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WSOF exec Ali Abdel-Aziz talks Thiago Silva, shady managers in MMA

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Few fighters had a more chaotic 2014 campaign than Thiago Silva. The veteran light heavyweight lost his job with the UFC not just once, but twice because of the fallout from a Feb. 6 incident with Broward County police. Silva was eventually acquitted of all charges once investigators determined that the victim in his case, ex-wife Thaysa Kamiji, was "uncooperative" and "moved out of the country." The ruling allowed Silva to briefly regain his UFC employment, however he promptly lost it again after Kamiji posted videos online in which she claimed Silva was on drugs and carrying a gun.

Silva (16-3, 2 NC) ultimately landed in World Series of Fighting, and it's there that he'll make his return to the cage this Saturday at WSOF 19. Coincidentally, Silva will be fighting against Matt Hamill, the very same man Silva fought his last time out in Oct. 2013. The winner will receive a shot at the inaugural WSOF light heavyweight title, and WSOF executive vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz appeared on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour to explain why his company decided to give Silva a second chance.

"I think Thiago Silva is a guy who put his mark on the sport and I think he is a great fighter," Abdel-Aziz said. "Like I said, the courts didn't find him guilty. There was a lot of talk, a lot of speculating that he did some things, but at the end of the day, when he went in front of the judge, he was [acquitted]. Like me, I don't really judge when I don't have proof or I don't know 100-percent. Other people, they jump and judge."

In the grand scheme of things, the signing of Silva wasn't particularly surprising given that the Brazilian is a relatively known commodity and was a borderline contender for seven years inside the UFC, headlining several shows and even a pay-per-view. Silva, however, has been all but silent since WSOF's announcement, and even now, on the week of his return fight, the 32-year-old has yet to formally address the turmoil of his past year -- a fact which Abdel-Aziz isn't pleased with.

"I gave him [a chance] to fight for the title, I think he's a great fighter, he comes from a great camp, but he's not the easiest person to work with," Abdel-Aziz said.

"He didn't want to do any interviews. He's worried about people asking questions about what happened, and it made me nervous, because if this guy is going to fight for a world title, and you're going to be a world champion, there comes a lot of P.R. obligations, and I need guys who not only can fight, I need guys who can also promote. This is why you see a lot of guys out there promoting, and I need these type of guys. It's not only about fighting anymore in MMA. It's about fighting and promoting together."

WSOF 19 goes down this weekend in Phoenix, AZ at the Comerica Theatre. The show will air live on NBC Sports Network and is headlined by one of WSOF's most intriguing attractions, as lightweight champion Justin Gaethje takes on free-swinging slugger Luis Palomino in the second official defense of his 155-pound belt.

Another win by Gaethje and many will continue to wonder where he ranks among the top-15 lightweights in the world -- a division which underwent massive upheaval earlier this month when Rafael dos Anjos stunned Anthony Pettis to steal away the UFC lightweight title at UFC 185. Abdel-Aziz is, of course, familiar with dos Anjos. His management team, Dominance MMA, signed the Brazilian some time ago.

As a dual manager and promoter, Abdel-Aziz holds a unique perspective on the challenges fighters face in navigating today's MMA waters. He posted an ominous tweet earlier this month promising to release "a statement about managers who steal income tax from foreign fighters." His lawyer quickly shut that idea down, however Abdel-Aziz elaborated a bit this week regarding his intentions.

"Right now, the UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting, we all have to educate our fighters," Abdel-Aziz said

"This is something that happened recently. Confidential things got signed and I've been told not to mention any names, but what happened, what the managers do, they open a joint bank account between them and the fighters in America. You have [fighters] living in Russia or in Brazil, and after that, all the checks, sponsor checks or some even promotional checks, UFC checks or World Series of Fighting checks, they go directly to this manager's account. All the fighters don't have access to that account because they live in Brazil or they live in Russia. And what happens? The manager, he has an address for him here in America, he'll go ahead at the end of the year, file for income tax checks.

"If you're an MMA fighter, do not have a joint bank account with your manager," Abdel-Aziz continued. "Your management is not your father, is not your mother. The manager works for the fighters. The fighters do not work for the management. Listen, there are some good honest managers out there.

"And there's a lot of bad ones. A lot of scumbags. Now all fighters have to open their eyes. Sponsorships, income tax checks, especially with foreign fighters -- Chechen fighters and Dagestani fighters are being charged 30-percent of their purse, and after they have to pay the government 30-percent? What do they keep? Forty-percent, and they get their income tax even from there. Even Brazilian fighters. I think a lot of these foreign fighters, they need to open their eyes. You can make good money in MMA, but you write a check for the managers. Don't let the managers write you a check."

Given his current position, Abdel-Aziz understood how his words could be interpreted as a pitch for fighters to jump ship to his management team, however he emphasized that was not his intent. He simply hopes to see more fighters making the right decisions when it comes to managing their finances.

"I'm not saying this to publicize [us]," Abdel-Aziz said. "The door is closed. Dominance MMA, the team told me they're done, they're not going to sign anymore guys. It's not like this interview is done to promote Dominance MMA or anything like that. Nothing about Dominance MMA. Just about the sport of MMA and how the sport grows.

"I think it's going to be awesome when the fighters start taking control of their own career."

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