This is the fourth interview in an on-going series by Gary Wimsett, Jr., lawyer and MMA enthusiast, about the business of Mixed Martial Arts. In Part I, Gary spoke with Sports Illustrated Senior Contributor, L. Jon Wertheim, about his new book, “Blood in the Cage” about the history of MMA, the career of Pat Miletich, and the rise of the UFC. In Part II, Gary and Sam Sheridan, author of “A Fighter’s Heart” engaged in a Q & A regarding Sam’s insights into the fighting world as a writer and fighter. In Part III, Gary talked to Pat Miletich about WAMMA, the UFC, and unionization. In this interview, Gary speaks with Ken Pavia of MMA Agents about what life is like for one of the sport’s busiest men. Ken answered these questions while in Montreal for UFC 97. Gary exchanged e-mails with Ken before – from Finland, Japan, and points all over the globe, but rarely from Ken’s home in California.
Wimsett: When/Why did you start MMA Agents? What were you doing before and what was it about the industry that appealed to you? Do you exclusively represent MMA fighters or do you have other sports clients?
Pavia: I purchased UFC 1 and became a fan. I was introduced to Ricco Rodriguez soon after he lost to Nog in Japan and he approached me for representation. I was a baseball and hockey agent for 12 years prior. I now only represent MMA fighters.
Wimsett: How many fighters do you represent? Who are your top guys? Do you represent women fighters?
Pavia: I represent 55 fighters. One female. Erin Toughill. They are all top guys…
Wimsett: Do you oversee/coordinate your fighters’ training schedules and programs?
Pavia: I leave the training to the professionals. I seek business opportunities for my clients. They choose which fights to take.
Wimsett: How many different promotions do you work with? Which one is the easiest to work with? What kind of services are you able to provide to a fighter under a UFC contract?
Pavia: In 2007 we sent fighters to 32 promotions in 8 countries. In 2008 we sent them to 35 promotions in 8 counties. We will blow those numbers away this year. We provide compliance support, media support, travel support, sponsorships, PR, legal, appearances and seminars, and fight procurement.
Wimsett: Who are some of the biggest sponsors in the industry? How do you ensure them a return on their investment? How has the slumping economy affected sponsorship and/or endorsement deals you get for your fighters?
Pavia: TapouT is an industry leader. This question is best answered by the sponsorship department.
Wimsett: Where do you see the UFC in five years? Still the “King of the Mountain” or will there be some other large-scale promotion competing for PPV dollars?
Pavia: Really your guess is as good as mine. I will say they have a significant head start.
Wimsett: Describe a typical workday for you. Do you travel a lot?
Pavia: I travel 7 out of 8 weekends. I get up about 9 or 10 and just break to eat and continue to work until generally 3 or 4 AM, 7 days a week. I will never be out worked.
Wimsett: Other than your law degree, do you have any other certifications or licenses? Anything really necessary?
Pavia: I was certified to represent athletes by the player associations of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL.
Wimsett: Where is MMA Agents headquartered?
Pavia: We are based out of Huntington Beach with affiliate offices in Korea, London and Paris.
Wimsett: Do you feel you have to be in or around Las Vegas or be able to travel there regularly to make your business work?
Pavia: I get there enough and with my blackberry, I am global. I represent about 8 fighters out of Vegas.
Wimsett: Do you have an East Coast operation?
Pavia: No I do not.
Wimsett: Thoughts on WAMMA? A Fighter’s Association?
Pavia: Don’t really know much about them. But will say I really like Mike Lynch.
Wimsett: What MMA websites do you stay up to date on? How do you stay informed about what’s happening in this ever-changing industry?
Pavia: Junkie, Sherdog, Weekly, MMA.tv, Facebook, and Myspace are always open on my computer. I also peek at CBSsportsline and USAtoday.
Wimsett: As a fan, what MMA matchup would you most like to see right now?
Pavia: Tito v Babalu, Radach v Lawler, Vitor v Anderson, Riggs v Shields or Diaz, Baroni v Davis or Diaz, Cyrille v Houston or Irvin, Hieron v Goat, AJ v Howard or Alves, Pyle v Condit, and Kampman v Swick.
Wimsett: How many employees do you have? How do you recruit and hire? Do you have an internship program?
Pavia: We have 5 employees and 5 interns, and one full time consultant. We do have an intern program and usually take law students.
Wimsett: Who is your biggest competition?
Pavia: Ourself. We are first and second best.
Wimsett: Who do you look up to in the sports business? Role models?
Pavia: I admire Drew Rosenhaus and Lee Steinberg. I admire Jim Rome and Tommy Lasorda.
Wimsett: What’s the most important skill/attribute of an effective MMA agent?
Pavia: Personality, ice in veins, ability to be rational not emotional, and ability to solve problems. Thick skin too…
Wimsett: Are you actively recruiting college wrestlers? How do you recruit clients?
Pavia: No we are not. We only sign fighters that have experienced a significant amount of success at a local circuit and are ready for major shows.
Wimsett: What do you do to get away from the chaos? When was your last vacation?
Pavia: I haven’t had a real break in three plus years, I don’t get away from the chaos. It defines me.