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The man behind ‘Mystic Mac’

In eight years, former UCLA football player Audie Attar has gone from neophyte MMA manager to Conor McGregor’s agent in perhaps the biggest money combat sports event of all time.

Audie Attar founded Paradigm Sports Management eight years ago and is now one of combat sports’ most powerful agents.
Esther Lin, Showtime

IRVINE, Calif. -- Your typical high-level college athlete is so focused on the sport of their choosing that life after their playing days is at best an afterthought.

But Audie Attar, the founder of Paradigm Sports Management, didn't even wait to step onto a collegiate football field before demonstrating that a future career in sports agency beckoned.

Attar, an All-American defensive back his senior year at Claremont High School in suburban Los Angeles, de-committed from the University of Colorado and instead signed with UCLA. Immediately upon joining his hometown program, where he converted to linebacker, he started working the phones, prodding his future teammates to shore up their commitments.

“I wanted my team to be good, so I started picking up the phone and building relationships with the guys I was recruited with,” said Attar, sitting in an office outfitted with football memorabilia in a modest Orange County industrial park. “DeShaun Foster. Robert Thomas, Lovell Houston. Then we became friends. I got DeShaun Foster to come, I got Robert Thomas to come, I got Lovell Houston to come.”

During Attar’s time at UCLA, the Bruins won a Pac-10 championship and made appearances in the Rose Bowl and the Sun Bowl. But an idea what his days beyond the gridiron might hold had been planted in his head, one which eventually led him to helping guide Conor McGregor’s career to transcendent status.

“At that point, the team was like, ‘This guy’s a recruit agent, you’re going to be an agent,’” Attar said. “They start putting that in my head and I’m like ‘Nah, I’m playing football.’ But in the back of my mind I’m like, ‘Maybe I will when I’m done playing. You know?’ It planted a seed.”

Heading into the biggest night of his most popular client’s professional life, Attar allowed himself just one moment to take it all in.

As anyone who has followed mixed martial arts longer than a day can tell you, McGregor is the man who ignored all the norms and set new standards in the sport, both in and out of the cage, confounding a galaxy of naysayers along the way.

They said the Dublin native was a product of hype and the beneficiary of favorable matchmaking, all the way up to the point he won the UFC featherweight championship, ending the six-year lineal reign of Jose Aldo in 13 seconds flat at UFC 194 in 2015.

They said no one could simultaneously hold two weight-class titles in the UFC, and some insisted he shouldn’t even be allowed to try. Then, just 11 months after finishing Aldo, McGregor vanquished Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden to claim the lightweight belt.

Attar (left) and McGregor during the MayMac World Tour last month.
Scott Hirano, Showtime

In between, McGregor fought and lost to Nate Diaz, then won the rematch, with both fights contested at welterweight. They comprised two of the biggest pay-per-view events in UFC history.

Even with such a track record, nearly everyone outside the inner circle thought the idea that McGregor would not only coax Floyd Mayweather out of retirement for a boxing match -- and earn MMA’s first nine-figure payday -- was daft, but just as ludicrous was the notion that a fighter would be allowed to co-promote with the UFC.

But there was McGregor last week at an open workout, training for Mayweather in a boxing ring with a mat that read both “UFC” and “McGregor Sports & Entertainment.”

With that as his timeline, when Attar recently landed in Las Vegas to do work for the Mayweather-McGregor bout on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena, he allowed himself a quick moment to appreciate how far things have progressed.

Less than eight years after launching Paradigm, Attar, at age 37, oversees a burgeoning sports empire that includes MMA fighters McGregor, Michael Bisping, Chris Weidman, Stephen Thompson, Gunnar Nelson, and Lorenz Larkin. His stick-and-ball sports clients include Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and basketball veteran Matt Barnes.

Enjoying #UFC210 with my guys Jimi @posterboyjm Manuwa and Stephen @wonderboymma Thompson

A post shared by Audie A. Attar (@audieattar) on

“You have some ‘ah-ha’ moments,” Attar said. “I was talking to [former UFC majority owner] Lorenzo Fertitta about this at the gym, he was like, ‘I was just rolling down the freeway and I saw a billboard and was like, ‘God, this is really happening,’ and was like ‘you must feel the same way.’ And I was like, ‘I do, I got to Vegas, I got to baggage claim and it was like, ’Welcome to Las Vegas’ [and then] ’Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor’ up here. I was like, ‘Wow, we’re making history here.’”

But Attar didn’t allow himself much more than that one brief moment.

“I’m really trying to keep my head down and not look at the scoreboard,” Attar said. “It’s one of those things, its just not looking at the scoreboard. If I look at this point, I think I gotta work harder to make sure I keep it and grow it.”

Attar’s time with the UCLA football program did not come to a happy conclusion. In an incident which garnered plenty of local headlines, he was involved in an altercation at a bar in Westwood, near the UCLA campus.

It was in the months after the 9/11 attacks, when Muslim-Americans too often found themselves on the wrong end of misdirected rage. Attar, who was born in Baghdad and lived in Texas before finally settling in Southern California, was raised by a family which appreciated American opportunity in a manner only an enterprising immigrant family can, was fiercely proud of both his adopted homeland and his Iraqi heritage.

So when a bar patron insulted Attar with an anti-Muslim slur, the gloves came off.

“Our society changed,” Attar said. “The way I was looked at changed. One thing led to another and it turned into an altercation. So, here I am saying I’m defending myself, but as a high-level, testosterone-fueled athlete, you have more strength, so, the fight didn’t last too long. But then that causes issues and people tried to take advantage of that situation. It just led to the dismissal of me from the team.”

Attar was given the option of staying on scholarship but not playing his senior year. Instead, he opted to play in what was then called Division I-AA ball, transferring to Idaho State. There, he was a key part of a defense which included future five-time NFL Pro Bowler Jared Allen, as the team won a share of the Big Sky Conference title after losing seasons in 15 of the previous 18 years and never winning more than six games the other three.

“Something about it all felt right,” Attar said. “I had my instinct and my energy and my own self-belief. I went in there, we’re going to win a championship, we’re going to win the playoffs, they’re like ‘he’s f*cking crazy.’

“Not to mention you’re from Iraq, because that never leaves you. I’m very in tune with my Iraqi heritage, and I’m proud of that. Here I am with everything changing around me, at times you feel like an outsider trying to prove myself. That’s not a fun feeling. That’s not a fun feeling to feel like people don’t trust you, they think different of you in a negative way. But you have to be proud and hold your head up high and be confident and walk through life.”

It’s not like Paradigm — which Attar named as a reminder of his personal paradigm shift from hotheaded underachiever to focused professional — immediately sprang to the forefront of the MMA management business. After his UCLA teammates stuck up for him and demanded the reinstatement of his scholarship, Attar returned to Westwood and finished his degree in sociology after his semester at Idaho State. He then got his MBA from Pepperdine business school and a Masters Certificate in dispute resolution from Pepperdine Law.

Attar went to work in a traditional sports agency for a few years before breaking out on his own. It wasn’t an overnight success. Veteran Chris Lytle, who was on his way out, and Roger Bowling, a plucky gamer who never quite made it over the top, were his first two MMA clients.

“You do things brick by brick,” Attar said. “MMA was wide open. I felt like I was differentiating enough in a mature market with football, but it felt like time to apply that to MMA and get out and completely change MMA.”

Attar on stage during the MayMac World Tour.
Esther Lin, Showtime

But Attar knew he was on to something when he was first put in touch with McGregor. The Dublin, Ireland native held the featherweight and lightweight titles in the Cage Warriors promotion and had just signed for his UFC debut, which ended up being a swift knockout of Marcus Brimage at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in Sweden in April 2013.

“People were like, ‘You should look at him, he’s really special,’” Attar said. “We looked at some clips from Cage Warriors, and I watched him and I was like, ‘This kid is something else.’ His hand-eye coordination, his depth perception, his ability to get in and out and land shots so cleanly. I thought he was very, very special. And for a 145er I’m like, ‘This guy is f*cking huge.’ Size, speed, age, everything you want about the kid was there.”

Attar’s not going to say he instantly saw McGregor as a once-in-a-generation supernova, but looking back, he recognizes the path was already being paved in the earliest days of their relationship.

“There wasn’t charisma like he’s portrayed now,” Attar said. “I would tell you that the first time we’re on the phone, he’s funny. He’s just funny, a charismatic personality and then he beats Brimage and does the ‘60Gs, baby’ [in reference to his post-fight bonus] that was funny, and you start to see bits and pieces of it.”

McGregor is, well, notorious for keeping a tight circle of close confidantes. People aren’t let into his inner circle easily. But he was confident from the get-go his relationship with Attar was something on which he could build.

“It just grew,” McGregor told MMA Fighting after his recent workout. “You just click with people from a business standpoint and there’s been many ups and downs, as well, to figure out what the relationship was and how we were going to move forward.”

Every time Attar hits inevitable rough patches in the business, which are especially pronounced in a Wild West game like mixed martial arts, he steps back and reminds himself that he’s been through worse.

Attar lost his father, Adil, three years ago at age 73. That’s always tough, but at least there’s the small consolation that losing an aging parent is a natural part of the life cycle. Attar’s deepest loss was of his brother, Eddie. While Attar prefers not to get into specifics, Eddie Attar passed at age 24, when Attar was a teen, a loss which cut him to his core.

“You get to these points in your life and you’re not a baby anymore and everything that happens with these people, and you’re like, ‘F*ck, I’m that person now,’” Attar said. “[Loss of loved ones is] a very powerful thing all of us experience at one point or another, but it’s what we do with that energy and experience that can determine a healthy way forward or an unhealthy way forward.

"My brother has been gone more than half my life — I was 15, he was 24 when we lost him,” he continued. “His name is Edward Layth Attar, we called him Eddie. It was tough. It was the toughest thing I've experienced. But it made me who I am and I will forever cherish our time together carrying his name and legacy with me in this life. I won't rest until I fulfill both of our dreams.”

Enjoyed my time yesterday with the fam watching Ava's pre-school end of year recital

A post shared by Audie A. Attar (@audieattar) on

McGregor’s relationship with the UFC hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Most famously, McGregor announced a brief retirement in April 2016 and the UFC pulled him from what was scheduled to be a UFC 200 main event rematch with Nate Diaz, after McGregor bristled at doing a media tour.

Not only was the relationship repaired, but it never reached the depths of many of the disputes between the UFC and star fighters, which often sink to gratuitous, ad hominem insults.

In these situations, Attar relies on a mental gut check developed from his darkest days.

“Nothing could f*cking break me if I live through that,” Attar said. “You can turn on a weird face through this f*cked up experience, but we all gotta go through it. ... We all have to have a moment where you straighten up, self-motivate, even self-encourage at times, or even self-muzzle yourself. It’s not like life’s been a f*cking breeze ever since. You have moments, like, slap yourself real quick, because this ain’t sh*t compared to that.”

Attar says he’s never once told McGregor that an idea of his was crazy.

Not when McGregor started flaunting his newfound wealth, a steady progression from gold pocket watches to “elephant trunk” ivory suits to sports cars to rental mansions during fight camps. Nor whenever McGregor verbally unloaded on anyone hapless enough to get in his way during a press conference, as Jeremy Stephens can forever attest.

This applies to the big-picture ideas as well. Attar wasn’t about to stop McGregor when McGregor said he wanted to pursue championships in two weight classes. Nor was he going to discourage “Mystic Mac” when it seemed the entire world was writing off the notion of a Mayweather fight as crazy.

“Never doubt your client’s own confidence in what they want to do,” Attar said. “Going back to when I was a young athlete, that was my belief. You couldn’t tell me any different. To compete at that level, you gotta have that self-belief. You gotta have that conviction in your own dreams. If that’s really what you want, you need to work for it.

“Conor saying, ‘I’m going to win two belts,’ that’s big. If he’s going to believe, I’m going to believe. So I think what’s interesting is in my life and in my company, you don’t always attract the right people. The ones who stick around, they gravitate to each other for the right reasons. You stay with each other for performance and good business, but you gravitate to each other because you think the same way.”

Even so, Attar admits he privately had a healthy dose of skepticism when the Mayweather idea was first bandied about. Not for a lack of self-belief on McGregor’s part, mind you. Mayweather just happened be retired for more than a year and, at first, there was no real indication he was inclined to return to the ring.

But then the evidence slowly started mounting.

“They start the social media banter, and you see, engagement is through the roof, that’s the first thing you look at,” Attar said. “You look at Conor’s engagement, Floyd’s engagement, then the media picks it up and it’s trending. That was the first point in time where I’m like, ‘This sh*t is real. It’s really real.’ When you start to research it, you’re like, there’s no f*cking way. But you can’t think that way. Anything is possible.”

Esther Lin, Showtime

From there, the snowball started rolling downhill and picking up steam. Given the magnitude of the event, it’s almost amazing how quickly came together. The parties involved, from Mayweather to McGregor to Showtime to the UFC, aren’t exactly known to give much ground on anything. But they’ve all been publicly complimentary of the process of making the fight, keeping whatever disputes that may have popped up along the way under wraps.

Attar is no exception.

“It felt really organic and it went rather smoothly,” Attar said. “There’s always going to be issues, it wasn’t all fun and games, you know? But ultimately I focus on the positive, because ultimately we’re sitting here three weeks away from the biggest fight in combat sports history going down. I think that when you have intelligent people having honest conversations about business, in this situation calmer heads prevailed.”

As the days wind down toward an event that is expected to make a run at the title of biggest money fight in history, a certain groupthink has emerged on McGregor’s mindset heading into the fight:

McGregor has nothing to lose. He’s the one fighting under Mayweather’s rules. Besides, he’s going to make so much money on this fight, he’ll never have to work another day in his life.

Attar, for his part, will have none of this talk.

“He likes challenges no one’s ever done before,” Attar said. “‘I’m going to go challenge the best boxer arguably of our time, I’m feeling f*cking amazing.’ He’s not going in there thinking, ‘I have nothing to lose,’ he’s going in thinking, ‘I have a point to prove.’ What people don’t understand about Conor, people go, ‘Will he ever fight again? He’s making so much money.’ The dude is so ambitious, we are so ambitious, we’re just getting started. We did not come here just to get this far.”

The man who’ll step between the ropes in Las Vegas on Aug. 26 concurs.

“Patience is the thing,” McGregor said. “We don’t rush into nothing. Again, we know our worth. We know what we bring. That’s what a true agent should do — he should know his athlete’s worth. It’s been a great partnership, it’s a great journey. And long may it continue.”

Marc Raimondi contributed to this story with reporting from Las Vegas.


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