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After angry back-and-forth with promoter, MMA fighter Tariq Ismail released by Canada’s TKO

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Tariq Ismail
Serge Cloutier

It wasn’t an amicable parting of ways, but Tariq Ismail and Stephane Patry can at least wash their hands of each other for now.

First covered by MMAjunkie, Ismail, a 28-year-old bantamweight fighter based out of Toronto, recently went on the offensive against Patry, the longtime promoter of Canada’s TKO Major League MMA promotion, citing a number of personal and professional grievances in the hopes of securing his release.

Since that story’s publication, Patry has agreed to release Ismail, making the announcement official in the comments of Ismail’s Facebook page. As it stands, Ismail (4-0) is now a free agent who is currently in talks with other promotions with the expectation that he will be available to compete this April.

“Get lost Tariq, we already fired you,” Patry wrote. “You’re released. You are free to go do your bullshit, boring fights and antics somewhere else... .”

Though Ismail confirmed with MMA Fighting that he no longer has a contract with Patry, he isn’t letting his former employer off the hook.

“This is bigger than my release now,” Ismail said. “It’s no longer about my release because I’m fully released. It’s more about the shady practices that have happened and were unnecessary. They did not need to happen. The guy could have just been professional and he chose to go the other way, so I just want to shed light on this part of the sport and I want him to be humbled.

“I want him to understand that we’re all in this business to grow, whether it is for you profitably or for a fighter as a champion or whatever motivates you. But don’t be shady, that’s my biggest thing.”

The heart of Ismail’s complaint revolves around what he believes to be unfair business practices on the part of Patry. He accuses Patry of failing to find him suitable opponents with a reasonable amount of time to prepare and threatening to trigger contract clauses that would keep Ismail employed, but on the shelf indefinitely.

MMA Fighting reached out to Patry, who declined to comment further on the matter, instead providing a detailed statement that was originally referred to by MMAjunkie. In the statement, he admitted that his relationship with Ismail has “not always been smooth” and wrote, “I always treat all the athletes that compete under our banner with the utmost respect, but Tariq Ismail has been so disrespectful of myself, of the organization and of some of my staff that it makes it very hard to have respect for him.”

Tensions between Ismail and Patry sparked shortly after Ismail’s first fight for TKO last March. In his first MMA fight after a four-year layoff (during which he recovered from ACL surgery and worked a full-time job), Ismail won a unanimous decision and shortly after would be called upon as a short-notice replacement to fight then-TKO bantamweight champion Jesse Arnett.

According to Patry, the bout was offered to Ismail on April 25, nine days before fight night. Ismail estimated he would have had to cut about 30 pounds to be eligible to compete for the title and his coaches advised that he ask for a larger purse. Ismail asked Patry for $10,000 to take the fight.

Patry’s counter-offer, per Ismail, was $5,000 plus $1,500 to win. He would also sign Ismail to a new four-year contract with an escalating salary (Ismail says his pay would be bumped up about $1,000 per fight). That was not convincing enough for Ismail, who Patry says declined without further explanation.

“He turned it down on April 26, 2018 noting he could not make weight yet stated he would take the fight for double the amount we had offered,” Patry wrote. “How the additional funds would enable him to make weight is a mystery and was not explained. His counteroffer was declined that same day and another fighter competed in his stead.”

Pressed for details, Ismail said that he needed greater incentive if he were to attempt such a difficult weight cut, not to mention to take on an opponent of Arnett’s caliber with little time to prepare. Regardless, the damage was done and Ismail says that was the “turning point” in his relationship with Patry.

While Ismail waited for his next fight, he signed up for a boxing tournament in Jamaica that promised a $20,000 prize for the winner. Ismail got past his first-round opponent, but had to bow out when he was informed that he was not allowed to compete outside of TKO without the promotion’s permission.

“As it pertains to the boxing tournament, Tariq never requested permission to compete in it and did so without our knowledge even though he was under an exclusive promotional contract with us,” Patry wrote. “It was only after his first fight in said tournament that a member of our staff read about it on social media and brought it to my attention.”

Though Patry was eventually able to book an opponent for Ismail to compete in August, Ismail claims that was only after he’d been given the runaround with the promise of another opponent who ended up retiring. Patry says that fighter’s management had agreed to the bout only to find out later that their client decided to “suspend his MMA career.”

Instead, Ismail would go on to beat Manny Alfaro in August and then call for another fight with Arnett. This led to yet another dispute with Patry as Arnett had recently lost his TKO championship to Nate Maness, meaning a bout between Ismail and Arnett would be a non-title affair. That also meant less money and less prestige for Ismail.

Ismail expected that an offer to fight Arnett on Dec. 7 would at least be comparable to what was offered in their first aborted meeting, but it turned out to be considerably lower. He was still interested in fighting for the title or at least challenging a contender coming off of a win. However, any bout with Arnett would again require a substantial payout.

“I called out Jesse Arnett so obviously I want to fight him, but man, you’ve got to make it worth my while,” Ismail said. “We can take punishment to a point where I could be out for a couple of years because someone tore my ACL or I could be concussed or whatever might happen to me.

“I’m not going to fight the number one ranked [guy] in Canada for a $2,000 paycheck when you offered me originally 5, and 6, and 7K to fight this guy.”

Ismail would not make another appearance for TKO following the Alfaro fight, and he accused Patry of later sending him a contract extension on New Year’s Eve that essentially threatened to sideline him. He says Patry would be able to extend his contract indefinitely so long as he kept offering opponents, even if they happened to be short-notice bouts that Ismail wasn’t likely to accept.

In his statement, Patry addressed this claim:

“Regarding [Ismail’s] statement that we offer fights we know will be turned down just so we can extend a fighter’s contract, what can I say other than it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Patry wrote. “As you can see [from the second attempted Arnett booking], he asked for a certain opponent, we offered him the fight with a full camp and he turned it down.

“As a promotion, we invest in our fighters’ individual brands and we aim to protect that investment. There is indeed a clause in our standard contract that allows to extend it should the fighter turn down a fight or suffer an injury. That provision has only been applied three times since TKO’s inception almost 20 years ago: once due to an injury, twice due to turning down a fight with a full camp.”

As his feud with Patry escalated, Ismail claims the promoter used abusive language in their conversations as Ismail pushed to end their working relationship. Patry’s closing statement on the matter included this line, “We are certainly done working with this loose cannon that doesn’t care about anyone else but himself,” which does indicate a degree of personal animosity between Ismail and Patry.

Ismail maintains that he’s glad to no longer have professional ties with Patry, but is speaking out as a word of caution to others.

“From my side, I did everything I could to not let this get to this level, but this guy has a chip on his shoulder because he created a promotion and had people like Georges St-Pierre and David Loiseau and Ivan Menjivar and whoever’s the who’s who in Canadian MMA go through their promotion,” Ismail said. “So he thinks that he is a man of honor or some shit when he never got into this sport or into my cage not even once demonstrating this. He doesn’t know how hard it is to be a professional fighter.”

“This is a sport that one day you are up, the other day you are low,” he continued. “So I don’t care about people’s opinions. I’m a prize fighter, pay me for my time. That’s what I give a shit about.”