Posted At: October 31, 2011 12:23 PM
by Maria Sanders
Regardless of how a fighter comes to the sport, two things are true for all: to be successful you need quality fights, and to train to fight you need sponsors.
Therein lie the two biggest responsibilities of the PR practitioner working with MMA fighters — finding fights and obtaining sponsorships.
Heather Vieria, manager for Anger Management MMA, said those are her two most important tasks.
“In general, as an MMA manager, my job is to get fighters fights in good shows,“ Vieria said.
Finding these fights begins with a lot of cold calls and being specific with what you’re looking for, Vieria said.
One of the things she looks for when deciding a good fight card for her fighters is how stacked a card is in terms of weight class. “If a fight is stacked with heavyweights I don’t want to suggest another heavyweight,” Vieria said. “I’ll suggest a guy fighting in another weight class.”
Because only 19 U.S. states currently sanction MMA fights, it’s also important for a manager to know whether a fight they’re considering is legal and sanctioned.
In his article “To Be or Not to Be: Sanctioned or Unsanctioned MMA,” Jared Williams, a fighter and manager, offers three tell-tale signs for managers and fighters to look for in determining whether a fight is sanctioned or not. Those three indicators are as follows:
• Mismatched Weigh-Ins: This situation occurs when the opponent shows up overweight and the promoters ask a fighter to fight in a catch-weight bout in which both he and his opponent try to make a weight in the middle. The problem is the opponent will end up having a great weight advantage come fight time because he will be closer to his “walking around” weight whereas the other fighter will be overweight.
• Hand-wraps: It’s important that once the two fighters’ hands have been wrapped nothing is tampered with. Williams said to be cautious if, after an opponent has his hands wrapped, he then goes and mingles in the crowd or with his friends and family. Something illegal could be done to tamper with the wrapping that could give the opponent an unfair advantage or put the other fighter in unnecessary danger.
• Fighter Misrepresentation: Representation essentially means know who you’re fighting. According to Williams, this can be especially important for a fighter making his debut. “What if you are an amateur fighter making your debut and you are told that your opponent is also 0-0 and has a small amount of experience like yourself?” Williams said. “Would you take the fight if you knew this fighter actually had 10-15 fights?” While some fighters may be willing to take this fight, it’s important to know the competition.
Catch-weight bouts do sometimes occur, but are not typical. Also, opponents won’t always have identical records, but a good match-up is important. A fight as skewed as the one described above isn’t good for either side.
There’s a saying that goes, “You have to spend money to make money.” And that couldn’t be more true for fighters.
Getting into good fights is important, but training for them and having the proper equipment take a significant amount of money.
“[Getting] sponsorships is a huge part of what I do,” said Vieria.
But not just any sponsor will do. Vieria said she looks for sponsors who have a vested interest in the audience of MMA. That audience is predominately males between the ages of 18 to 34, according to hybridfightingarts.com.
“I wouldn’t contact a florist to sponsor my fighter,” Vieria said.
Vieria gave an example of one fighter she represents who began training in MMA after coming home from serving as a Marine overseas. When identifying sponsors for him, she looked specifically to companies who support veterans.
One other example she gave was of Daniel Gracie. In his most recent fight, Gracie dropped from the light-heavyweight division to middleweight. This is quite a significant drop for a fighter. He went from a fighting weight of around 205 to 185 pounds.
As part of his training Gracie used the supplement MYO-T12. When looking for sponsors, Vieria reached out to the company who makes MYO.
“I want to make sure my fighters are represented by companies they can believe in,” Vieria said.
This was true for both Gracie and the supplement company. MYO had helped Gracie drop the weight without losing his speed and strength.
Ben Fowlkes, in his article “The Truth About Fighters and Sponsors,” called sponsorships the “undercurrent of the MMA economy.”
“For many fighters, sponsor money means everything,” Fowlkes said. “It’s the difference between prospering and just getting by.“
A sponsor/fighter partnership like the one between Gracie and MYO is important because of the synergetic dynamic it carries. Both parties must benefit from the partnership, Vieria said.
Connecting with the public
Apart from those two main responsibilities, a fighter manager must help build and maintain relationships between fighters and the media/fans.
When asked if she prepares her guys before interviews, Vieria responded with, “Yes and no.”
“I like to throw them in there,” Vieria said. “I do remind them to say thank you to their coaches, trainers and sponsors, though.”
Too much preparation, Vieria said, can cause hesitation, which can come off as insincerity. It’s better for the fighters to go in and be themselves.
Yael Grauer, co-author of “In Your Corner: Marketing, Media and PR for Managers and Fighters,” gave some more insight into fighter interview preparation.
“It depends on the person,” Grauer said. “If it’s someone who is good at talking then probably less prep.”
Just like other celebrities and athletes, fighters are prone to repeat the same standard lines over the course of multiple interviews. One example is the line, “I’m in the best shape of my life.” These types of run-of-the-mill quotes can lead to boring interviews, which is neither good for the journalist nor the fighter.
If the fighter is a natural talker then less preparation may be needed. But, if he’s someone who is generally more shy or not as good with words, offering a few talking points might not be a bad idea.
Fighters could face several other messy interview situations in which the advice of a manager can keep them out of hot water.
Grauer said a lot of MMA writers these days are fans first and foremost. Because there is little money in this field, most writers are doing interviews in return for tickets to shows.
A writer may try to get the fighter to talk trash about his opponent. Grauer said fighters must be cautious of such antics, and if a fighter does decide to badmouth his opponent, it’s done so carefully.
One other issue that managers may need to be aware of is if a fighter is giving out his number to journalists asking for interviews. Typically the media must go through management to set up interviews. However, fighters tend to be more laid back.
Grauer said this can cause confusion for the journalist trying to get the story. Having a set plan for dealing with the media can keep confusion out of the picture for everyone involved.
PR for fighter managers is a multi-faceted job that can be much like working through three rounds in the cage. At times managers try to land big hits by getting fighters into good shows and pairing them with the most beneficial sponsors. Other times the work is more technical, like trying to get an opponent with a submission move. Whatever task a manager is working with at the time, his role is crucial to the success of a fighter.