(Heavyweight champion of the industry.)
Whether you need to take your fight career to the next level, or you’re stuck in a Thai prison for a “misunderstanding” with a local bar-girl, Ken Pavia is your man. The New York-bred, Huntington Beach-based MMA agent drives the careers of Karo Parisyan, Rob McCullough, Chris Lytle, James Thompson, Renato Sobral, Phil Baroni, and a few dozen others, and his work doesn’t stop at just arranging fights and locking down sponsorship deals. After realizing we knew next-to-nothing about what an MMA agent actually does, we decided to drop “The Pav” a line and get the lowdown on how he got his start and how he keeps on top of the competition. Also, coffee enemas.
THE EARLY DAYS
You were a sports agent for 12 years after graduating from the Miami School of Law. Did you focus on any sport in particular?
I primarily represented baseball and hockey players, though I did have a couple basketball players and a football player. I had my own firm from about ’91 through ’03 or so.
And you’ve said you retired because you got bored. Was there more to it than that?
I don’t know if it was so much boredom — I was a boutique firm competing against larger, much better capitalized corporate firms, and capitalization was ultimately a stumbling block in my ability to maintain higher-profile guys. I’d recruit a football player coming out of college, and it’d be about six to nine months before he saw any money, and he’d want a couple-hundred-thousand dollar advance. After a while I needed a break from recruiting and the daily grind.
So what did you plan on doing with the rest of your life?
Well, I took a couple years off and sat on the couch, watched sports, ate bon-bons, and went through a divorce. I was semi-retired and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Eventually I opened up an auto auction and I met Ricco Rodriguez, who dragged me into the MMA game.
Was Ricco your first client?
He was. A mutual friend introduced us, and Ricco sat me down and said “We need mainstream agents to cross over and help the fighters get the kind of compensation that the owners are getting.” I had been a fan of the sport — I think I’d seen pretty much every UFC event — but Ricco’s the one who convinced me to get in from a business standpoint.
How did you go about finding and attracting clients in those early days?
Having the former UFC heavyweight champion was sort of a high-profile thing, and being in Huntington Beach — which was a hotbed for MMA talent at the time — I was able to find a couple of local guys with Ricco’s help. I’d take Ricco to fights, he’d meet the up-and-coming talent, and they’d pretty much come to me. I was blessed that the talent was seeking us out as opposed to the grind I had in other sports.
These days, is there a formula involved in how you decide which clients to take on?
We’re pretty picky. I’ve got 50 guys, and I’m not necessarily looking to expand that roster. Probably 20 guys a week come to us, and a lot of them say “Yeah, I was the toughest guy in high school, and I beat up everybody at the bar now, I’m 30 years old and I’m going to start training.” But some of them are, “Hey, I’m 9-1, I fought in the local circuits and I knocked everybody out, and I want to get in the show.” We look for a level of success, dedication, a background that’s like Division I All-American wrestler, or world-championship kickboxer — guys that have strung together some wins, and just need some representation to get them to the bigger shows. I think that’s our niche.
Is it true that Phil Baroni turned down an offer to fight in the WEC because he wanted to hold out for the UFC?
The UFC was inquiring about what it was going to cost to get him, but it wasn’t a formal offer — they felt him out a bit to see if a formal offer was in order. Currently, we have six offers on the table for Phil Baroni. All six are very lucrative, every one of them is very attractive, and he’s just weighing one against the other to determine which is in his best interest. [Ed. note: EliteXC announced yesterday (after this interview took place) that they had signed Baroni to a multi-year contract. Mazel tov to the New York Badass.]
How often do you have to drop fighters who just aren’t working out?
I’ve only had to do it a couple times. I’m very selective when I take guys on, and I try to figure out what they want to do with their careers, and then what we can do for them. So it’s very infrequent that we have a problem where guys need to be dropped from the roster.
What would a fighter have to do to get on your bad side?
When guys don’t show up for fights, that reflects poorly on themselves and us. Or guys that repeatedly turn down good opportunities — if we provide really good opportunities for guys and they don’t want them, then I don’t know what we can do for them. If a guy doesn’t want to be a serious, professional fighter, then the match is no longer there. We bust our humps every day to get the guys opportunities, and the ones who are grateful take advantage of them.
Who’s the biggest pain in the ass of all your fighters?
There are a couple guys I represent who I have a love/hate thing with, but the underlying respect is there with all the clients, and the moment it breaks down there’s problems. I probably have a couple clients that don’t like me some days, and I don’t like them some days. But we need each other, and we respect each other. I’ll give you an example. Joe Riggs is a character, and Joe Riggs has actually done interviews where he’s said “Pavia’s full of baloney, he’s an egomaniac,” and at the end he goes “but he’s my agent, and he’s great.” Joe will probably tell you I’m a whack-job, I’ll tell you he’s a whack-job, but ultimately we’re really good for each other because he is the hardest working guy. Him and Phil Baroni are so focused and dedicated to the sport, and I respect that.
THE POWER OF THE PAV
What’s an example of something you do that goes beyond the call of duty for an agent?
My phone’s on literally seven days a week from about 10 in the morning until 3 in the morning, and it rings non-stop. I’m the friendly confidant when a guy’s confidence is down, and I make sure that when a guy gets in trouble, there’s somebody in that city, wherever he is in the world, that could help get him out of that trouble. We have a full staff of six, we work seven days a week, and all of us are on call non-stop. We’re just always there for our fighters.
Judging from your MySpace page, you like to party. Are you the swinging, unattached bachelor type, or does the party end when your girlfriend calls and makes you come home?
[Those MySpace pictures] come from babysitting after the event. Very often, fighters will have post-fight parties, and when I’m at those events I’m in work mode and I don’t consume alcohol. Do I enjoy the company of females? Who doesn’t? But ultimately I know what I’m there for, and that’s to take care of the client.
Could you define “The Power of the Pav”?
I joke about it a lot, but I think it’s the ability to get results. It’s almost like a Jedi mind-trick — it’s the ability to make things happen, to solve problems, to never to quit on something. The California Athletic Commission said Sean Salmon will never fight again because of his concussion situation. And I didn’t accept that. First of all, if he’s not physically fit, he won’t fight again, but I believe he is, and we’ve got numerous experts proving that. We’ve got an appeal going in front of the commission now, and I believe that he will get licensed again, and that’s an example of the Power of the Pav. I didn’t take no, I fought through it, and we got results.
In your columns for MMAJunkie about your experience with Luke Cummo’s life food diet and training regimen, you admitted that you were a touch homophobic. Doesn’t taking coffee enemas make you at least 10% gay? And how hot was the coffee?
The “homophobic” thing was to set up a joke. I’m not really homophobic. And the coffee was made and refrigerated overnight. It was miserable and painful, though. I mean, it was 2 liters of coffee. The tube is so tiny you can’t even tell, but having two liters of it in your intestines really freakin’ hurts.
For more on Ken and his agency, visit MMAAgents.com
(The Pav unwinds after a long day.)