The Jerry Maguire of Mixed Martial Arts

By Mike Sloan Jan 5, 2007
From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem like a Hollywood story. You know: graduate from a university, open up a sports management agency, rub shoulders with elite-status celebs, hook up with hot babes and play tons of golf — at least, that’s how Tom Cruise and his cast-mates portrayed being a sports agent in the blockbuster smash movie “Jerry Maguire.”

But Ken Pavia knows better, and he’ll quickly point out that the Hollywood image is virtually nothing like how a real life sports agent operates.

“I think if we can attribute our success to one thing, it’s hard work,” said Pavia, whose clients dot this month’s WEC and UFC Fight Night cards. “Nobody works harder than we do. I’m not somebody’s banker, or their cousin or the guy who changes your tires. I am a full-time experienced agent and I can say without reservations that nobody works harder than we do. And more importantly, we’re smart. Our phones start ringing at 8 o’clock in the morning and it doesn’t stop until usually 3 o’clock in the morning. It’s usually somebody like Phil Baroni (Pictures) who calls at 3 a.m. because he’s a night owl.”

Pavia, a former sports agent for athletes in professional baseball, hockey, football and basketball, is quick to point out that while he does get worn out by working almost nonstop, he thoroughly enjoys what he does. In fact, he wouldn’t change one iota of his career, as he can’t envision himself doing anything differently.

“I do it first and foremost because I love it,” quipped Pavia, a sports agent of 12 years before becoming involved in MMA. “It’s a passion so I don’t mind the hours,” he quipped. “It’s physically impossible to work harder than we do. The interests in a professional fighter I believe whole-heartedly are best served by our company, period.”

With two full-time assistants, Scott Lewis and GT Torres, and a just-hired third who designed the company’s Web site, www.mmaagents.com, Pavia credits his people as much as himself for the success of the business.

A former mainstream sports agent turned MMA management guru, Pavia and his company boast a splendid stable of fighters. In case Ivan Salaverry (Pictures), Karo Parisyan (Pictures) and Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures) don’t ring a bell, Pavia has 23 others fighters that have signed with him. And with the rapid growth of MMA, Pavia’s agency — Pavia, Ciscone and Associates — has exploded over the past several months.

“Two years ago I opened up Pavia, Ciscone and Associates, which was sort of a glorified hobby for the first year and three months,” he said. “About nine months ago I turned to my partner and said that this sport is really taking off and let’s attack this a little more aggressively. And we have. Over the last nine months our firm has grown from six clients to our current 29 clients. Out of the 29 clients, 23 are either current or former UFC fighters. We’ve sort of grown like wildfire, much like the sport has over the last couple years.”

Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures) was his first client.

“I think I was a little bit lucky and a little bit good because Ricco is the former UFC heavyweight champion. He was rededicating himself in making a comeback, retaining his former glory and I ran around with Ricco for nine months. He had quite a winning streak going; he was very focused on what he was doing. Soon thereafter I signed “Razor” Rob McCullough (Pictures), Tiki Ghosn (Pictures) — Team Punishment guys primarily. It has really blossomed as a result.

Pavia’s most recent fighters include Falaniko Vitale (Pictures), Mark Kerr (Pictures), Steve Byrnes (Pictures), and Anthony Torres.

“I’ve got 12 guys fighting in the next 40 days, some of them fighting in bigger shows,” he said. “I’ve got Mike Pyle (Pictures) fighting on Showtime. Vitale will be on the IFL card on Feb. 19. Wes Sims (Pictures) is in the main event of the Gracie Challenge. … A lot of big things have been happening. Martin Kampmann (Pictures) and Jake O’Brien just signed three-fight extensions with the UFC, and we have three guys on the Jan. 25 [UFC] card.”

Working hard has certainly paid dividends as of late, but what separates Pavia’s agency from others?

“The first thing everybody asks is, ‘how expensive are we?’” he said. “The industry standards have become 20 percent of the purses and I’ve heard of agents actually taking a third of the purses. I take 10 percent of the fighter’s fight purse and then 20 percent of the endorsements. So, we make a lot of the money in the back end. We have great relationships with all of the primary endorsement companies. We work very hard at that. We got a guy who works full time just securing endorsements for our fighters.

“With almost 30 fighters now, we’re almost at maximum capacity, so we’re very selective on whom we take now,” he continued. “We get about five to 10 guys a week who come to us for representation, but we’re very selective on who we take. But when we do take on somebody, whether they have two fights or 50 fights, we make a full-time commitment to him. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s a lifetime commitment and regardless if they have an undercard fight lined up in a junior organization or a main event in a major organization, we give them the same push and effort. We look for people who want to be full-time fighters that want to make this their profession and not guys who want to make this a hobby because they hang out at the gym. We turn full-time fighters into champions and we do that by creating financial freedom and opportunities for them. The only derivation from that business model that we do is if a fighter has a unique marketing angle, or a shtick or something that sells. We’ll give some consideration to that as well, but primarily we look for the talented hard workers that we believe that under the right circumstances can evolve into world-class champions. There are some very talented fighters out there but have no captain in their powerboat; they have no direction. With us, we create that financial freedom and we create opportunities, we get them proper training partners and we get them additional media attention, which creates awareness, which ultimately creates fight opportunities.”

Pavia also knows what it takes to turn a fighter into something he possibly couldn’t be without the staunch know-how of a solid agent backing him. Sometimes the popular fighters are just lucky or they are marketed correctly. Pavia agrees that being an exciting fighter even in defeat is equally as important to one who always wins, but promises that a surefire way to achieve the maximum in terms of marketability is simple: just don’t lose.

“There are a lot of good fighters out there who don’t have stellar records and there are a lot of guys with stellar records who aren’t marketable,” he surmised. “I can’t say that one outweighs the other. I think that a fighter can only leave it on the mat every single opportunity he gets and it comes upon us to get every right opponent and to make sure that his skill-set shines and that he gets the wins. In the end, I would say that you’re not judged on your effort, you are judged on the result, so I would probably say that you have to win. There is no substitute for winning.”

If anything is true about Pavia, it’s that he hustles. After being promised this story, he repeatedly contacted Sherdog.com until the interview was completed and published.

“I tend to call my clients too much, to be honest,” chuckled Pavia, a graduate of UCLA and the University of Miami Law School. “The biggest complaint I got from the athletes when I did Major League Baseball and hockey, and now with MMA, was that their agents were never around. They couldn’t get a hold of them, especially if the times weren’t great. If a guy lost two fights in a row or if a sponsor dropped him, he couldn’t get his agent on the phone. With me, I call my clients almost too much. I mean, my phone is glued to my face 24 hours a day. I encourage guys to speak to my current client base if they are looking for management and if they have reached a point in their career where they think they are stagnating. I’m telling you, we make dreams come true.”
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