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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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Interviews

UFC 219’s Jimmie Rivera to TJ Dillashaw “Defend Your Belt or Vacate.”

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest had the chance to talk to #4 ranked UFC bantamweight Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera ahead of his fight at UFC 219 against John Lineker.

Rivera (21-1) extended his unbeaten run to twenty when he defeated Thomas Almeida at UFC Long Island in July. Originally scheduled to face former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, we began by asking Rivera how the opponent change had affected his preparation for UFC 219.

The only thing that’s changed is the game plan, everything else stays the same. Cruz is more of an irritating fight because he just doesn’t stop moving, but with Lineker, he’s going to stay in the pocket and bang, and I love that.

Recently, Rivera posted a video to his Twitter account of him sparring with the recently crowned bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. He told us about the context of this video, and how the sparring went down between them.

It was 3 or 4 years back. I think TJ had just lost to (John) Dodson on TUF. My teammate Louis Gaudinot was actually fighting Tim Elliott at the time, and we were in Milwaukee so I got to train with (Urijah) Faber and Dillashaw.

I just sent it to TJ to say, don’t forget what happened. I was getting the best of him, and I don’t really brag about it. But he wants to leave the weight class and fight DJ for the money fight, and I want to fight for the belt, so it’s defend your belt or vacate.

After briefly referencing the potential superfight between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw, I asked Rivera about his thoughts on the somewhat flawed UFC rankings system, and title fights being put together purely for entertainment value.

It sucks. When I become champ I won’t be like a TJ or McGregor, I’m going to be like Demetrious Johnson and defend my belt against people coming up, it’s the right thing to do. If you want to win the belt and leave the division straight away, it’s kind of bullshit.

Rivera concluded by telling me that although he isn’t looking past Lineker at 219, “the only fight that makes sense after this one, is fighting TJ for the belt.”

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Mark Hunt Returns to Fight Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221

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UFC 221 in Perth has officially added a another Australian to the main card. Joining Robert Whittaker is the knockout legend Mark Hunt.

The Daily Telegraph first reported that Hunt will be stepping into the octagon to face #9 Curtis Blaydes. Some weren’t sure if we would ever see Hunt fight again after he was pulled from the main event in UFC Fight Night 21 against Marcin Tybura. The UFC removed him due to “medical concerns” while Hunt was stating he was perfectly fine.

After getting evaluated and cleared to fight by Australian and American doctors, it looks like his time has come to return.  Hunt’s last fight was back in June when he derailed the Derrick Lewis hype train with a 4th round TKO win.

Hunt had been adamant about calling out #3 ranked heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and trying to get that rematch booked, labelling Werdum a “chicken shit” and a “coward.”

Curtis “Razor” Blaydes who has an 8-1 record, is coming off a TKO victory due to doctor stoppage at UFC 217 in November. Since losing to now title challenger Francis Ngannou in April of 2016, Blaydes has rattled off three straight wins over Alexey Oleynik, Daniel Omielanczuk, and Cody East.

With all this momentum from the win streak, Blaydes looks to capitalize and win the biggest fight of his career against Hunt.

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Valentina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira Officially Booked for Belem, Brazil card

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The wait is over. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3, 3-2 UFC) will make her highly anticipated flyweight debut when the UFC returns to Brazil. She will face Priscila Cachoeira (8-0) on the February 3rd card scheduled for Belem, Brazil. Luciana Andrade was the first to report the match-up last week. On Tuesday, the UFC posted an article which stated the bout had been set.

Now that the flyweight tournament is over and the inaugural champion has her crown, many women shall migrate from the strawweight and bantamweight ranks in search of a more suitable weight class. The division is so infantile means a lot moving parts in the rankings. Yet, only women who fought at one hundred and twenty-five lbs. are ranked. Such practices muddy the title picture for the time being. Essentially ruling out the idea of Montano vs. Shevchenko for the first defense of the belt, illogical. An idea that floated around the internet until today’s confirmation of the newest female flyweight match-up. The TUF 26 winner, Nicco Montano called it, “kinda silly”, earlier this week while on The MMA Hour. Montano believes her first title defense, as it stands, should pit her against the original finalist of the flyweight tournament, Sijara Eubanks. Although Eubanks withdrew from the title fight, she is still ranked as the #1 contender in the division.

Shevchenko explained her desire for the flyweight belt on The MMA Hour, a week earlier than Montano, “For me it’s number one, to fight for the title… It doesn’t matter for me, if I have to have one fight before it, okay I will do it… my main goal is to be the champion… It doesn’t matter I move from one thirty-five to one twenty-five. My goal is still the same, to be the champion”. The Russian fighter is coming off an unsuccessful title shot in the bantamweight division against the current reigning champ, Amanda Nunes. The bout went to a decision after close five rounds, Nunes ultimately defeated Shevchenko via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47).

Her opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, is not only new to the UFCs female flyweight division but the promotion’s roster as well. Cachoeira originally was scheduled to make her promotional debut against veteran Lauren Murphy at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 26. The Brazilian fighter withdrew from the bout due to visa issues. As a professional, she is undefeated with four knockouts in her eight fights.

UFC Belem is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018. The card will feature Timothy Johnson vs. Marcelo Golm in the heavyweight division. It will also have Thiago Santos taking on Anthony Smith in the middleweight division.

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