Ali Abdelaziz's position with the World Series of Fighting promotion, his role as a manager to mixed martial arts fighters, and his relationship with Dominance MMA Management has led some to allege that he is in violation of Nevada regulations.
Paul Gift has already given a breakdown of the lawsuit filed against the MMAWC LLC - better known by the name it does business as, the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) - by WSOF Asia. Amongst the many allegations in the complaint are claims that Ali Abdelaziz posed a risk to the promotions stability by engaging in a conflict of interest by operating as the vice president and matchmaker for WSOF while also having an interest in a management company. According to WSOF Asia, Abdelaziz had "relationship to and control of an entity named Dominance, LLC."
Dominance is a mixed martial arts management company that was allegedly founded by Abdelaziz. According to Dominance MMA Managment's website Narwan Ghiasi is listed as the company's current president and Yalda Odetall is listed as the vice president. WSOF Asia's complaint claims that Ghiasi is Abdelaziz's wife and that Odetalla is his sister.
According to WSOF Asia, Abdelaziz (referred to as Mr. Aziz" in their complaint) engaged in the following behaviors that were characterized as in conflict with his position at World Series of Fighting:
Mr. Aziz while acting as the matchmaker for WSOF, set up fights using fighters managed by Dominance LLC. Mr. Aziz set up these fights on terms favorable to Dominance, LLC managed fighters and detrimental to the interests of WSOF.
Plaintiff is informed and believes Dominance also arranged sponsorships for its fighters. On several occasions the sponsors for fighters managed by Dominance and those of WSOF were in conflict. When such conflicts arose, Mr. Abdeziz [sic] always favored the sponsors of Dominance over WSOF sponsors to the detriment of WSOF.
For instance, on or about April 10, 2015 WSOF sponsor ProSupps cancelled its sponsorship of WSOF, because ProSupps commercials did not run during an event. ProSupps commercials did not run because, Defendant Aziz directed ProSupps to change its commercials, because a sponsor of one of his fighters had a conflict with video footage with ProSupps commercials.
Aziz took this position with ProSupps knowing full well that his fighter's contract with WSOF stated that a fighter could not have a conflict with a corporate sponsor.
Moreover, Aziz refused to make fights that were in the best interest of MMAWC and WSOF. Rather than choosing the fights that would generate the most fan interest and thus revenue for WSOF, Aziz set matches that favored his fighters and his pocket. Aziz also often refused to set fights for fighters that were not managed by him. A promising fighter and champion, Jessica Aguliar was under contract with WSOF, and Aziz did not arrange fights for her required under WSOF's contractual obligations. Ms. Aguilar was not one of Mr. Aziz's fighters.
Abdelaziz's roles and possible conflict of interest appear to have been a concern for at least one member of MMAWC (World Series of Fighting). An exhibit in the current lawsuit is a letter dated October 5, 2015 from Byron Thomas, the attorney for Zion Wood OB Wan Trust, owners of 10.5% of MMAWC, LLC. The message was to Maximiliano D. Couville, III, legal counsel to MMAWC's board, asking that they immediately terminate Ali Abdelaziz for violation of NAC 467.104.
My client is informed to believe that Mr. Abdelzaiz (sic) is still associated with MMAWC, LLC as matchmaker, and is also acting as a manager. My client is informed to believe that Mr. Abdlezaiz continued to act in these dual and improper roles during MMAWC, LLC's last event in September 2015. Pursuant to NRCP 23.1 Zion is making formal demand that MMAWC, LLC terminate the relationship with Mr. Abdelzaiz immediately. As was stated in the letter of August 31, 2015 his continued employment threatens the existence of MMA WC, LLC and the value of Zion's shares.
… Mr. Evans has also improperly listed Ray Sefo as the matchmaker, for MMAWC bouts, with the Nevada Athletic Commission. Zion is informed and believes that Mr. Evans took this action in an attempt to conspire and conceal Mr. Abdelaziz's position with the Company, and the payments he has received.
The World Series of Fighting's promoter's license obtained by Bloody Elbow has Ray Sefo listed as the matchmaker while Abdelaziz's name does not appear anywhere on it.
Zion's apparent concern is that Abdelaziz is in violation of Nevada Administrative Code, specifically NAC 467.104 of the code for unarmed combat, which states:
Promoter and certain others prohibited from acting as manager of unarmed combatant and from holding certain financial interests. (NRS 467.030) An unarmed combatant may not have a promoter or any of its members, stockholders, officials, matchmakers or assistant matchmakers:
1. Act directly or indirectly as his or her manager; or
2. Hold any financial interest in the unarmed combatant's management or earnings from contests or exhibitions.
[Athletic Comm'n, § 149, eff. 4-25-78]—(NAC A 12-13-82; 12-2-97)—(Substituted in revision for NAC 467.870)
The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, a federal law, which only covers the sport of boxing and not mixed martial arts, also includes a provision creating a "firewall between promoters and managers." The intent of this Act is to protect boxers from "coercive business practices" brought about when there is a conflict of interest with managers that are supposed to have a fiduciary duty to their clients. NAC 467.104 is an almost identical regulation for the state of Nevada.
While the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act does not cover mixed martial arts, Nevada's NAC 467.104 regulates both boxing and MMA. It also does not have the exception that is found in the Ali Act that allows a manager to act as a promoter for bouts that are less than ten rounds in length.
In addition to regulating promoters, NAC 467.104 makes it clear that that it also affects "any of [a promotions] members, stockholders, officials, matchmakers or assistant matchmakers." Anyone holding any one of those positions in a promotion is not only prohibited from operating directly or indirectly as a fighter's manager in the state of Nevada but they can't "hold any financial interest in the unarmed combatant's management or earnings from contests or exhibitions."
It would appear that Abdelaziz was in violation of NAC 467.104 when the WSOF held an event in Nevada this past August by holding a position with the promotion and having an interest in Dominance MMA. Numerous sources indicate that Abdelaziz serves as either the WSOF's matchmaker (although Ray Sefo holds that position on the World Series of Fighting's Nevada promoter's license) or some other official position. In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour as well as an interview that was posted on WSOF's webpage he is identified as the executive vice president. He has also been referred to as the matchmaker for WSOF in interviews with Bloody Elbow and Sherdog and as one of the people running the promotion on Gross Point Blank.
Corey Anderson UFC (@CoreyA_MMA) July 18, 2014
Nick Catone UFC (@NickCatone) January 11, 2014
In that MMA Hour episode interview with Abdelaziz mentions that he has "an amazing team working for me at Dominance MMA."
In addition to those fighting in the UFC, several fighters previously reported as being clients of Dominance are currently signed with the World Series of Fighting. This includes Abubakar Nurmagomedov, Islam Mamedov, Marlon Moraes, and David Branch. Nurmagomedov, Mamedov, and Moraes all fought on the World Series of Fighting's August 22 card that was held at the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Bloody Elbow sent an email to World Series of Fighting on August 6 asking what official position Abdel-Aziz's currently holds with the promotion and if he hold any shares or interest in Dominance MMA. WSOF did not reply but shortly thereafter Dominance's webpage was changed and David Branch and Marlon Maroes were removed from the list of current clients. A screen shot taken shortly before our email was sent shows how the webpage appeared before August 6.
Several sources working in the mixed martial arts business have identified Rizvan Magomedov as the manager of Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Islam Mamedov. Numerous images on Magomedov's instagram account and on twitter show the three in photographs together. Magomedov also identifies himself on his Twitter and Instagram accounts a VP with Dominance MMA.
Bloody Elbow has reached out to the World Series of Fighting several times for comment but they have declined to do so. Bloody Elbow also contacted the Nevada Athletic Commission shortly after the August 22 event to ask if there was any violation of NAC467.104 by Abdelaziz or the World Series of Fighting. The NAC responded that they were not aware of Abdelaziz managing any fighters at that time and would be looking into the matter.
Abdelaziz is not the only manager also seemingly working as a promoter in MMA. Monte Cox, who has managed Robbie Lawler, Will Brooks, Sara McMann, Jake Ellenberger and others has for years promoted Extreme Challenge MMA events. Lex McMahon, the COO of Titan MMA, is also the president of Alchemist MMA Management, whose website lists Walel Watson, Mike Bruno, and Robert Washington, all fighters that have appeared on Titan MMA events this year, amongst its clients. Ed Soares, the president of Resurrection Fighting Alliance, is also the co-founder of Black House and manager of former champions Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Resurrection Fighting Alliance also recently held an event in Nevada; an October 9 show at the Downtown Las Vegas Event Center. One of the fighters on that card, Gabriel Checco, is listed on Black House MMA's website.
The practice of manager's operating as promoters seems almost common place in the sport today, thanks in part to the fact that, unlike in boxing, there is no federally mandated firewall. A noteworthy exception to this is the UFC, where Dana White vacated his role as the manager to Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz when he accepted the position of President for the promotion.