Cagewriter - Mixed Martial Arts

Working in MMA: Agent Malki Kawa talks about the businessThis week, Cagewriter is taking a look at the jobs that make the MMA world go 'round. See the rest of the series here.

Today, we look at Malki Kawa, the president of First Round Management, an athlete representation agency that has on its roster of fighters UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Chris Leben, Carlos Condit and Thiago Alves, among other fighters.

Cagewriter: What is your job title?

Malki Kawa: Sometimes I'm called an agent, sometimes I'm called a manager.

CW: What's the difference?

MK: An agent's job is to put their guy in a position to capitalize on every opportunity they can, whether it's off a fight, a movie, or whatever. A manager is supposed to guide a fighter's career. I help guys reach their financial and their career goals. In the NFL, I was an agent, but in boxing and MMA, it's more manager. I like to think I'm a great manager, where I help guide their careers, and an even better agent, where I help them secure the financial and career goals.

CW: What's an average day like for you?

MK: I like to be in control and in the know, so when I wake up, I start checking everything out to see what happened overnight and catch up anything I missed. When I get to the office, I catch up on emails and create any proposals for any East Coast sponsors, or Joe Silva [the UFC matchmaker], because he's on the East Coast. At 12:00, the West Coast starts to happen.

From 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., my phone is ringing nonstop. I check in with most fighters, I look to see what's out there, and view a lot of different information. I look into what people are being paid, I compile a lot of data, I do a lot of market research. One of the reasons I've been successful in getting guys sponsorships is that I have a better handle on what's out there.

CW: Do you talk to your fighters everyday?

MK: No. I like to check in with every fighter at least once a week. If I don't have something to talk them about, I don't call them. There might be a fighter I don't talk to for a week. That doesn't mean I'm not thinking about them. It just means that there's not anything going on right then.

CW: What's a fight week like for you?

MK: We basically mirror them the entire time. If I have a fighter fighting on Saturday, I'll land with them either Tuesday or Wednesday. It's my job to make sure that everything is very comfortable and very easy for them. My week becomes a week to service the fighter. I'm there to be an extra hand for his team. That's when I take care of their shorts and their banner, and I make sure their corner knows what they have to wear. I don't really get a chance to rest until the night of the fight and their fight is done. If I have a main event guy, that's when I get to stop, unless they have an after-party, and then I make sure they get there, that they're safe and that they get paid.

CW: What's the best part of this job?

MK: The fighters themselves. Just going through the motions with the fighters everyday, and watching them grow. Like, watching Jon Bones grow from being a potential great fighter to being a champion. Watching Carlos Condit go through the ranks, and watching Thiago Alves try to make himself a little better. I also like watching when I come up with ideas that help change a fighter's life.

Look at Kenny Florian. It was my idea for him to drop to 145. Watching guys have faith in you, and then coming up with ideas of how they can get to certain places. I think that's why guys sign with me. Beside the fact that I make them money, and I am going to do the best I can for them. I think I'm intelligent, I think I know what people want and I think I know what the UFC wants, and I'm going to fight for my fighter.

CW: But no job is perfect. What's the worst part?

MK: Watching other managers who aren't good at what they do, who undercut their fighter's careers, they'll take a guy from you and mess things up, or fighters who become disrespectful. But honestly? I can't complain. I have the best job in the world. I think the traveling sucks. After a while, you want to be home with your family.

CW: What advice do you have for someone who wants to become an agent?

MK: If there's a guy or girl who wanted to get in this business, my best advice would be to set your mind to a goal of what you want your life to be at certain points. Set timelines. Let nothing stand in the way of that goal, and don't ever be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to go after what you want to get. Look around the room at my peers, and they come from all different backgrounds, but the one thing that they lack is the desire and drive I have. That's the reason I'm at the top of this game.

Follow Malki Kawa on Twitter here.

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