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Managers Meet in Vegas. Are the Beginning Steps of Unionization in the Works?

AJ Camacho

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On the heels of the jarring Reebok payout announcement, some of the biggest managers in MMA are collectively meeting in Vegas next week. The UFC’s announcement last week revealed a veteran centric payment tier that started at $2,500 per fight for newer fighters and capped out at $40,000 for reigning champions. With the UFC’s general “3 losses and you’re out” approach to talent retainment, it’s reasonable to assume that most fighters will reside among the $5,000 to $10,000 payout mark.

Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting is reporting that MMA Inc. super-firm heavy hitters, Mike Roberts and Jeff Meyer, have orchestrated the manager meeting along with other industry managers. MMA Inc. has made their name working with such fighters as Urijah Faber, Chad Mendez, Anthony Pettis, TJ Dillishaw, and Paige VanZant.

“This came about through a couple of unrelated phone calls between a few managers,” explained Jeff Meyer. “It was suggested that we should all get together [sometime]. Since quite a few managers will be in Las Vegas over Memorial Day, we decided to put something together. An invitation was sent out to about a dozen managers. The response was very positive and a few managers that were not on the original invitation have asked to attend as well. And they are welcome to do so.”

Other managers who are confirmed for the conference are Robert Roveta (Dustin Poirier, Shawn Jordan, and Matt Brown), Brian Butler-Au (Felice Herrig, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and Carla Esparza), and Ana Claudia Guedes (Junior dos Santos). Out of respect of the other managers, Jeff Meyer wouldn’t disclose the other expected managers.

Clearly these managers intend to discuss the common interest between them and their fighters but the timing seems anything but coincidental. The meeting will take place a week prior to UFC 187, the event where the Reebok deal will first materialize into fiscal reality. However, before we assume that this meeting is an attempt to blockade or stifle the Reebok deal from going into motion, we must remember that many MMA Inc. fighters have solidified Reebok deals in place beyond the UFC payouts. Meyer is quick to remind us that though the Reebok deal is an issue of discussion that it is just one component of many issues regarding their fighters.

“There has been some speculation in the media as to the agenda of the meeting,” clarified Meyer. “The only agenda item is for management to get together and share insights over a variety of topics, with the hope that we can make our industry better for the benefit of our respective clients and our respective agencies. That’s it.”

Before some of us get our hopes up for player unionization, we should pay attention to Meyer’s words here. “…our respective clients and our respective agencies.” Though these managers have the interest of their fighters foremost in their minds, their interests are not altruistic. They have skin invested into this game and they have their own interests to protect.

Historically, players unions are typically created from the athletes to collectively place economic pressures on to their respective leagues. In 1956, when Abe Gibron, Dante Lavelli, Don Shula, John Gordy, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, and Van Brocklin approached a lawyer to protect their self-interests they would create the National Football League Players Association. In 1965, it was the players who sought out the services of respected economist Marvin Miller in order to form what would be the MLBA. Historically, it takes athletes to create an infrastructure that protects the collective interests of the athletes.

Though this meeting is crucial for the interest of the fighters and their managers, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that a union upheaval will occur overnight. The management is vested in not only the interest of their fighters but also in their sponsors. The overall tone in play is measured, reserved, and with respect to their fighters’ promotions. Ultimately Meyer frames the situation well making it clear that they do not intend on biting the hands that pays them.

“We’re not trying to hide the fact that we’re meeting next week,” established Meyer. “…and we’re not trying to pick on any specific promotion. It’s just long overdue that management sits down and has a collective conversation about the state of the business. It’s amazing that we haven’t done this yet.”

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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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