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Editorial: UFC using Francis Ngannou and CAA to send a message to all fighters

UFC bashing Francis Ngannou’s representation is very telling — and on brand.

UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou faces Ciryl Gane at UFC 270
UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou faces Ciryl Gane at UFC 270
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

The UFC vs. Francis Ngannou battle is bigger than the promotion vs. Ngannou and his representation. The UFC is using Ngannou, who holds the UFC heavyweight title and Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to send a message to every fighter on the roster and their management. That message? Play nice.

Ngannou has been seeking, as he said on the MMA Hour in October, “better terms on my contract, and obviously (to get) paid what I deserve.”

In response to Ngannou’s desire to work out a better deal with the UFC via his representative at CAA, Marquel Martin, the promotion’s president, Dana White, has railed against Martin. The UFC’s boss most recent rant against the man who represents the UFC heavyweight champion has been to call Martin, who is a former UFC employee, “not very bright,” and a person who has, “no f—king clue what they’re talking about.”

Martin’s agency, CAA, is at the top of the most recent Forbes list of most valuable sports agencies.

The way Martin sees things, the UFC is doing exactly what he expected it to do when the contract negotiations became contentious.

“I think the playbook has been written for many years — long before I started representing fighters, and if you’re smart to look at kind of how they (UFC) operate and do things, one of the strategies, I feel, and I could be wrong, they want to divide and conquer and try to put everything on the representation,” Martin said on Sirius XM’s “Throwing Down with Renee and Miesha.”

The UFC does not like managers who don’t just accept the terms the promotion offers. The UFC favors managers, who, for lack of a better term, “play ball,” with the promotion.

As an example, Ali Abdelaziz, who has one of the largest stables of fighters who compete in the UFC, is on record as saying that his relationship with White is more important to him than his fiduciary obligation toward his client.

“My relationship with Dana in the UFC has always been great.” Abdelaziz told Kevin Iole. “And I never going to come to let Henry (Cejudo) do a cash grab, beat Alexander (Volkanovski) and leave (without defending the UFC bantamweight title), right?”

That’s the kind of manager the UFC wants, one who thinks of their relationship with the UFC before they think of putting the maximum amount of money in their client’s pocket. Martin and CAA and other agencies who work in more than the MMA realm have one focus when they sit down to negotiate a deal — in any sport — get the best deal they can for their client regardless of the feelings of the owner or in the case of the UFC, the promotion.

By doing his best to discredit the efforts of Martin and CAA, White is making his best effort to keep other fighters from obtaining strong representation. That White is so opposed to a powerful agency, is one reason other fighters should look outside the realm of MMA-only management for representation.

Ngannou is set to face interim UFC heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane in a title unification bout at UFC 270.

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