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Jorge Masvidal claims he was negotiating own contracts before split with longtime manager

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Abe Kawa (second from left) and Jorge Masvidal
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Two-time UFC title challenger Jorge Masvidal said he cut loose his longtime management firm when he decided he didn’t need them to negotiate his deals.

On Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Masvidal indicated he wasn’t getting his money’s worth and decided on a “100 percent split” with First Round Management this past December. Masvidal was part of a star roster that once included UFC champs Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson, but he said he is now “basically” self-managed.

“The last three, four years, I’ve been negotiating my contracts,” Masvidal said. “I’ve been getting on the plane and going over there to Vegas and sitting down in front of [UFC COO] Hunter [Campbell], sitting down in front of [UFC President] Dana [White] and saying like, ‘Well this is my worth, and this is why I think so.’ And then they tell me to go f*** and fly a kite, and then we have another meeting next week, and then we talk, and then we come to the agreements.

“I told [FRM co-owner] Abe [Kawa] ... ‘If I got to get on the plane and put 10.5 hours on my back and take that off from training to go over there and talk to somebody, why am I giving you the percentage again? Because you don’t set up my training. You don’t pay for my training. You don’t step in the cage. Like, what what am I doing? You’re setting up interviews. Oh, you’re talking to Ariel Helwani for me? No. You know you got to do a little bit more than that.’ They were like, ‘Well, if you want this type of money, you gotta get in front of Dana. You got to get in front of Hunter. You gotta talk to these guys.’ I get that. But now do you get me? Why am I gonna pay hundreds of thousands of dollars when I’m the one that’s talking to the head honchos over here.”

FRM’s Kawa declined comment on Masvidal’s interview when contacted by MMA Fighting. Kawa also declined to confirm any pending lawsuits with the UFC star, which could not immediately be confirmed via online court records. The fighter and management firm launched the bare-knuckle MMA iKON Fighting Championship promotion; FRM football agent Peter Ariz currently is a corporate manager of Cosmic Funds LLC, which according to online records is a corporate manager of iKON.

“I don’t owe them any money,” Masvidal said of his longtime reps. “They don’t owe me any money, but there’s other things that have affected the relationship severely that they could fix, or they could have fixed by now. But they haven’t, you know, so I’m just waiting for these things to get resolved and we’ll see what happens, and hopefully, you know, they see the light and they make my life easier so I can make their life easier, you know?”

Masvidal is not the first MMA star to vent about the necessity of management, or even the first to complain about his former management firm. In 2017, then-UFC bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling said his exit from FRM came after he struggled to get sponsors for a 2014 fight with ex-champ Renan Barao.

“What they told me was, ‘Look, the phone’s not ringing off the hook for you,’” Sterling told MMAjunkie. “But if that’s how they look at it, what am I paying them for? Just to pick up the phone when it rings?”

In response to Sterling’s complaints, FRM CEO Malki Kawa said he had “nothing against” Sterling but severed their business relationship.

“Sometimes personalities clash,” Kawa said. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to let a fighter go, and it probably won’t be the last.”

A 2020 survey of MMA fighters conducted by The Athletic, 44 percent said MMA managers didn’t adequately represent their interests. Dan Lambert, owner of American Top Team that Masvidal has long called home, cited long-term UFC contracts for eroding the manager/fighter relationship.

“You hear a lot of stories of the guys saying, ‘All the manager does is take a phone call and say he’ll take the fight and call me and say the fight’s on this date. And for that, he’s taken 10 percent,’” Lambert said. “I think it goes both ways. Some of these guys got short memories.”

Lambert also said before cooler heads and a working relationship developed, he once threatened to throw Kawa in a “dumpster outside the back wondering what happened during the last 12 hours of his life” for trying to solicit new clients at ATT. Kawa, who was once assaulted by fellow manager Ali Abdelaziz for allegedly spreading false rumors about an alleged sexual assault of a UFC employee, did not comment for The Athletic piece.

Masvidal thought he would remain with FRM for the rest of his career before his change of heart.

“Like if I made $1000 with you, I’m like, ‘Well then, let’s make $2000,’” he said. “And so I kept going and then, you know, s*** got f***** up somewhere along that I’m making all this money and producing all this money, and just s*** wasn’t going right, and I don’t want to really like talk about it right now, because a lot of it is like legal stuff.”

Before the UFC implemented an outfitting policy in 2015, sponsorships were a key revenue driver in the relationship between fighter and manager. Fighters often made several multiples of their in-cage pay; numerous managers became in-house reps for brands wishing to advertise inside the octagon, increasing the incentive to sign with them.

Masvidal said he’s now a free agent that can work with whomever he pleases.

“I’m working with a lot of managers, a lot of companies, there’s a lot of great managers out there,” he said. “This is no secret. I’ll say this...everybody knows FRM doesn’t have the best relations, or any relations, with any of the other managers. ... A lot of sponsors, they have their own way of doing stuff and it just doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. There’s a lot of people that weren’t talking or I had ... or not talking because they got beef with them.

“I’m talking to everybody now I’m having business. Every other f****** week, somebody’s trying to get me to go to lunch to pitch me on some f****** either movie script this, or sponsorship there, and it’s like OK, one door closed, but 2,000 windows opened. So I’m managing myself.”

Before signing on to meet Gilbert Burns at UFC 287, Masvidal said he needed to get his business in order, and that meant going out on his own.

“I’m gonna make sure all my ducks in a row and get back in there,” he said. “Because the last thing I want to think about is, ‘What am I gonna wear when I go dancing on my prom night?’ I just want to show up and dance, I just wanna f****** go.”

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