Management Built on the Mats

December 22, 2011

Dominance MMA

There are a lot of different managers in mixed martial arts.

Some come from law backgrounds, others from business backgrounds, and some are trainers that have become managers. A growing trend, however, with the sport of MMA getting some years behind it, is former fighters taking a role in management.

Well, this is a story about a former Olympian and fighter who became a manager.

Ali Abdel-Aziz, who was born in Egypt, was an athlete his whole life, and fell in love with Judo at an early age. His passion for the sport turned into a lifestyle and it then turned into an Olympic dream.

“I went to the 1996 Olympics. I represented Egypt in the Olympics and this is how I started,” Abdel-Aziz told “I was a five-time national champion in Africa, and after that I went to the Olympics and then I moved here, and I was living in Colorado and I started fighting for Sven Bean.”

Sven Bean is the promoter and owner of the Ring of Fire promotion and Abdel-Aziz fought there for the majority of his MMA career before a shoulder injury put him on the sidelines.

While he was rehabbing and recuperating, Abdel-Aziz traveled to New Mexico where he lived and trained alongside famed MMA coach Greg Jackson and his team of fighters. From there, the former Olympian decided to move to New York and work with the team at Renzo Gracie’s academy in Manhattan.

It was there that he fell into the management game.

“I moved to New York and I started training at Renzo’s (Gracie), and at the time I wasn’t fighting, I was just training a little bit to get my shoulder better. I saw a lot of problems in New York and I started talking to Renzo and all the guys down there, and they asked me if I could help them and managing them and stuff,” Abdel-Aziz explained.

Even though he came from athletic roots, Abdel-Aziz was also a businessman by nature. He had continued to work even while training before and after the Olympics, and when Renzo Gracie asked him for some assistance with his own fighters and his career, Abdel-Aziz was honored to help him out.

His first clients were a trio of Gracie family members: Igor, Gregor and Rolles Gracie. He even started managing Renzo’s career full time as well. From there it started to snowball as more and more fighters started working out of Gracie’s academy, and they noticed the work Abdel-Aziz was doing on the management side of things.

The other interesting part, however, was that most of the fighters that met Abdel-Aziz first rolled with him on the mats before they ever knew he was a manager.

“My first business I had I was 15 years old and for me I’ve been around sports all my life, and I want to be involved. Like the lifestyle for me, I get up in the morning, I get on the phone and I go work, in the afternoon I train, then I go work again,” said Abdel-Aziz.

“For example, yesterday I woke up in the morning I got some work in and Frankie Edgar comes to the gym and we had some jiu-jitsu sparring, me and Frankie and Igor Gracie and Rolles Gracie and all these guys, and after that I went back to work. Then I come home and I start watching videos on fights and scouting and guys. It’s a lifestyle to me and I love it.”

Training is just part of life for Abdel-Aziz and he works on a daily basis with the team at Renzo Gracie’s academy, along with his roster of fighters. He’s not only a business partner for his client list, he’s a training partner as well.

“I’m doing this first of all for a passion, this is my passion. The second thing, I’m helping my teammates get prepared for fights to be a good training partner, it’s just a lifestyle for me I can’t get away from it,” said Abdel-Aziz. “I train everyday.”

Part of who Ali Abdel-Aziz is comes from his background as an athlete and the experiences he learned in his own fight career. It’s from that history that he wants to be able to help young fighters work their way up to making it into an organization like the UFC or Strikeforce. He’s seen the ups and downs, and experienced the good and bad himself, and he hopes he can impart some of that knowledge on the next generation of MMA fighters.

“I’ve never asked one person to manage them. Gregor and Igor and Rolles and after that Renzo had a fight coming back and he asked me to talk to the UFC, and I went to the UFC to talk to Dana and those guys. After that I started signing guys like Derek Brunson and Frankie (Edgar), he had a falling out with his manager, and I think Renzo recommended me to him and we started working together and he’s one of my best friends in the world,” Abdel-Aziz stated.

“A lot of UFC fighters come through there and I train with them, but I never say ‘I want to manage you.’ In this sport, it’s good to be asked instead of asking them. If you do good work, your reputation is going to be good.”

Now Abdel-Aziz, under his Dominance MMA management group, works with several UFC and Strikeforce fighters including UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, new UFC lightweight John Cholish, Strikeforce contender Keith Jardine, former UFC fighter Roger Huerta, and he still works with several members of the Gracie family that train and work at the gym.

2011 has also turned out to be a very good year for Abdel-Aziz and his list of clients, as they have boasted 17 wins altogether this year. That’s what’s most important to the former Egyptian Olympian.

He wants the fighters he works with to be successful in and out of the cage.

“I’m not one of these managers that wants to have 60 or 70 guys. I want to have all the guys and take care of them. I want to make sure everybody’s happy. I do contracts, but if any fighter wants to leave, they leave. I don’t lock them down. I don’t want to manage someone that doesn’t want to be managed by me. I’ve never had a guy leave me, but I’m very lucky to have this lifestyle,” said Abdel-Aziz.

“I came here and I’m living my American dream.”

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