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Editorial: Power dynamic between Ali Abdelaziz and fighters he manages is all wrong

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What happened between Ariel Helwani, Corey Anderson and Ali Abdelaziz?

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Ali Abdelaziz stopped Corey Anderson from appearing on The MMA Hour
Ali Abdelaziz stopped Corey Anderson from appearing on The MMA Hour
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Monday, Ariel Helwani expected to speak to Corey Anderson after his Bellator 268 knockout win over Ryan Bader. Instead, Helwani was left to explain to viewers of The MMA Hour that Anderson would not appear on the show and why.

Helwani said Bellator and Anderson were on board with the appearance, but things changed on Sunday night, the day before The MMA Hour runs live on MMA Fighting.

“Late, late on Sunday, late last night, I get a text from Corey, saying that his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, is refusing to let him come on the program,” said Helwani.

When Helwani was with ESPN, Abdelaziz seemed to take issue with Helwani calling for a fight between Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns, who is represented by Abdelaziz. The manager went so far as to state that he was banning Dominance MMA — Abdelaziz’s management company — from appearing on ESPN and TSN.

During his talk about the incident with Anderson, Helwani said he asks Dominance MMA fighters to clear things with Abdelaziz before coming on his show. That clearance was not granted in this case.

All this leaves me to wonder about the power dynamic at Dominance MMA.

At its most basic, the relationship between manager and client, in this case Abdelaziz and Anderson, is one of employee and employer. The manager is the employee, and the client is the employer. Which is to say, Abdelaziz works for Anderson.

Imagine this scenario. I work in a warehouse. I’m not a manager. I’m just a punch-the-clock, work eight hours kind of employee. I go to work on Monday. I clock in. I march to my boss’ office and tell him that today he’s working for me and that I want him to go out there and pick some orders for me while I sit in his office. My employment would end then and there.

That’s essentially what happened on Monday between Anderson — the boss — and Abdelaziz — the employee.

The weird thing is that Anderson did what his employee told him to do, while in my proposed scenario, I got fired. It boggles the mind that Abdelaziz has managed to seemingly convince his fighters they work for him.

In most client/manager relationships, Anderson would have thanked Abdelaziz for his input, reminded him of the reach of The MMA Hour — the October 13 episode had 175,000 views when it streamed live on YouTube, and has even more traffic on the clips posted after — and then told Abdelaziz he was going on the show, because after all, the appearance would be good for his career. And oh, by the way, he would remind Abdelaziz that he works for Anderson. I don’t know why that didn’t happen.

There’s no denying Abdelaziz is a powerful manager. There’s also no denying he has a cozy relationship with promoters. Remember, this is the guy who said he would not be on board for a one and done return for Henry Cejudo because, “I value the relationship with the UFC and Dana (White) and all these guys in the UFC…” Which is the exact opposite of what a manager should do or say regarding a client who again, pays him.

I’m left to wonder what type of power Abdelaziz holds over these fighters — his employers. Is there wording in the management contract that restricts the fighters? Does Abdelaziz use his tight relationship with “all these guys” in the major promotions to threaten the fighters? Are the fighters afraid of crossing Abdelaziz? Is it some twisted form of respect?

Whatever the reason, the power dynamic between the fighters on the Dominance MMA roster and Ali Abdelaziz is out of whack and that power imbalance needs to be fixed. Abdelaziz and his ego need to better serve the fighters who pay him to further their careers and get them exposure.