him despite the shift.  Of course, Budweiser and Fram are official sponsors so this helps.  He noted that the deal with Budweiser is for a year and appears to be guaranteed regardless of whether or not he will wear it to the ring.

Payout Perspective:

Interesting to note that the article mentions that one other UFC official sponsor will be on the Reebok uniform along with Reebok.  One might suspect Bud Light or Fram would get rotating spots on the uniform at some point.  Cerrone is in a unique position as he has secured individual sponsor deals with official UFC sponsors so those relationships are more likely to remain intact.  But, does anyone find it odd that Cerrone remains upbeat about the sponsor deal despite losing money?  He is one that has admitted to spending money once he receives it which is one reason that he is willing to fight anytime, anywhere.  So, if he’s losing money on this deal, wouldn’t you be a little upset?

Fortunately for Cerrone, he is a crowd favorite and one could see a crossover with NASCAR and perhaps making appearances at NASCAR events for a sponsor like Fram or Budweiser or another non-UFC official sponsor.  Thus, he can still make money outside of the Octagon without having to wear a patch on his shorts.

UFC manager comments on Reebok deal, fight management

April 22, 2015

In light of Zuffa’s announcement that it has changed the policy through which it will compensate fighters under the Reebok sponsorship deal, a manager of UFC fighters has spoken out about the deal and the sponsorship landscape.  Oren Hodak of KO Reps who represents Johny Hendricks, Ovince St. Pierre and Joe Lauzon among others has expressed his opinion on the problems with the current state of MMA sponsorship.

“The current problem in the MMA landscape is the managers/agents that are in the business.  They aren’t working hard enough or smart enough going after non endemic brands.  They are simply seeing a logo on another fighter and then contacting that company. Or even more pathetic is agents calling another agent to help them out with a deal,”  Hodak told MMA Payout.  Hodak holds a Master’s degree in Sports Marketing and worked in the sports industry for several years before opening up his MMA management company.

“KOreps has had great success giving companies such as Reebok, Bass Pro, Smart Stop Self Storage, Instaloans and most recently Parts-express.com their first real taste of Octagon exposure in addition to partnering with fighters outside of the cage,” stated Hodak.  “Sure, the sponsor tax takes money out of budgets from your core MMA clothing and supplement companies but there are plenty more companies out there with a sports marketing budget.  Over the years the UFC has slowly raised the sponsor tax and added numerous categories to the non-approved list, giving fighters less and less opportunity. In turn, managers have an excuse as to why they aren’t producing and UFC has fighters openly complaining about sponsorship money.”

On Monday, the Sports Business Journal reported that the UFC had changed the way it would pay its fighters through the Reebok sponsorship deal which goes into effect in July.  Instead of relying on media rankings, it would base the sponsorship pay on the number of fights an individual has had under Zuffa.  This would include fights in Strikeforce and WEC after both were acquired by Zuffa.  The change in the policy was said to be based on speaking with a number of fighters and managers.

“Some fighters may come out ahead with this new deal but I believe the fighters with professionally qualified sports management behind them will not,” Hodak added, “We have already heard from numerous fighters losing deals because they can’t utilize the valuable fight night impressions surrounding tv viewership.”

Payout Perspective:

It’s clear that despite the change in payment structure, the UFC-Reebok deal will still affect the bottom line of many fighters.  Hodak points out an issue he sees as a manager of fighters.  It’s an interesting viewpoint and a constructive critique on the nature of the business.  It also calls into question the management practice of some in the industry.  Not only will the sponsorship landscape change in the UFC, but the management of fighters may change too.  We shall see how this plays out in the UFC after the Reebok deal is put into place this summer.

Weidman signs with sports agency

March 6, 2015

MMA Fighting reports that UFC middleweight champion has signed with Paradigm Sports Management.  The agency represents an array of athletes including other UFC stars such as Conor McGregor, Michael Bisping, Matt Mitrione and Tony Ferguson.

The Orange County, California-based firm secured the middleweight champ after he visited its offices.  Weidman is also represented by the William Morris Endeavor agency.  One might conclude that William Morris will help Weidman with mainstream media-type opportunities while PSM will handle the day-to-day MMA business.

Payout Perspective:

The only surprise here is that Weidman was without official representation prior to his signing.  The list of fighters already with PSM probably helped out with Weidman’s decision.  With the new sponsor deal set to go on in July, the management role may see a shift to helping with other fighter issues.  Obviously, there is the big issue of drug testing with Weidman’s fight with Belfort Memorial Day weekend where one might see a manager ensuring that all of the drug protocols are followed by the commission.

Who is to blame in Gil-UFC contract impasse?

February 14, 2014

Dana White has expressed his discontent with the current negotiations with UFC Lightweight Gilbert Melendez and has all but told the former Strikeforce Champion to look elsewhere for work.

On Wednesday’s “UFC Tonight” on FS1, White spoke out about the contract negotiations with Melendez’s representation as the parties are at an impasse with a new deal for Melendez.

Although it was not officially reported how much he made at UFC 166, he did receive a $60K FOTN bonus for his bout with Diego Sanchez.  He did make $175K at UFC on Fox 7 in a loss to Benson Henderson.  One assumes that Melendez would like to improve on his $175K show salary.

Strikeforce Pic of Gil (Via Wikimedia Commons"

Strikeforce Pic of Gil (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The MMA Report brings up a good question: whether a fighter should look for top dollar or the best competition when it comes to deciding where to fight.  There is the example of Ben Askren who was let go by Bellator in order to presumably sign with the UFC.  However, he chose to sign with Singapore-based OneFC where he will make $50K/$50K to start.  Arguably, Askren is one of the top welterweights in the world and has a personality that would make him marketable.  The knock on Askren is that his fight style is not appealing to the casual viewer.  One would think that he would choose the UFC over an overseas company.

When I think of the Ben Askren choice it reminds me of NBA player Josh Childress.  A Stanford alum, he left the NBA after 4 productive years and with an offer to stay in the NBA but decided to make more money in Greece.  But after 2 years, Childress ended back in the NBA and cited issues with getting paid and less amenities overseas as compared to the NBA as reasons he chose to return.  Thus, this is an example of why taking the most money may not be the best for a career.  Of course, MMA differs from basketball if you were to just compare the physical rigors and average shorter career span of a fighter.

One of the underlying issues that may be hampering the negotiations is that Melendez is represented by the same agent as Georges St. Pierre.  As we know, GSP’s departure from the UFC was awkward and may have been less than amicable.  GSP spoke out about drug testing in the UFC which unsurprisingly drew the ire of White.  Is the difficulty in brokering a new contract for Melendez in part due to White’s anger at GSP via his agent?

Then there’s the use of the media in the negotiations.  First, there was White’s public comments on FS1.  Then, in a bit of a surprise, the UFC on Fox twitter account tweeted an article it posted on its Fox Sports web site in which it mocked Melendez for the stalled negotiations.  The article actually admits it has scant information on negotiations but would speculate on the reasons why Melendez has not come to an agreement.

Payout Perspective:

Melendez has a short timeframe to earn as much as he can in a sport where the premise is to inflict maximum pain on your opponent.  This takes a toll on the fighter physically and mentally.  However, the sacrifice is worth it assuming he is compensated enough to take care for himself and his family.  In MMA, it’s unlikely that a contract will make someone set for life but a fighter has the potential to do much better than he would if he or she just had a 9-5 job.  We do not know how much Melendez is asking for but one might assume he wants to make sure he is fairly compensated (in his mind) for his sacrifices.

Like many sports executives, White is negotiating through the press.  Calling out Melendez’s agents is a part of negotiations.  A new wrinkle is the use of Fox Sports to seemingly call out Melendez for not agreeing to a contract.  In other sports, the media produces pieces calling out one side or another in negotiations but the Fox Sports piece is a blatant run at Melendez.  Is it fair?  Should Melendez and his representatives respond with their side of the story?  We shall see.

Cigano signs with 9ine

September 25, 2013

MMA Fighting reports that UFC Heavyweight Junior dos Santos has signed on with 9ine.  The Brazilian sports and entertainment company is headed by former soccer star Ronaldo and is backed by worldwide marketing communications firm WPP.

You may recall that Anderson Silva signed on with 9ine in 2011.  It also represents several soccer stars as well.

Via MMA Fighting:

According to 9ine’s CEO Marcus Buaiz, the company will take care of dos Santos’ image, social media and contracts with sponsors. “Cigano” is currently sponsored by Nike, TNT and Corinthians.

“Cigano is a great champion with an image that lots of companies want to work with, and he has a good relationship with the media,” Buaiz said. “9ine’s goal is to increase what has already been done with our excellence of working athlete’s image.”

Payout Perspective:

You may recall that JDS suddenly left long time manager Ed Soares in June 2011 for the Guedes Group.  That occurred months before his KO of Cain Velasquez on the first Fox show.  The latest development is an interesting move by JDS since he has already secured top sponsors.  We will see what his new agency can do for him.

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