When Dan Ige showed up in Las Vegas from his home in Hawaii, he had $26 to his name.
At the time, Ige was a young up and coming fighter who wanted nothing more than to train and compete full time, so rather than toiling away at a construction job at home, he decided to pick up and move in with his pal Brad Tavares and give MMA his complete focus.
Unfortunately, Ige figured out rather quickly that if he wanted to survive, he was going to need to find a way to make some money on the side while he was still trying to find fights on the regional scene.
That’s when he met Tavares’ manager for the first time.
“I didn’t have too much money and I was living with Brad, and Ali [Abdelaziz] manages Brad,” Ige explained when speaking with MMAWeekly. “He’s like ‘do you want to go to dinner with my manager?’ and I thought it was a good opportunity to just go out and meet some people. I was like 2-0 or 2-1 as a pro. So I went to dinner and Ali said ‘I need an assistant.’ He had another guy as his assistant and he went on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and he was going to be in the house for six weeks. I had no job at the time, I had no idea what I was getting into, so I said sure.
“He said ‘come to my house tomorrow, 9 a.m.’ I showed up, I brought a notebook and a pen, and I didn’t know what to expect and we jumped right into the deep end. It’s been this way every single day for the past three years.”
The deep end for Ige was learning a whole new side of the fight business as a manager working with one of the deepest rosters in the entire sport.
Abdelaziz’s company, Dominance MMA, handles fighters such as Khabib Nurmagomedov, Frankie Edgar, Kelvin Gastelum, Ilir Latifi, Cody Garbrandt, Kayla Harrison, and numerous others.
Ever since that first day he showed up to work as an assistant, Ige has quickly transitioned into a full-time manager working with that roster alongside Abdelaziz and the rest of his team.
And when Ige says he’s a full-time manager, he absolutely means it.
“It makes me mad when fighters say they are training so hard,” Ige said with a laugh. “It makes me angry because I know I’m training just as hard and I’m putting in the extra work. I’m going straight from the gym, jump in the car still sweating to go to work and then back to the gym. There’s no time. I am the hardest worker in this game, pound-for-pound, I know that. It’s not like I think I am, I know I am.”
For the past three years, Ige has split his time between management and fighting, but in 2017 he finally earned his shot at the UFC after competing on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
That was always the dream for Ige, but just because he was earning a nicer paycheck while competing on the biggest stage in the world for mixed martial arts, his goals and ambitions never changed.
That’s why Ige still works full time as a manager, even while preparing for a contest coming up this weekend at UFC on FOX 31 in Milwaukee.
“My main focus is fighting, but I need to be realistic,” Ige said. “I need to put food on the table. Fighting is great. I make great money fighting, but that’s one night in a lump sum. I’m not guaranteed a fight, so I might go six months without a fight. At least working in the management industry keeps me around fighting, keeps my mind sharp, and I feel like I’m constantly evolving.
“I’m still in the sport. I’m at almost every fight because we have so many guys on every card working for what I would say is the largest management company in the world, so it’s a lot of work. It’s crazy, but somehow I do it.”
As much as Ige is constantly around the fight business, he’s found a way to compartmentalize his two worlds despite the fact that they collide on a daily basis.
While he often trains alongside the same fighters he manages, Ige himself actually has a manager who isn’t Abdelaziz.
According to Ige, after he first arrived in Las Vegas and started working for Abdelaziz, he was introduced to Brian Butler, who owns and operates Suckerpunch Entertainment — the same company who manages UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, former champion Carla Esparza, and a long list of UFC and Bellator fighters, as well as regional hopefuls.
“I didn’t have too many fights and Ali said ‘this is a guy I trust and I really believe he can help build you and help you achieve your goals and get you to the UFC,'” Ige said before signing with Butler to serve as his manager. “He has a lot of connections with the regional shows and Brian was the guy. Ali is big on loyalty and I’m always going to big on that.”
Even now, while Ige has long since learned the ins and outs of the business because he’s seen all sides of the sport from fighting to contract negotiations to sponsorship deals, he still depends on Butler for much in his own career.
“I think a manager is necessary,” Ige said. “If Sean Shelby walks up to me and says ‘I’ve got this fight for you,’ I’m going to take it. I don’t care who it is. Even if it’s a bad match-up for me, I’ll say let’s go cause I’m a fighter. Sometimes you need a manager to step in. A lot of times we’ll get a fight for someone, we’ll talk to the coaches before we talk to the fighters because as a fighter, we’ll fight anyone.
“I think a manager is important.”
Butler, who has worked with Ige ever since that initial introduction from Abdelaziz, says that the young featherweight prospect is the ideal client, not only because he’s a hard worker, but also due to the fact that he knows the business so well.
“Dan is one of the easiest guys to manage because he also works on the management side of the fence,” Butler said about Ige. “We joke about him being big time now that he has made it to the UFC, but he is very humble and respectful to everyone.
“I really can’t say anything other than I love the guy.”
Right now, Ige is just a few days away from his fight against Jordan Griffin in Milwaukee, but the weeks leading up to the event were just like any other for the 27-year-old Hawaiian.
Just before The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, Ige was spending his morning training at Xtreme Couture before grabbing a quick shower and a change of clothes to meet with one of his clients, Kamaru Usman, who was headlining the event.
Ige was just weeks away from his own fight, but he still found a way to prioritize training before then turning his attention to whatever Usman needed during a media day with reporters, as well as the final hours ahead of stepping onto the scales to weigh in.
He’s even built a rapport with the UFC staff, who know him from the double life he leads as fighter and manager.
“I love the UFC staff and they’re so fun to work with,” Ige said. “I was just at the UFC offices yesterday and I was at media day with Kamaru Usman, but when I show up to fight, I’m just Dan. They know they don’t have to hold my hand. I go in there and I do my work. I make their jobs easier.”
While he’s rarely in the headlines for the work he does behind the scenes, Ige is definitely a valuable asset to the management team that handles an incredibly diverse roster across numerous promotions around the world.
“Dan, first of all not only works for me, he’s like my little brother and great training partner,” Abdelaziz said about Ige. “He’s the guy who helps me keep the rhythm for Dominance MMA and he’s a very important part of the business. He’s the hardest working man in MMA — full-time job and full-time fighter in the UFC.”
It’s not easy by any means and Ige will admit at times even he can get frazzled after a tough work week.
“It’s a balance,” Ige said. “Sometimes if I do get too caught up with work and it’s stressful, I have to remember what I’m doing here. I’m a professional fighter and I’m fighting in the UFC. I have to put myself in check sometimes. It’s a balance. At the end of the day, I’m a husband, too, so that’s my third job.
“It’s a crazy life. I’m definitely living in the fast lane.”
It might sound like a lot to handle, but Ige wouldn’t have it any other way.
In fact, he’s grown to love working in MMA management almost as much as he adores fighting and the reality is one of those businesses will keep him fed long after the last cage door closes on him.
“If I stopped fighting today, I could be a full-time manager to support myself and support my family,” Ige said. “I love fighting, this is my passion, and I want to keep fighting.”