All Lauren Murphy wanted was to be able to focus on fighting and not worry about the other aspects of the sport.
Sponsorships? Matchmaking? Fight purse? Important, of course, but when you’re already a late bloomer in the world of professional martial arts, every second counts and having a manager to help you handle those aspects can make your life a lot easier.
Not having to focus on those concerns certainly worked out for Murphy at first as she began her pro career with eight consecutive wins, capped off by a hard-fought championship victory over Miriam Nakamoto at Invicta FC 7 back in December 2013. That battle ended in the fourth round when Nakamoto was unable to continue due to a knee injury. Regardless, the result was a TKO-win for Murphy and she became the inaugural Invicta bantamweight champion in her last fight before signing with the UFC.
Murphy’s career was soaring. Up next was a fight with Sara McMann, who was fresh off of challenging Ronda Rousey for the UFC championship. That fight ended in a split decision loss for Murphy and she would drop a subsequent bout to Liz Carmouche by decision as well, but at the end of the day Murphy was right there with the bantamweight elite, not to mention collecting UFC checks.
Little did she know that her coffers weren’t quite as full as they should have been.
During this period of competitive growth, Murphy was disappointed to see that some of her sponsors had yet to deliver payment, or at least that’s what her then-manager told her. Murphy grew suspicious that something was up, so she took it upon herself to call one of the companies, the now-defunct athlete social media platform SQOR, and ask where her money was.
Murphy recently brought attention to this past drama on Twitter and she recounted the story in greater detail to MMA Fighting.
“Finally, I contacted SQOR myself and I was like, ‘Hey, you need to pay me. What the hell is going on?’ Murphy said.
“They said, ‘We did pay you. We have an invoice, we can show you that we paid you.’
“And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I never got that money.’
“So that’s when I started putting it together and then I called all my sponsors and started collecting invoices and just told them who I was and that I wanted records of how much they had paid out to me and as I started going back I realized that almost none of the numbers matched.”
It didn’t take long for Murphy to realize it wasn’t her sponsors who had been withholding her pay. It was her manager.
She’d had her suspicions. Especially after one incident where she called one of her sponsors to thank them and her manager “freaked out”.
“He was like, ‘Don’t call your sponsors. It makes me look really bad, don’t ever contact them’ and for me that was a really big red flag,” Murphy said. “I was like, ‘Why not?’ I should be allowed to call my sponsors. Him freaking out was actually the big red flag that made me start thinking that something could be off.”
Murphy eventually learned that her manager had been holding out on her for almost a year, but she didn’t have proof until the SQOR conversation. From there, she built her case with the help of Danny Rubenstein, now her current manager, who looked over the facts and advised her on how to proceed so she could get out of her contract.
When she finally confronted her old manager, he initially threatened legal action before backing down.
“I called the guy and I just told him, ‘Here’s the proof that I have. I know that you’ve been stealing from me, you haven’t been doing your job,’ here’s some other things that I was unhappy about that he had done, but those were all kind of side things,” Murphy said. “The main point was he’s been stealing money from me, ‘I have proof, so I want you to release me from this contract right now. I’m done with you.’
“At first he resisted and he threatened to take me to court and so I told him, ‘Go ahead and f*king take me to court. I will stand in front of a judge and show him all this proof that you’ve been breaching this contract and you’ve been stealing from me this entire time’ and when I said that, he said, ‘Okay, I’ll release you from your contract.’”
Murphy has moved on and has nothing but praise for Rubenstein, who she describes as having ‘gone above and beyond’ in his duties since signing her. Entering year nine of her pro career, Murphy has some wisdom to impart on her fellow fighters, specifically in regards to finding a manager one can trust.
Along with that, she recommends finding someone that’s connected and that offers an equal return to what they’re being compensated (whether it’s strictly monetary or in the form of gear sponsors, nutritionists, pre-made meals, or other perks). Murphy also contests the notion that the Reebok-UFC partnership made managers obsolete, with some fighters wondering why they would need one if they were now beholden to one sponsor on their walks to the Octagon.
“With the Reebok deal there was a lot of talk about not needing managers anymore because managers traditionally find sponsors and that was kind of what they were used for,” Murphy said. “Reebok came along and a lot of sponsors were out the window.
“I do think that having a manager is still important in MMA because if you think about it from the UFC’s point of view, it’s way easier for the UFC to talk to one manager about 20 fighters than it is for that matchmaker to go to 20 separate fighters about 10 different matchups. Fighters have to realize that it makes sense for the UFC to use managers to not only find fighters, but then to also get them matched up and talk about matchups and talk about pay, because for Sean Shelby or Mick Maynard or even a matchmaker in LFA or Invicta or whatever, it just saves time, it’s more efficient for the matchmakers to discuss those things.”
Currently, Murphy is on the mend after having foot surgery in August. She was supposed to be ready to compete in early 2019 and actually booked a fight with Ashlee Evans-Smith for Feb. 17, only to withdraw due to complications from the injury. She’s hoping to be cleared by the end of January and have another fight lined up soon.
There’s been no drama with the UFC over her decision to take the fight and then withdraw so shortly after due to the fact that the UFC was given plenty of time to find a replacement opponent for Evans-Smith (Andrea Lee ended up taking Murphy’s spot) and Murphy’s solid working relationship with the promotion. Much of that has to do with Murphy having someone she can trust to speak for her and advise her in these situations.
“It’s a weird spot for me to be in to be like, let me tell you what you guys should do or to think that I know the business,” Murphy said. “Because my job is to fight, my job is not to know the business. I’ve learned about the business through experience and through making mistakes and trying to learn from those mistakes. But we hire managers to know the business for us.”