MMA was built on taking contractual advantage of fighters not having certain protections that professional boxers enjoy via the Ali Act or that unionized athletes have through collective bargaining.
Its not just promoters who get to exploit lack of legal protection, managers also have this ability.
This week a tweet made the rounds showing just how little some entry level fighters make in the UFC after paying fairly standard expenses in their industry. A manager taking a cut of the standard form pay rate was part of the equation.
The UFC pride themselves on controlling fighter costs. One key way they do so is by insisting on standard form contracts with many heavy handed terms along with standard purse rates for new fighters. In other words, if you want in for most entry level fighters there is no negotiating, take it or leave it.
If you are a manager, and you ‘negotiate’ a new fighters UFC contract what have you negotiated?
The pay? Nope
The outfit your fighter wears? Nope
Logos on that outfit? Nope
Other in cage sponsors? Nope
Changes to the UFC’s standard contract terms? Nope
Sponsors for fight week interviews? Nope
Who your fighter fights? Nope
When your fighter fighters? Nope
Where your fighter fights? Nope
The promotion has all of this locked up. Its their terms, not yours. So what exactly is a manager doing that justifies taking a meaningful % of the fighters purse?
There are only a handful of things a manager can do to add value here. Perhaps finding out of fight sponsors. Helping the fighter gain media, branding and other strategies. And most importantly helping educate the fighter about why the negotiating landscape is so one-sided and what steps can be taken to help improve this.
Having a cozy relationship with the promoter and ‘not rocking the boat’ is not the flex some managers think it is. It arguably is a breach of fiduciary duty.
The first contract most fighters sign is their management contract. It is often one of the worst and there are pitfalls fighters should be aware of.
The world of MMA management is poorly regulated. It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and standards are far below those in unionized sports where players associations impose strict thresholds for agent certification.
In some States and Provinces anyone can be a manager. All you have to do is say you are one and, presto, you qualify.
In others managers need to apply for a licence and nothing more. In these the standard for licencing is low. Some jurisdictions impose restrictions such as maximum fees that can be charged and cap contract lengths. Others go further and require fighter/manager contracts to be on commission approved forms. Often times these protections are not followed. Many managers that are licenced do not bother being licenced in all jurisdictions where their clients compete and from where they take a cut of the fighter’s purse. This largely goes unchallenged and there are few examples of athletic commissions cracking down on exploitative management practices.
In short, combat sports management is the wild west where largely anything goes. Some of the worst contracts fighters sign are those with their own managers, the latter who are supposed to look out for the best interests of their clients instead often start the relationship off with an exploitative contract.
When it comes to protecting fighter financial interests creating minimum and consistent manager standards is a good starting point. There appears to be overwhelming support for this.