Sometimes, it seems like Ed Soares is nothing more than the voice of fighters embroiled in controversy.
He faced an angry press at the side of Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight king Anderson Silva in April, defending Silva's performance at UFC 97 in a victory over Thales Leites.
He delivered light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida's version of events on Saturday at UFC 104 to media that largely believed Machida was given a victory at UFC 104 that belonged to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Soares, though, is not only the interpreter for mixed martial arts superstars like Silva, Machida and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He's also one of the industry's most influential managers with a deep and talent-laden roster and an uncanny ability to make deals.
Whenever you have a portfolio that includes two of the four best fighters in the world, as Soares and partner Jorge Guimaraes do, you instantly command respect.
It's been a long road for the 37-year-old native of Redondo Beach, Calif., who got his start in business as a ski instructor, nightclub promoter, hip-hop band manager and apparel salesman.
His parents are native Brazilians and, though he was born in Southern California, Soares spoke only Portuguese until he entered kindergarten. Fate, though, might have brought him into mixed martial arts long before he even realized it.
Soares' mother, Sonia, babysat for Guimaraes' daughter, Gabrielle, in Redondo Beach, so the two got to know each other and become friends. Soares said Guimaraes has "always been like a big brother to me."
Guimaraes, a Brazil native, was a close friend of Rorion Gracie, who initially conceived the idea of the UFC as a way of proving the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu over other fighting forms.
Soares and Guimaraes drifted apart but reconnected in 2003, when they met in Japan at a PRIDE Fighting Championship event. Soares owned Sinister Clothing by then and attended the event with UFC star Chuck Liddell, for whom he designed his now-familiar fight shorts. Guimaraes was producing an MMA television show at the time, and Soares offered to help. He began frequently interviewing fighters for the show and helped Guimaraes find an affiliate in Los Angeles.
But Soares had been on the fringes of the MMA industry for years prior to reconnecting with Guimaraes. When his soon-to-be wife became pregnant with his first child, Soares decided that being a nightclub promoter didn't jive with his idea of what a family man should be. So he made the move to the apparel industry.
Guimaraes brought him fully into the business after their 2003 meeting in Japan. Guimaraes had so many connections with MMA fighters in Brazil that they began thinking about changing businesses.
They both believed the sport was going to erupt and felt they could impact the industry as managers. They'd developed relationships with fighters and promoters while doing their television show, which at the time was one of the few – if not only – MMA show on U.S. television.
Their production company, Tough Media, eventually became the name of their managerial firm.
"It was a natural evolution," Soares said.
And while Soares concedes he was a neophyte when it came to the nuances of the MMA business, he actually was well prepared for it.
He knew how to structure contracts and cater to clients from his days as a band manager. Guimaraes, who had managed fighters in Brazil, had a pipeline to elite talent that would fill the client list.
"There's not that much difference from managing a hip-hop group or managing a band and managing [MMA fighters]," Soares said. "Yeah, there are a few differences, but at the end of the day, it's about putting asses in seats and getting these guys well known. It's pretty much the same formula with a few different variables."
Soares and Guimaraes are very top-heavy with elite talent, but don't have a deep stable. He likes to keep only 10 or 15 fighters under contract in order to provide the personal attention he thinks the fighters deserve. As a result, his company is one of the industry's smaller firms, but there are few that are more influential.
Start with Silva, who is No. 1 in the monthly Yahoo! Sports rankings, and add Machida, the only major undefeated champion, and it's a good start. Nogueira has been a star and an elite fighter for years, but Soares and Guimaraes also manage Junior dos Santos, a heavy-fisted Brazilian who figures to be in the heavyweight title picture by mid-to-late 2010.
"We don't have a tremendous amount of guys in comparison to some who are out there," Soares said. "I've seen some management companies with 60, 70 guys that they're representing. I kind of look at it as a car dealership. When you look at the car dealership, well, thank God there are Toyota dealers. There's nothing wrong with Toyotas. They're great cars, reliable cars, but there are 3,000 of them on the lot. Walk into a Bentley dealership, though, and there are only 12, 15 cars in the place.
"There are two things about that: The guy's walking in to buy the car, and you know they're not going to be negotiating price when they're buying a Bentley. And that's how I feel about our fighters. You want one of our fighters, you're going to get a high-performance fighter. I like to keep it that way."
It's hard not to like it when your top-end clients are on just about everyone's short list of the world's best fighters.
But perhaps the reason for Soares' success, in addition to his intensity and preparedness, is the passion and respect he has for his clients. He clearly is in love with his fighters and is willing to go to just about any length to protect them or advance their causes.
"We have what I consider our 'Three Kings,' " Soares said. "Anderson Silva is the pound-for-pound king. Lyoto is the king of karate, and we have Nogueira, who is the king of heart because he has so much heart. Those are our three big cards.
"In a card game, if I were playing poker and I had three kings, I'd think I had a pretty good hand."
Add Soares and Guimaraes to the three kings and it becomes an MMA Royal Flush.
- Ed Soares
- Lyoto Machida