Mixed martial arts, and particularly the UFC, has emerged as one of the fastest growing entities in the sports world and the athletes taking center stage are finding ways to grow along with it.
Where fighters years ago were sponsored by anyone that would throw a few dollars their direction, today, many fighters – like in other major sports – are pushing the bounds beyond fight fans that have a company and want to support a favorite to moving into mainstream corporations that see sponsorship as a significant business opportunity.
At the same time, fighter contracts are becoming much more complex, to the point where a fighter’s business team is just as important as his training team.
Malki Kawa of First Round Management always knew this day was coming, and he was prepared for it. Known as a tenacious manager, clawing for his clients both in contract negotiations and at the sponsorship table, Kawa planned for the growth of the sport and kept an eye out for a partner that could help him and his clients grow alongside it.
He recently found that partner in VFD Marketing.
Both First Round Management and VFD Marketing handle fighter contracts as well as marketing and sponsorships, but Kawa saw that each company was stronger in certain aspects than others, and that the two would greatly complement each other should they form an alliance. So that’s what they did.
“What we’re basically doing is entering into this partnership where VFD’s strength in this space is marketing and sponsorships. They control the budgets for some of the biggest sponsors out there,” Kawa told MMAWeekly.com.
“To grow the business and grow the company, I figured it would be good to somebody handling that one particular area. They on the other hand realize that I’m the best manager in the business.
“I think that they realize they specialize in a certain niche, and I have this other niche, so what happened was that for us, there’s this kind of synergy there that allows them to do what they do best and allows me to do what I do best.”
Of course, this helps Kawa’s business grow, as well as VFD’s, but the real key to each company’s success is the success of their clients. Kawa believes that the synergy between the two MMA powerhouses can only reap even greater benefits for their respective clienteles.
“I think it’s a win-win for the fighters,” Kawa continued. “Now they have someone that’s concentrating straight-up on the sponsorships and someone that’s concentrating on their fight careers.”
It’s something that Kawa had foreseen years ago as MMA shadowed the growth of other professional sports. It’s something that he’s been working towards and planning for, but has now finally found the perfect compliment to First Round’s strengths.
“When you look at the world of professional football, basketball, baseball, usually the agents are only handling the sports contracts, then these guys, especially the upper level, will have separate marketing guys. And I’ve always felt that was a good way to do it,” he explained.
“I figured it was time to find someone that I felt comfortable enough to go out and represent my clients in that aspect. At the same time, this whole deal with VFD allows me to take on fighters like Clay Guida, guys like Travis Browne. For me it’s a very exciting opportunity to help guys get to where they want to get to.”
The partnership officially launched on June 1 of this year with Tyron Woodley and Edwin Figueroa being the first fighters to enter the Octagon under the representation of both companies.
First Round Management and VFD will still operate as separate entities under the partnership, but will collaborate on marketing initiatives for all fighters under the management of both groups, while First Round Management will bring its expertise in fighter management, promotion and contract negotiations to the partnership.
First Round Management has been working in the sports and entertainment industry for over a decade and boasts a hefty roster of MMA competitors and work with top companies such as Nike. First Round represents such notable fighters as UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, Carlos Condit, Alan Belcher, Frank Mir, Tyron Woodley, and Miesha Tate among many others.
VFD Marketing is a powerhouse in the marketing space with roots in MMA, manages athletes, corporate marketing budgets, and also has a modeling/events arm in VFD Models, as well as a growing music and media division.
VFD has played an integral role in building some of the most prominent MMA sponsorship programs in the UFC, including MusclePharm to SafeAuto Insurance.