(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.