All good fighters know how to protect themselves inside the cage, but many fighters have limited or no knowledge of how to protect themselves outside the ring. The stories of fighters being taken advantage of are numerous. Everyone is quick to blame the unscrupulous con artists who uses their knowledge and experience to take advantage of the fighters, but some of the responsibility must rest upon with the fighters themselves. Just, as it is a fighter’s responsibility to take the time to learn how to protect themselves in the cage they have the same responsibility to learn how to take care of themselves outside the cage. There are some rules of self-defense in business matters that a fighter can follow that will help him or her avoid becoming a sad story, regardless of financial resources. A fighter must surround themself with the right people. Just as a fighter relies upon his corner men in the cage, outside the ring the fighter’s defense relies heavily on having the right people in his looking out for his best interest.
Understanding the difference between a manager and the promoter, and their respective duties and obligations is very important. Many people, not just fighters, are confused about the differences between the duties and obligations of a manager, and the duties and obligations of a promoter. There are fundamental differences that must be thoroughly understood for a fighter to be able to protect their reasonable expectations. The fighter’s manager is typically the fighter’s primary negotiator and representative agent. A manager typically has a fiduciary duty to his fighter, which means the manager must act in the fighter’s best interest, and the fighter has the right to trust the manager to work to advance and protect the interests of the fighter. One of a manager’s most important functions is to do his best to negotiate on behalf of the fighter to obtain for the fighter as much compensation as possible for each fight. In most cases, that means the manager is negotiating for the fighter and against the promoter of the fight, who is typically is attempting to pay the least he can for the services of the fighter to protect his profit. In many ways, the manager-fighter relationship is similar to the attorney-client relationship in that both managers and attorneys are obligated to fight on behalf of their “clients”, and to avoid conflicts of interest as much as possible. Typically, a manager’s compensation is, and should be, a percentage of the fighter’s compensation so that the manager’s financial interests are completely aligned with the fighter’s financial interests.
The relationship between a fighter and a promoter is fundamentally different from the relationship between a fighter and a manager. Whereas the relationship between a fighter and his manager is primarily a personal relationship based upon trust, the relationship between a fighter and a fight promoter is primarily a business relationship based upon economics. The promoter’s function is entirely different from the manager’s function. The promoter is the producer of the fighting event, not the representative of any of the participants. It is entirely proper for a promoter to attempt to maximize his own profit from each fight promotion, because the promoter is supposed to be the party that takes the financial risk of the fight promotion. Each fight promotion has projected revenues (profits) and projected expenses (risks). The promoter focus is on increasing his profit potential and decreasing his risk of loss by maximizing revenues and minimizing expenses. The primary way the promoter increases revenues is by “promoting” the fight, creating interest in the fight to maximize sales of tickets and on some occasion’s television viewership. By far, the greatest expenses of a fight promotion are the compensations paid to the fighters. Consequently, the primary way a promoter minimizes expenses to maximize profit is to pay each fighter as little as possible. The bottom line is that there is a limited “pot” of net revenues (total revenue minus expenses) available from each fight promotion. That “pot” in professional fights is divided among the promoter and the fighters based upon the bout agreements entered into between the promoter and the fighters. The more the fighter is paid, the less profit the promoter makes, and the less the fighter is paid, the more profit the promoter makes.
There is nothing wrong with this situation. It reflects the fundamental American economic ideal of free enterprise, but it also demonstrates that the economic interests of the promoter and the fighter with respect to any given fight are greatly opposed. A full understanding and acceptance of this reality is the first and necessary step for a fighter to take in protecting himself outside the ring. No matter how many times a promoter calls himself a fighter’s promoter; the fighter should not look to the promoter to protect his economic interests, which is the manager’s job. The promoter’s job is to promote the fight event, and, absent a contractual obligation to pay more, he has every right to try to make as much profit as possible by paying the fighter as little as the fighter and his manager will accept. As a result of this fundamental conflict of economic interests between the promoter and the fighter, the law does not impose upon a promoter a fiduciary duty, obligation of trust, to the fighter. In other words, the fighter has no legal right to expect the promoter to protect their interests. The law does typically impose upon the promoter an implied duty to perform his contractual obligations to the fighter in good faith and in a fair manner, but beyond that implied duty, the law typically does not create duties of the promoter to the fighter beyond the duties set forth in the promotional contract between the fighter and the promoter.
All of this is not to say or imply that a good promoter cannot help advance the career of a fighter signed to the promoter. However, a promoter often does have that ability although I have seen many promoters that have been able to help advance the fighter’s career and have done so for many fighters. Although the economic interests of the promoter and the fighter are in conflict with respect to the expense side of a promotion, in the long-term, the interests are somewhat aligned on the revenue side. The more a promoter can do to create interest in a fighter signed to the promoter, the more revenue the promoter can generate in future events and the more the promoter can afford to pay the fighter while still making a fair profit. On this aspect of the promotional relationship, the promoter and manager need to work together as a team on behalf of the fighter because the economic interests of the fighter, his manager, and the promoter are all advanced by building the popularity of the fighter, which ultimately increases the “pot”.
In summary, there are fundamental differences between the relationship of the fighter and his manager and the relationship of the fighter and the promoter. These differences do not make managers better or worse than promoters, they simply mean that the fighter needs to look for different things from the two. A promoter is fulfilling his obligations to a fighter when he is living up to his promotional contract. A manager is doing his job when he is making sure the promoter is living up to the promoter’s contractual obligations to the fighter. There are several consequences of these differences. Obviously, a manager must be knowledgeable and competent, but once that is established, the most important factor in choosing a manager is to determine whether he is trustworthy. The manager is the fighter’s representative; his loyalty must be unquestionable. No matter what a manager’s contract provides, if he is not truly on the side of the fighter, he will be in position to harm the fighter or allow the fighter to be taken advantage of by the promoter. Obviously, a promoter must be competent and have sufficient resources to be able to promote fights effectively, but once that is established, the most important factor in choosing a promoter is what the promoter is willing to commit to in writing in a promotional contract. The promoter is not the fighter’s representative, and has no duty of trust or loyalty. The promoter’s duty is to do what the promotional contract says he will do, although he must do so in good faith and in a fair manner. Too many fighters sign with a promoter based upon oral assurances that he will do things other than what the contract says. That is a mistake. A promotional contract provides that the promoter’s obligations are limited to the written provisions of the contract. There are occasions when the promoters may go beyond their written obligations, but on most occasions a fighter can expect to receive only what the promoter has committed to do in writing, even though the law may impose other implied duties, enforcing those additional implied duties usually requires litigation, which is expensive, time-consuming, and uncertain.
In choosing both a manager and a promoter, a fighter must consider carefully the relationship between the manager and the promoter. There have been well-known instances in which the manager’s relationship with a given promoter has been more important to him than his relationship with the fighter. After all, most fighters come and go, but the promoter will be here for a long time. Even worse is the situation in which a manager actually works for, or is otherwise under the control or influence of, the promoter. If a manager is not willing and completely free to go to war with the promoter, if necessary and appropriate, the manager cannot represent his fighter adequately. Beware of managers who are also promoters. With some exceptions, this is only a recipe for trouble. A manager can only properly represent a fighter’s interests by consistently being on the side of the fighter in all fighting transactions.
Learning how to protect oneself outside the cage is a critically important part of the job of being a fighter. MMA is a tough way to make a living, and involves risks other professions do not require. Those risks are worth taking only if a fighter receives in return adequate rewards for his services. People watch MMA to see the fighters. The other people in organization of events are important and necessary, but the fighters should receive their share of suitable compensation from the profits for their efforts. By following the advice set forth above, fighters can learn to defend themselves outside the cage as well as inside and make sure they are the primary beneficiaries of their own courage and efforts.