Managers in mixed martial arts learn early on how to the navigate the emotional roller coaster of fight night. But for Malki Kawa, whose client list includes Benson Henderson, Frank Mir and Clay Guida, UFC 164 was a different story altogether.
"It was the worst night, I think professionally, I've had in my entire career, Kawa said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani.
"It's not like I've ever had three guys on a card lose before. I don't think that's the issue for me. What's the issue for me is that, you tell me a guy who's never been knocked out professionally in his career is going to get knocked out; a guy who we all know is pretty much unsubmittable, if that really exists out there, and gets submitted in a championship fight; and then Frank's fight with the whole early stoppage and all that. It was just one of those things that was an emotional nightmare."
Henderson's abrupt championship loss, the exclamation mark on Kawa's back-to-back-to-back losses, left more than a few observers stunned. Henderson owns a long history of escaping near-catastrophic submissions, however this time the former lightweight titleholder played with fire and got burned, verbally submitting to an Anthony Pettis armbar late in round one.
Henderson maintained his composure to the cameras in the immediate aftermath, however offstage was a different story.
"I think he handled it as best as anybody could," Kawa said. "He definitely had his moment backstage. I sat there and I watched it. I think that was probably one of the things also that really got me, because I've never really felt so helpless before as a manager.
"But I also, at the same time, watched a guy kind of say, ‘Okay, this happened. It's time to go move on from this, and I'm going to come back on a vengeance.' And he did this once before."
The performance marked just Henderson's second loss in the past seven years, yet both setbacks came to the same man, Pettis. It's the reason that, despite Henderson's previous undefeated 7-0 run inside the Octagon, UFC President Dana White afterward voiced reluctance about ever staging a third fight between the two lightweights.
Henderson is currently awaiting MRI and x-ray results for his damaged right arm, although Kawa is already planning Henderson's next move.
"My conversation with the UFC is going to be, whoever is in line, Ben would like to fight them," Kawa said. "Dana came out already and said that he doesn't see another (Pettis vs. Henderson) rematch (happening). Well if he goes out and knocks out or submits three or four of those supposed No. 1 contenders, then I think he can't be denied.
"He tied the record for the most defenses with B.J. Penn, so it puts him up there as one of the all-time greats in that division. You can't take that away from him."
Mir ‘definitely' wants to keep fighting
Whether it was his kneebar on Brock Lesnar or his kimura on "Big Nog," Frank Mir has endured more than a few beatings throughout his career and bounced back to score a surprise finish. So it's easy to understand Mir's frustration towards referee Rob Hinds, whose controversial stoppage marred UFC 164's co-main event.
"It was too early. It was definitely too early," Kawa said of the stoppage. "Talking to Frank, Frank was completely aware and conscious of what was going on. He wasn't rocked.
"If Barnett comes and throws at least one punch and the referee stops it without Frank doing anything, then I can say, ‘Okay, look. He threw a punch and nothing happened.' But he didn't throw a punch. He just got down there and [Hinds] immediately went to stop the fight. And that same referee actually came into the locker room and gave Frank and the team a speech about how he's not squeamish and he'll let the fight go so that these guys will get an opportunity to fight ... and he went exactly against everything he said."
The loss sent Mir into the first three-fight tailspin of his 12-year career. Yet Kawa believes the 34-year-old heavyweight, who three fights ago challenged for the UFC title, "definitely" plans to continue fighting.
"He has a couple more fights in him," Kawa said. "If you look at his career, he doesn't have 40 fights. He's a guy, for as long as he's been in this game, that doesn't have that many fights compared to everyone else. So we'll look for a fight for him and see if we can get him back in the cage as soon as possible."
Guida's next step
The featherweight campaign of Clay Guida fell to a shaky 1-1 start following the 31-year-old's third-round TKO loss to Chad Mendes at UFC 164.
Guida's drop down in weight, which was initially intended to revive his fading 155-pound contendership after a widely-panned bout against Gray Maynard, has thus far delivered rocky results, especially considering the polarizing nature of Guida's lone split decision win against Hatsu Hioki.
Kawa admits, he isn't yet sure of Guida's next step or whether the featherweight experiment will become a permanent move.
"I don't know. That's something that the team is going to discuss this week. We'll figure it out," Kawa said.
"I think he's a force in the 145-pound weight class, and for as long as he wants to fight, I think he deserves another shot. It goes to show you how good Chad Mendes is. He knocked out a guy who's never been knocked out in forty-something fights. Think about that for a second."
Condit in the title hunt
Lost in UFC 164's post-fight misery is the fact that one of Kawa's other clients, welterweight bruiser Carlos Condit, put on a sterling performance earlier in the week. Condit avenged a loss and snapped a two-fight losing streak, violently knocking out Martin Kampmann in the main event of UFC Fight Night 27.
"I think Carlos is definitely going to fight somebody who is a No. 1 contender somewhere," Kawa said following Condit's victory. "He has to. I don't know anyone else that realistically is that guy, especially after that win over Martin Kampmann."
Condit is currently the No. 2 ranked welterweight on the UFC's official rankings. The only two men ahead of him, champion Georges St-Pierre and No. 1 ranked Johny Hendricks, are scheduled to collide November 16 at UFC 167.
Condit has a past history with both men, however Kawa believes the road to either rematch exists, regardless of the outcome this upcoming winter.
"If Johny Hendricks wins the belt, I think definitely Carlos can make a statement to get in there and fight Johny Hendricks," Kawa said. "I don't think anybody doubts that if that fight would've went five rounds, Carlos would've probably ended up finishing Johny. And it was a really good fight as well.
"But if Georges beat Johny, I would think that Carlos needs one more big win over somebody," he continued. "Here's the bottom line. I don't think that if Rory MacDonald beats Robbie Lawler, he's gets the next shot. And let's say he doesn't want to fight Georges and that whole scenario starts happening, then what? Then I think you get that rematch to happen between Carlos and Rory for the No. 1 spot. And if Carlos beats him, and beats him impressively, then I think we can argue a fight for the rematch."