How Diaz vs. Masvidal Was Made

The inside story of how a deal for 2019's most anticipated fight was finally completed.

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The Star Business

Malki and Abe Kawa are longtime fixtures in mixed martial arts.

Their talent agency, First Round Management, has endured longer than even the most tenured MMA agencies. In the old days, everyone was a manager. Almost all of them were terrible at managing things. Most of them were crooks. Several are still in prison today.

The UFC’s prior ownership group did everything in its power to eliminate managers and agents entirely, telling athletes that they didn’t need representation and should negotiate directly with the promotion. It was understandable back in 2009, when managers were bilking their athletes for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s a bad look for a budding industry, so the UFC worked very hard to eliminate it. They almost succeeded.

FRM survived all of that.

They’ve always had plenty of talent under their umbrella, but the impression from the outside was that FRM’s focus was on Jon Jones, while everyone else got table scraps. This isn’t entirely accurate; it’s just a reflection of Jones’ stature in the sport. But when I spoke to Abe on Saturday morning—he is in Abu Dhabi for UFC 242—he acknowledged a shift in the way he and his brother approach their athletes.

“We are in the star business, in promotion and build-up,” Kawa told me. “Any fight can happen. It’s making people care, and about getting our guys value up. We definitely want the win, but what happens in the fights are almost secondary.”

Life-Changing Money

After Nate Diaz’s callout of Masvidal, the Kawa brothers began working on a deal for the fight. Historically, the biggest hurdle in putting a Nate Diaz fight together has been in getting him interested enough to come to the table and participate in reasonable financial discussions. That wasn’t a problem this time.

Malki and Abe privately discussed the terms they wanted in a new deal for Masvidal. His stunning knockout of Ben Askren and fervent fan support meant Masvidal’s profile was higher than ever. It was time to go big. Malki handled negotiations with UFC executives. It was not an easy process, and it became more difficult when Abe traveled to Abu Dhabi.

But on Friday afternoon (or Saturday morning for Abe), after countless phone calls and no sleep, the deal was done.

Abe says Masvidal is getting “life changing” money for the fight. But a win over Diaz, while career-defining and lucrative, would create opportunities for Masvidal that few UFC fighters could ever dream of obtaining. If it happens, he’s in good hands.

“We think big. Always,” Abe says.