Audie Attar has experienced “the good, the bad and the ugly” in the dozen years since he came into MMA management with Paradigm Sports. He admits that, even to this day, it’s a constant learning and self-reflection process.
However, he’s confident his company is the cream of the crop when it comes to giving athletes the best representation.
The roster certainly speaks for itself. No MMA management firm represents more current UFC champions than Paradigm. Light heavyweight kingpin Jiri Prochazka, middleweight titleholder Israel Adesanya and welterweight champ Leon Edwards sit at the top of their respective divisions, and Paradigm’s crop of roughly 70 fighters also includes the biggest star in the sport’s history, Conor McGregor, whom Attar helped secure a life-changing deal to box Floyd Mayweather in August 2017.
Attar, who is the founder and CEO of Paradigm, comes from an athletic background himself as a high school football standout. He’s used his knowledge of sports and business to create a management empire, and the reach of the company expands beyond MMA into football, soccer and media personalities, as well.
“I think we’re on track,” Attar told MMA Junkie about the current state of the company. “I looked back at the original business plan, and there’s a lot of people that laughed at me for how ambitious it was and focusing on the advocacy that’s in my DNA as a former athlete. I really wanted to fight for athletes in more than one way, and I felt that it wasn’t just transactional and being the best in class from a management perspective.
“We’re not only building a culture of excellence, but a winning culture, and it’s showing through our hard work and not only the results that we’re driving for our clients, but even the recruiting that we’re doing and the talent we’re signing early on. It’s a very exciting time to be part of the team, and we’re very fortunate for these athletes to entrust us to be a small part of their journey and guide them to success.”
‘Behind our back they may say some stuff’
Audie Attar, left, and Conor McGregor at the 2020 Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Athlete representation – particularly in MMA – can be a complex and difficult road to navigate. Attar said he’s learned that the hard way at times, but ultimately his singular mission is to get the best opportunities for his clients, whether it’s inside or outside of a competitive setting.
MMA has exploded in exposure and popularity since Attar entered the business more than a decade ago. Because of that, the goal posts are constantly moving. Revenue streams for promoters, be it from broadcast deals to sponsorships and more, is rapidly evolving, which means there’s more money involved in the sport.
For Attar, it’s important to be diligent about maximizing profits for each fighter. That might mean taking hard stances when it comes to contract negotiations with notable organizations like UFC, Bellator, PFL, ONE Championship, and more.
“Because we’ve been such staunch advocates for our athletes, I don’t think we’re necessarily the most popular with the promoters,” Attar said. “But at the end of the day, we still have dialogue, we still have respect for them. Behind our back they may say some stuff about us, but that just means we’re doing a good job. As long as we’re able to handle things with a level of integrity – they may not like us, but I think they’re going to understand. I think these promoters for the most part do care about the sport. Deep down they do care about the athletes, but we may disagree from a business perspective on certain aspects not limited to compensation.”
Securing the best compensation for a client is ultimately the most important part of Attar’s job. Without a fighters union or collective bargaining in MMA, contract negotiations are dramatically different from the likes of the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB, where the pay structures are much more advanced.
That makes Attar’s position more challenging. Each negotiation differs based on an abundance of factors, and Attar said it’s a comprehensive task to make sure there are no oversights in any deal.
“There’s a lot of improvement that could be had when it comes to fighter compensation, benefits, as it relates to mobility and being able to test the market and get fair market value,” Attar said. “These are things we’ve always fought for and continue to fight for that are still there. The reemergence of some competitors is a good thing. … UFC is still the premier promotion, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon, but having these second and third and fourth promotions in the market place is good, but they too employ some of the same strategies that prevent a fighter from testing the market. In turn, they’re not any better, but they claim to be different. With that being said, I think what all managers should do is really continue to advocate for their clients and continue to have difficult conversations with these promoters.
“I do think that the promoters over time will respect it. They may not like it, but I know that the real ones, they do care about the fighters, they do care about the sport. It’s not just a business for them. I think if we’re able to have healthy conversations about uncomfortable subjects, it’s only going to push the envelop further and allow healthy success for the promoters and the athletes at the same time. Rising tides raises all ships in my opinion, so I think mangers have to be willing to have difficult conversations about uncomfortable subjects in the spirit of athlete advocacy, in the spirit of promoting and pushing the sport we all love, whether you’re on the promotion side or whether you’re on the athlete management side.”
Thoughts on free agency
In 2022, fighter free agency is more significant than it’s been at any period in MMA history. The idea of fighting to the end of a contract, be it in the UFC or elsewhere, is far less foreign than it was before.
That’s a good thing, Attar said, but it doesn’t always mean free agency is the best path. Non-UFC organizations might be keen to pay certain fighters above their market value, because that particular fighter might fit its needs, but Attar said that’s not always the case. So when advising a fighter in a free-agent situation, Attar said it comes down to having the appropriate information and knowledge of the landscape.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve done so many deals across several promotions, so we feel, and we have our own formulaic approach to doing our own, let’s call it ‘contract prep’ headed into a negotiation,” Attar said. “If you feel you’re going to receive fair market value without hitting free agency, then you don’t need to hit free agency. But if you think your fair market value is at a certain level, and you’re not able to achieve that level during the exclusive negotiation period, well then, you may want to hit free agency.
“I never say it’s a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s not. But that is a true approach to how I feel all managers should approach a negotiation with a respective promotion. I think I see too often it’s kind of a haggling like you’re at a flee market. It needs more thought than that. Obviously as the career is younger and maybe the economic indicators are not as evident, meaning the person doesn’t drive pay-per-view buys, significant social media analytics, etc., it may be a shorter research and ‘contract prep.’ But nonetheless it should require a certain level of thought, because this is their life that you’re tasked with representing them.”
A ‘body of work truly rooted in advocacy’
Israel Adesanya and Paradigm’s Tim Simpson at UFC 271.
In the current landscape, some fighters have expressed that representation is not needed. Former UFC champion Dominick Cruz and rising bantamweight star Sean O’Malley are two marquee names over the past year who have spoken out in claiming that outside management is not essential.
Tim Simpson, who is the senior vice president of Paradigm’s MMA division, said it’s not that simple. He’s naturally biased given his occupation, but Simpson thinks it behooves any fighter to make sure they have someone who can speak for their best interests.
“It’s unfortunate that you hear that, because fighters definitely need representation,” Simpson told MMA Junkie. “The problem with representation in this industry is that there’s a lot of bad management. There’s no barrier to entry to be a manager. There’s no certification. You don’t need any real skills. All you have to say is, ‘That’s my manager,’ and now you’re an MMA manager. With that comes a lot of low-level representation. You need the right people. Some people can do it themselves, which is great for them, but as your brand continues to grow you need people that are managing your affairs and representing you and advocating for you.”
When it comes to pursuing those interests, Attar said there’s no one doing it better in the space than Simpson, which is why he inserted him into a position of power.
“Tim Simpson, I feel, is hands down the best manager in MMA,” Attar said. “I’ve seen Tim grow tremendously, and the one thing I would stay that really instilled the level of faith I have in his ability is the relentless effort, his natural business acumen, but his curiosity to learn and research anything even more despite how much he might already know about something. He’s always a student of the game. He’s not a know-it-all. Not only that, but his temperament to roll through the highs and the lows at an even keel is amazing.”
Although managers in MMA naturally benefit from their jobs because they take a percentage of deals from athletes – as an agent would in any scenario across sports or entertainment – Attar said he thinks Paradigm has created a unique and selfless culture in the space.
Attar sees room for growth in Paradigm’s ability to serve its clients in MMA and the sports landscape as a whole. He said he’ll forever stand by his mission statement to negotiate the best and most fitting deals for any athlete associated to his brand.
“I think if you’re able to continue to pound the pavement and show time on your side and the body of work that is truly rooted in advocacy,” Attar said. “It’s never been to screw a promoter over. It’s really just to maximize an athlete’s career, because at the end of the day the athletes risk everything in there. Ultimately that’s not forever, so we need to make sure they’re protected not just from a compensation perspective, but in all aspects of what we’re trying to push for as it relates to their advocacy.”