Are Managers Important in MMA?

February 19, 2012

Chael Sonnen, Mike Roberts & Mark Munoz

Chael Sonnen, Mike Roberts & Mark Munoz

There seems to be a big question looming over the MMA world recently: Do fighters actually need managers or not?

Most fighters in the sport are represented by somebody, be it a manager, an agent, a lawyer, or even someone in their family, but it’s virtually commonplace for every competitor in the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator or any organization to have someone be a proxy for them during negotiations, fight sponsorships, and many other duties.

The question has been raised more recently because several high profile fighters have left their previous managers, and it’s brought up the inquiry over and over again what the manager’s role truly is in MMA.

Mike Roberts, one of the owners and managers of MMA Inc., who represents several top named clients including Chael Sonnen, Urijah Faber, and Mark Munoz, believes that managers are an integral part of the fight business.

The key word being business.

“I think it’s fair to question individuals in particular that aren’t doing things on an ethical manner, but by in large all the stuff people are saying, questioning, do fighters need management? Well, of course they need management. They don’t have time to handle all this stuff or they’ll never be able to train. They don’t want to go to the negotiating table,” Roberts told MMAWeekly Radio recently.

“I saw some stuff that Alex Davis said in a bunch of interviews talking about it, and I back him 100-percent on everything he said. Except the only thing I’d say is I don’t feel a need to justify our position as much as maybe he did, cause he’s 100-percent right in everything he’s saying, and maybe a little further into it, but as far as I’m concerned I don’t have to answer to anybody other than my clients and the people I work with. As long as they respect me, and we have a continued great relationship, that’s all that matters.”

Roberts has been working in the MMA industry for a number of years, much longer than the sport has been thriving as it has been recently. He’s seen the good side and the bad side of MMA management, and he believes that’s where some of the negative stigma is coming from.

A few bad apples spoiling the batch for everybody. A blowhard mentality that he says has no place among managers when talking about MMA, or any sport really.

“There’s certainly certain managers that aren’t ethical. There’s a lot of great ones out there too. Rob Rovetta’s a great guy, Monte Cox is a great guy, there’s several of them, but on the flipside there’s several bad ones,” Roberts admitted.

“As long as I’ve been in the sport, I’ve seen them come and go. They come in pounding their chest telling you how great they are. If they’ve got to do that, I know right away that guy’s not going to be in here very long.”

Silent but deadly. That may be the best way to describe Roberts and his partner at MMA Inc., Jeff Meyer. The dynamic duo behind several former champions and even more top contenders choose to stay in the shadows, working for their fighters, attempting at most times to avoid the limelight as much as possible.

Of course like any manager, they’ll speak out when spoken to, but Roberts says he’d rather focus on his fighters, getting them the money they deserve, the deals they need, and if they’re satisfied then truth be told no one else really matters anyway.

“This sport is about the talent, about the fighters. It’s not about me. It’s not about Jeff (Meyer). It’s not about any manager,” said Roberts. “No one should care about the managers. The only people that should care about the managers are the fighters and their families.”

Managers are important, however, in the bigger picture. They are a cog in the gear that keeps the wheel turning, especially when it comes time to get their fighters paid.

“In any form of sport or entertainment, everybody has a manager/agent. Tom Cruise doesn’t negotiate his movie deals. Albert Pujols doesn’t negotiate his own baseball deals. Peyton Manning’s not negotiating his football deal. Everybody needs one. If you want to do it right, and do it the right way, that’s what you should do,” Roberts commented.

The bad reputation of some managers, however, has placed a shadow over the group as a whole, according to Roberts. The key, he says, is just like Dana White shouts all the time.

Beyond anything else you do, find someone you trust.

“Dana (White) did an interview yesterday and he said ‘find someone you can trust.’ That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s a tough job, and you’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to be on top of things all the time. No one’s perfect, but everybody needs that. It’s ludicrous for someone to say that you don’t need that,” Roberts said.

“In any business there’s good guys and there’s bad guys in it. There’s certainly a few really bad guys in this sport that aren’t qualified to be in their position. They pound their chest and tell you how great they are. That’s not our business model. I don’t worry about other managers and what they’re doing, and who they’re trying to steal and who they’re not trying to steal, and who they got. We worry about who we have and the people that want to be with us and doing our job. That’s it.”

The few bad people do sometimes outshine the good ones because negativity generally trumps positivity when it comes to headlines that steal any given day. It’s not uncommon for even Hollywood stars or musicians to routinely be ripped off by a manager or agent, and those stories make headlines far quicker than one that just does their job and gets their client the money they deserve.

Roberts is committed to continuing his job for his clients, and as long as they are satisfied, then he knows not only is he a necessary piece of the puzzle, but his work means something.

“You have to find somebody that truly has your best interests at hand,” said Roberts. “We’re not the company for everybody and I’ll be the first to tell you that. We’re not out recruiting people and making them promises I can’t deliver. We are a company that we care about our fighters and their interests come first no matter what.”

Follow @DamonMartin on Twitter or e-mail Damon Martin.
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