By CagePotato Guest Contributor Ben Fowlkes
Ed Soares never stops. For the MMA manager and owner of Sinister Brand clothing, there’s really no such thing as spare time.
It’s the day before Easter when we finally catch up with him. He’s driving down to San Diego to sign an endorsement deal with Bad Boy clothing for Lyoto Machida, one of many in his stable of high-profile Brazilian fighters. With a client list that includes Anderson Silva, both Nogueira brothers, and WEC champ Paulo Filho, it’s easy to see why Soares might not be getting much rest these days.
In this exclusive interview, Soares talks to us about riding the highs and lows along with his fighters, the many jobs a manager does, and what it means to be the go-to guy for Brazilian mixed martial artists in the U.S. and abroad.
CagePotato: Ed, tell us a little about all the different things you do. How are you spending your time these days?
Ed Soares: The responsibility that consumes ninety percent of my time is my fighter management business. We manage some of the best athletes in the world — Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo (and) Rogerio Nogueira, Rafael Feijao, Lyoto Machida, Paulo Filho. We’ve got a lot of up-and-coming talents, too. Most of my time is spent handling their business, from endorsement deals to scheduling media events. I’ve had to hire an assistant to help me, and it still takes up most of my time. I also own Sinister Brand Clothing, but about eight months ago I hired a president to run my company, so I don’t handle too much of the day-to-day stuff. My two partners take care of that. And I have a partner in my management company who lives in Brazil. He takes care of everything in Brazil and I take care of everything up here in Los Angeles.
It seems like you’ve created a niche for yourself, managing so many of the top Brazilian fighters. How did you get started doing this?
Well, I’m Brazilian. Both my mom and my dad are Brazilian, and I’m actually the only one in my family who was born here in California. Before I started managing MMA fighters I started out as a nightclub promoter, and I also worked with and managed hip-hop groups. There’s actually a lot of similarities between managing a music group and a fighter, because at the end of the day they’re both entertainment. You want to create a following for your band or your fighter and you have to fill seats and sell pay-per-views.
I’ve always been interested in pro fighting and MMA, but the way I actually got into it was by producing a TV show called Passing The Guard with Jorge Guinarias, who’s a TV celebrity in Brazil — kind of like what Larry Merchant is to boxing here, he is to MMA in Brazil. When we started that in April 2004 it was basically the only MMA-related show on free television, even before The Ultimate Fighter. We did the show through December 31st of ’06, and through that we started building a good rapport with the fight organizations, simply because we were giving them exposure for free. And of course, we’ve always had a good relationship with the fighters, because that’s who we were interviewing. With my background in management, it was just a natural evolution for us to start representing fighters.
How many fighters do you manage right now?
We manage about fifteen guys right now.
Do you ever get concerned about trying to represent too many different guys? You need clients in order to make money, but the more clients you have the less individual attention each one gets. Do you think it could be a problem if your stable of fighters got too big?
I do. That’s why we’re very much a kind of boutique operation. We want to make sure we have the proper infrastructure before we take on more fighters. I can tell you one thing, we never really pursue fighters. Our company is more like a family than a business. That’s one of the differences with us, I believe — we’re a very tightly knit group. Eventually, the goal is to be a larger agency with more agents that are specific to certain fighters. We’re already starting to hire people to add to the agency and we want to have junior agents start to manage guys from earlier on in their careers.
How do you spot new talent? How do you know when a fighter is someone you want to manage, and how do you cement that relationship?
The way we do it now is we look to our own athletes and the guys who they’ve trained or the guys who are training with them. I mean, we’ve got four world champions. We’ve got Pedro Rizzo, who’s the Art of War heavyweight champ. We’ve got Paulo Filho, who’s the WEC middleweight champ. And of course we’ve got Anderson Silva and [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueria. Through them training with people, we come into contact with new guys. It’s really odd how it happens. We just end up going to gyms with them, they introduce us to their friends, friends talk to other friends, and so on. It’s about relationships.
You mentioned Paulo Filho. We’ve all heard about the recent troubles he’s had, pulling out of his rematch with Chael Sonnen and checking into rehab. How is he doing now and how are you guys dealing with this?
He’s doing phenomenal now. He’s going to be checking out on Monday [ed. note: This would have been yesterday], and his spirits are high. He’s looking forward to getting back to training and fighting again as soon as possible, hopefully in June. The WEC and the whole Zuffa organization has been great in helping Paulo get through this difficult time and it’s something that we’ll never forget. We’re very grateful to them for everything.
That seems like a quick rehab, since he only checked in about a week ago. Are you concerned about him leaving rehab and getting back into the gym and having to deal with the pressures of a title defense again so soon?
Actually the people working with him think it’s going to be good because it’s something he can focus on in a short amount of time and something that’s attainable. He’ll be able to stay focused. He’s just coming out of rehab, and he can concentrate on getting ready to fight. He’s going to have twelve weeks to train. He’ll have all of April, all of May. He’ll have at least seventy days or so to prepare. He’s ready for that and he wants to take on the challenge. If it needs to be later than that, then so be it, we’ll put it off for later. But he wants to have a date in mind so he can focus on that date when he can get back in there and prove to the world who Paulo Filho is.
What it’s like for you personally when you’re representing these guys and you’re watching them go through the ups and downs of life as a fighter? Is it difficult to watch a guy go through that?
I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of parts that are really difficult. But I feel fortunate to be doing something I love. The guys who I’m with, they’re all great people. A successful businessman told me once, “If you’re doing something you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” That’s how I feel right now. There’s a lot of difficult parts, dealing with some of the issues and the drama that these guys go through. On the other hand, I don’t think words can explain when you step into the cage after Anderson wins a fight, or with Nogueira, after winning a war like that [against Tim Sylvia]. The feeling is just priceless.
What are your contract negotiations like with the UFC and other organizations? Do you think Brazilian fighters are getting what they’re worth right now when they fight in America?
I’ll tell you right now, I think our fighters are getting what they’re worth. Dealing with the UFC, people say a lot of different things, but I don’t have anything to complain about. The UFC has always treated our fighters fairly. They’ve always done what they said they were going to do. Of course, as a manager I’m always looking to make my fighters more money, and as a fighter you always want more money. But I think the UFC is doing a great job, to the best of their abilities, to pay these guys what they’re worth.
But looking at Silva’s disclosed payout before the bonuses from his last fight, he’s not getting as much guaranteed money as some other, less experienced guys. With him being on the top of most people’s pound-for-pound rankings, do you think that’s reflected in what he’s getting paid?
I’ll put it this way, that’s what he makes in one instance. There are a lot of other ways to make money. I can just tell you that with the UFC and Zuffa, you don’t hear my fighters complaining. They’re being taken care of.
You mention other ways for fighters to make money. Since many of your fighters don’t speak English or don’t speak it fluently, does that ever make it difficult to line up sponsorships or get them TV and media exposure?
That’s definitely something difficult that we’re working hard to overcome. I’m trying to make sure that our guys speak English as much as possible, and that they’re really forcing themselves to practice their English. Fortunately for us, our guys who are in the big organizations, they either speak English, or the way that they fight, they don’t really need to speak English. I mean, people say Anderson Silva doesn’t speak English. Yeah, he doesn’t speak it fluently yet, but he’s moving here within the next few months and within a year I bet he’ll be able to. He might not feel comfortable having a conversation on TV yet, but he’s learning. A guy like him, when the bell rings it’s not a problem. There’s not too much English being spoken in the middle of the Octagon. It’s an international language in there.
As a manager, I imagine you find yourself doing a lot of different things that most people might not think about as part of the job description.
Of course. I’m pretty much on-call. It ends up being a lot of babysitting, actually. You really have to love what you’re doing because you don’t clock in and clock out. You’re constantly working for these guys, and that’s why if you don’t love this, I wouldn’t recommend managing fighters. It’s a round-the-clock job.
What kind of things have you had to do for your fighters?
There’s been times where I’ve had to fly to Brazil because a guy’s in a situation where he needs cash and it takes too long to get the money wired there. I’ve had to fly over there and help a guy out and give him some money. It’s that kind of stuff where, yeah, we’re their manager so we negotiate contracts and endorsement deals and all that, but with the kind of management company we have, it’s so much more than that. We help them plan their lives and fulfill their dreams. They tell us what they want and we try and make it happen.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Man, I probably can’t even talk about that. I’d prefer not to talk about some of it. I mean, I feel like I’m living in a crazy reality show sometimes.
How does that affect your personal life? Do you have a family?
I have a great, beautiful wife and two great kids. I’m so lucky to have a wife who supports me the way she does because I’m constantly traveling and she holds down the fort with my two beautiful daughters. I have a great family life and I wish I had more time to spend with them. But they support me and they believe in me and I’m working my butt off to secure a great future for us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to relax and enjoy it down the road.