KINGJORDAN Posted August 30, 2012 Report Share Posted August 30, 2012 After 17 years managing the careers of mixed martial arts fighters, Monte Cox has learned that there are two ways to get along in the UFC. "Either you can be in the UFC family, or you can not," said Cox, who represents more than 70 pro fighters, including several former UFC champions. One way Cox has lasted so long and been so successful, he told MMAjunkie.com (http://www.mmajunkie.com), is by urging his fighters to steer clear of the "not" option ? the one Cox and many others say UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones may have unwittingly chosen when he turned down a bout with Chael Sonnen at UFC 151. That's not to say that Cox ? and, honestly, every other fighter manager I talked to for a shorter version of this story in today's USA TODAY ? didn't think that Jones had been put in a tough spot when the UFC asked him to change opponents less than two weeks from the scheduled event. At the same time, they said, just because it was a lot to ask doesn't mean it was wise for Jones to turn it down. For instance, take Cox, who represents former UFC middleweight champ and consummate company man Rich Franklin, and so knows a thing or two about being in "the family" with the UFC. "We were in Singapore preparing for Cung Le [at UFC 148], and we got the call saying they need us to change opponents to Wanderlei Silva in Brazil [at UFC 147]," Cox said. "It didn't make any sense for us. We were preparing for one, and now we change, and [the date of the fight] moves up two weeks, plus [Franklin] hadn't fought in a year. It just doesn't make much sense to your common person. Why would you change? Well, Rich is in the family. It's not only what's best for him, but what's in the best interest of the UFC. They needed him to take that fight. If you're in the family and you want to stay in the family, you take that fight." There are certain perks to being in the UFC family, according to several managers. Whether it's better bonus money or just better treatment in general, they all agree that it's better to be in the UFC's good graces than in its doghouse. But one thing even preferred status doesn't get you, they say, is the right to pick and choose your opponents. That's because the matchmaking process in the UFC, while imperfect and still largely misunderstood by many fans, is a complicated dance with the power weighted heavily in favor of the people signing the checks. At the same time, it's not a process that you hear much griping about from managers, if only because they usually appreciate the challenges that are inherent in the system. "You have to understand that [Zuffa matchmakers] Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have an incredibly difficult job," said Authentic Sports Management President Glenn Robinson, who represents fighters such as Alistair Overeem and Rashad Evans. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle. Someone gets hurt, so they have to move pieces around. Someone else gets hurt, and they have to move pieces around again." The constant reshuffling that accompanies so many UFC fight cards is difficult not only for matchmakers, but also for the managers who field the late-notice calls and weigh the risk and reward of every possible matchup. "You put together your wish list, but you have to keep in mind what [the UFC] might be thinking about what the fans want to see," Paradigm Sports Management President Audie Attar said. "Sometimes they call you up and say, 'Hey, your guy vs. this guy,' and that's it. You've got to take it." Of course, you don't have to. The UFC can't make someone climb in the cage and fight. And, far more than many fans might realize, it does happen. Fighters do turn down fights. "The fighter does have that right," Attar said. "If a fight is brought up to him and he doesn't like that fight for whatever reason, whether it's injuries or what, he can turn it down. We've done that. We've turned a few fights down, and nothing bad happened. The ground wasn't pulled out from under us. There was no reprimand." More often, managers say, the consequences of turning down a fight have less to do with the UFC's wrath and more to do with an unpredictable schedule and a fighter's need to make a living in the cage. "If you turn down a fight, your guy might be sitting out," said Denaro Sports Marketing President Robert Roveta. "The promoter has to book those slots, so your guy might be out for a minute and have to wait until the next slot opens up. He's got to work and get paid, so you have to factor that in." According to Cox, there also are contractual repercussions. Signing a UFC contract usually means that, while fighters can say no to a bout offer, the UFC then has the right to extend their contracts while it looks for a new opponent. "The UFC will never make you fight," Cox said. "They'll say, 'OK, Jake Ellenberger is going to fight Josh Koscheck.' If we don't want that fight for whatever reason, we can say, 'You know, that's just not the fight that we're looking for.' But if that's the case, you have to pay the price. I have to explain to the fighter, 'Hey, if we turn it down they have the right to extend the contract for six months, and that means you'll be sitting. They might not get you another fight for up to six months.'" It also means that, in addition to going another six months without a paycheck, the fighter runs the risk of being offered an even tougher opponent when his turn comes around again. "Sometimes you say, 'Listen, they're offering us a B+ opponent here,'" Cox said. "'If we say no, it's not enough time, fine, they'll add another month and offer us someone else, but the opponent may be upgraded to a much tougher guy, and we're not going to be able to say no at that point after we've already turned down one.' You can't just keep turning down opponents. ... At some point you have to say it may not be ideal, but it could be a lot worse. Maybe you take this one because you know, hey, the next one could be really bad." When it comes to deciding which fights to take and which to turn down, however, managers have a host of factors to consider. For one, they have to take into account their fighter's current standing in the division. A guy higher up the pecking order might get a little more slack, they say, but one who's just coming into the UFC? "He's going to have to fight whoever he fights," Roveta said. "He's got to earn his stripes." There's also the question of his recent record. You might think that the longer the winning streak, the more say the fighter would have. But according to Cox, it's often the opposite. No one wants to be seen as the fighter who can only maintain such a streak by picking and choosing opponents. Plus, the more opponents you beat in your division, the fewer there are who will genuinely make sense as a step up in competition. "I've had fighters who won three in a row, and I had to tell them, 'You know the next one is going to be a lot tougher,'" Cox said. "Then the offer comes in, and it's really not good, really a tough fight. At that point I think you take the fight and take your chances. Even if it might be tough, that's just how it is sometimes." On the flip side, Cox said, managers and fighters might get a little pickier when they're riding a losing streak that threatens to drop them out of the UFC altogether. "If I'm 0-2 and they come back with a fight that's really a horrible matchup, that's the point where I might say, 'Look, we realize that if we lose three in a row we're probably out of the UFC. This is not the fight that we want to put our career on the line with.' And the UFC is usually pretty good about working with you there," Cox said. That's a common refrain from most managers, even after they've bumped heads with the UFC a time or two. Sometimes they get the matchups they want, they say, and sometimes they don't, but rarely do they admit to feeling bullied for the decisions they've made. "Joe Silva's a fair guy," Roveta said. "But if it's something where it's the only matchup available, there's not a lot of wiggle room. He's got a schedule, and they've got a lineup they've got to fill, but he's fair about it." According to Attar, the public perception that the UFC sometimes uses matchmaking as a tool to get back at fighters who have displeased the company is largely inaccurate. "Have they done it? Maybe. But more realistically, I think they have too much going on trying to book these fights to really play that game," Attar said. "More likely they'll just not give you a fight when you want it than give you a bad one." At the same time, you won't hear from many managers who think it's a good idea to test that theory. According to Robinson, as long as the fighter is healthy and reasonably close to the contracted weight when the offer comes in, his default position is to accept almost any fight the UFC offers. "My particular philosophy on fighting is that fighter's should fight," Robinson said. "If you're going to be a champion, you've got to fight anyone and everyone that comes your way. To me, if you want to fight Jose Aldo, how are you going to be selective about who you want to fight on the way to Jose Aldo?" Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.