Invicta president Shannon Knapp took to Facebook over the weekend to express issues with fighter management. She claimed that some managers were using her name and Invicta as a sort of ransom/blackmail to coerce fighters into signing with their company.
Tara LaRosa quickly ended any speculation on whom the culprit was when she posted the following on a women's MMA group on Facebook:
Brett Atchley. There it is.
This man tried to have me "blackballed" from InvictaFC and StrikeForce over a year ago. He physically accosted me at the InvictaFC 3 show, and in the Seattle airport afterwards. I have proof, I have witnesses, I have lawyers, a powerful manager, and a team who stands behind me... Brett Atchley, you have nothing. You cannot hurt me, you cannot sue me, you have no power over me whatsoever. I have no reservations about standing against you to protect others. You cannot hurt them any more.
Addison Sports Management president Atchley specializes in the management of women's MMA fighters and, most notably, manages transgender fighter Fallon Fox.
Bloody Elbow reached out to LaRosa on Monday to get additional details on the story.
"Jessamyn was patched up like NASCAR. She had like ALL these sponsors all over her stuff. Her shorts and her rashguard...everywhere. I was like 'wow, Jesus, what is she getting for that?' and he said 'yeah, I got her about seven or eight thousand dollars worth of sponsors.' And she'd just been amateur. You know?" LaRosa said. "And he was really talking it up, 'I got this person this and I help out that person' you know? Big time."
"I just blew it off. Like, must be nice. But I just blew it off. So after the show, he would contact me and chat me up on Facebook and text and Twitter and all these things. He asked about management, he offered to manage me, get me sponsors and everything. I said 'No, I'm with Monte Cox. That's my manager. But thanks anyway.'"
LaRosa would move to Ivan Salaverry's gym shortly after her win at RFA.
"There had been a big falling out between Brett Atchley and Ivan. And I didn't really know anything about it at all before I got there. But he (Brett) had stopped contacting me for a little bit. But he told me a lot of stuff about how Ivan's school sucks and nobody should go there and everybody is leaving...Ivan is never there, he never teaches the classes and he doesn't care about the fighters, and nobody is happy there. I ended up going there anyway."
LaRosa soon would find out what is alleged to be the real reason behind the falling out between Atchley and Salaverry.
"I guess he had been managing Maurice Smith and handling all his sponsors and contacts and stuff like that. And he had been taking money instead of passing it along to Mo. He was taking about 40% of what had been given, and that wasn't the contracted amount. He was stealing money from Maurice Smith."
But that wasn't all according to LaRosa "Then he was dating one of Ivan's student's moms, and they were at a casino and Brett was caught on tape by casino security stealing money out of her purse. There was an incident report, casino report, police report, all that. It was caught on tape," she said. "Ivan saw it with his own eyes because he didn't believe it. He went up there and saw it himself, and that's why Brett finally got kicked out of Ivan's gym. Then Brett went on a rampage and started slamming him and stuff like that."
LaRosa provided the text messages she says Atchley sent to Salaverry and that Salaverry then forwarded on to her:
LaRosa would have one more set of physical run-ins with Atchley during the weekend of Invicta 3.
"At Invicta, I was coming down the elevator and into the lobby to go out and cut weight. Everybody was standing around in a group just chatting in the lobby, and I stopped by to say 'hi' to everyone. And he grabbed me by the sweater and said 'What's this? Where are all your sponsors? How's that management working out for you?' and all this rude stuff. And, before I could do anything, Ivan pulled me away from him. He just looked like an ass, I'm not sure what his intentions were there."
The confrontations during that trip didn't end there.
"Later, when I was flying home, I was flying back to Seattle. I guess Brett was on the same flight as me, I didn't even realize it. I was walking to my truck and he comes up behind me and beside me, and he grabs my bags, and he tries to carry them or tries to help or whatever. I told him to get away from me and stay away from me, and I pulled my stuff away from him, and he got all belligerent and stupid. I'm sure there's tape on the Seattle airport security cameras."
For her part, LaRosa says that she has decided that she wants to speak out now because she's tired of fighters being afraid of Atchley. It's something she dealt with seven years ago when a manager who was trying to pursue an inappropriate relationship with her beat her up in the gym in front of her team. She says that this motivates her to speak out now about her issues with Atchley.
"I'm not afraid of this guy. He's an idiot. I don't know why everybody is. Yeah, he threatens to sue you for slander, defamation of character, libel, whatever. He can go fuck himself. He is not gonna sue shit. I've been around for a long ass time. This guy is nobody. He's not going to ruin my career, and I'm not going to let this guy do the same shit to other people. There was nobody to look out for me back then. Nobody knew. So if, I can help somehow...I'm sorry I didn't say anything earlier." She continued, "It's weird. It's like some Harry Potter situation. Like everybody's afraid to say Voldemort's name. What the hell? He's Brett Atchley! He's fuckin' nobody! What's he gonna do to you? Cast a spell?"
Bloody Elbow also contacted Atchley directly and offered to speak to him about the allegations. Mr. Atchley provided the following statement but did not contact Bloody Elbow for a phone interview:
It has been brought to my attention that someone in the women's MMA community is making slanderous accusations against me and seeking out athletes to confirm such accusations.
I take these types of accusations very seriously even though they are unfounded, and I am currently exploring my legal options to defend my name and reputation. I will also do what is necessary to legally put an end to these individuals gossiping and creating situations that simply do not exist.
I would like to publically thank the athletes I currently represent for not buying into the gossip and lies being spread by these individuals and being professionals.
Unlike LaRosa, Jessamyn Duke did spend time with Atchley as her manager. When her contract ran out last January she said didn't plan to re-sign with him due to "red flags" that had been popping up with the way he represented himself.
"When I was out in Vegas for The Ultimate Fighter tryouts was when I let him go. I let him know formally that I wouldn't be needing his services. And it was because he, of course, sent me a new contract right before I went out to Vegas. So because of certain red flags...one of them being that he exhibited the behavior of an alcoholic. Every time I saw him personally, one-on-one, he had a serious drinking problem," she said. "He got extremely inappropriately physical with people including my mom at events, fighters at events, anytime he was doing this it was always really uncomfortable."
Duke expanded on the comment about Atchley getting physical with her mom, saying "He actually physically shoved my mom once when they were having an argument. For some reason, he approached my mom when they were in the lobby of the hotel and they started having this argument, and he started telling her that he made me, and I've changed and all this stuff. And my mom being...well, my mom, she didn't take too kindly to that. And she was trying to leave and get out of the way, and he actually shoved her trying to talk to my sister. It was insane and HIGHLY unacceptable to put your hands on a woman like that and move her physically. That was one of my first serious red flags where it was like 'this is not okay.'"
But his behavior that was unacceptable to Duke didn't stop there.
"It wasn't just that event. It was every event if it was one of my fights or not. He had a serious drinking problem and he would get inappropriately physical with fighters. Like at my last fight he went up to my opponent, and I didn't see this, but heard it from her camp and it sounds just like him, but he was grabbing and shoving my opponent and he even admitted it. And like, that's just what I need, for it to get out that my manager is physically assaulting my opponents before my fight."
And Duke also related a story alleging inappropriate sexual behavior from Atchley.
"I have a close friend that had an inappropriate sexual harassment type situation with him. And hearing that, that was something that put me over the edge when I heard about that. And I know there's others that have similar stories with him," she said. "But having a very close friend of mine experience that was especially bad. Especially because she trusted him because he was my manager. So she kind of assumed he was a decent guy."
What may have been the biggest issue for Duke didn't so expressly involve drinking or physical assault, but rather an ethical failure.
"One of the biggest things that he did that showed me his morals and everything was, and this is a big one, but he actually...when I was contemplating going to try out for The Ultimate Fighter, he didn't want me to do it. He was trying to convince me that Zuffa, they'll own your soul. You know? You sign with them, you sign with the devil. You don't understand that they own you when you sign with them and blah, blah, blah. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to send you Alexis' contract and let them see how much they own you," she said. "So he actually sent me Alexis Davis' UFC contract. Which is super illegal. It's in the contracts, they're totally confidential. He sent it to me trying to prove how horrible it was. And she wasn't even with him at that point, she had already left him. And I just kept thinking, if he is doing that with her, what's he doing with my stuff? And besides, we all know what we give up when we sign with the UFC. Showing me one of their contracts isn't going to deter me. That's the goal. That's the ultimate goal, no matter what."
Duke said that adding her personal experiences to his "habitual lies" about how much money sponsors provided and second hand stories about him skimming pay from fighters and the drinking drove her to sever ties. "He was always very much about separating the fighter from the sponsor. He didn't want us to talk to them...at all. And come to find out, sometimes our money didn't exactly add up."
Duke also told the story of her difficulties in severing ties with Atchley when the time came. "When I left him, I tried to do it in the most professional manner possible. I just told him we were on different paths and it was just a personal decision of mine, and I wished him all the best. And then he starts sending me bills for things I've never had bills for before. He starts trying to charge me for having my banners printed and stuff. Just stupid stuff that he was trying to gouge. He sent me a cease and desist letter because he had ignored one of my e-mails to remove me from his website. So I talked to Sam (Wilson) and asked if she would tell him to take me down and I didn't want to be on his website anymore. And I get this cease and desist letter saying I'm not allowed to talk about him and our relationship, and if I don't stop he's going to sue me. He threatened me with a lawyer. Ridiculous stuff and I'm not even sure what he was threatening to sue me for. Which is sort of what started this, I told this to Shannon and told her he was losing his mind, getting insane and threatening with lawyers. And that's what started the cascade."
The stories of Atchley's drinking causing embarrassment for the fighters were repeated multiple times by sources who spoke to Bloody Elbow. Multiple sources stated that Atchley often would spend entire event weekends at the hotel bar, becoming increasingly belligerent including two different sources telling a story of Atchley running up a bar tab for a couple hundred dollars at a hotel bar and slinking back to his room and leaving a relative of Alexis Davis to pick up the tab.
Another Invicta and Strikeforce fighter who didn't want to be named said "My biggest issue was his conduct. I didn't think that it was appropriate that every time we went to an event, my business manager was drunk the whole time. There were also just a lot of lies."
She also had similar issues with Atchley sharing other seemingly personal and confidential contract details.
"He would say 'I talked to so-and-so and they only get paid this much. Oh, Ronda Rousey pays her manager this much. I talked to Invicta's lawyer and here's this person's contract' I didn't realize how bad that was until I brought it up to Sam (Wilson - a woman who has helped many WMMA fighters) and when she told Shannon she said 'whoa, whoa, whoa, if this is true I have to fire my lawyer today.' because as a promoter you just can't do that. But then we ended up finding out that he was full of bull."
This was a running theme of drinking, lies about the ability to blackball fighters from Invicta and (before their closure) Strikeforce, the sharing of seemingly confidential information and sponsor pay not quite adding up with everyone who spoke to Bloody Elbow about the situation.
When reached for comment, Shannon Knapp stressed her earlier statement that nobody has the power to blackball fighters from the promotion and that they employ fighters, not their management. And any fighter who deals with a manager who claims to have the power to influence Invicta's decision making should contact her directly.
Sam Wilson, who has worked with many of WMMA's top stars, said of the fact that many of these stories had not yet come to light "The bottom goal is to protect the females. If they can't trust somebody, they're going to be out there all alone. Thank god for Tara LaRosa because she put a name to it. Now we can talk about it. Because before, everybody was afraid."