I recently caught up with Ragan McDaniel of B3 Sports Management for an in-depth discussion on the Houston fight game, sports management, and setting up support systems for up-and-coming fighters. As the brainchild behind the most-visible sports management entity catering to local fighters from Houston and all around Texas, Ragan should be well-qualified to give us some insight on the business of MMA.
B3’s stable of Houston-based includes professionals like Andrew Craig (Team Tooke, recent Bellator winner) and Adam Schindler (Gracie Barra, recent Strikeforce winner), and also amateurs such as Akira Smith (4oz Fight Club, rumored to be signing with a nationwide promotion soon).
Thanks for speaking to me Ragan. As I always like to do, let’s start at the beginning. How long have you been a fan of MMA? What got you into the sport?
I started watching the sport of MMA by accident when the UFC started. I was at a friend’s house watching the first UFC back in 1993. I was blown away by how crazy it looked. I’ve always been a fan of martial arts and have been around some form of martial arts for many, many years (don’t want to give away my age, people think I’m younger than I am…ha!) but this was something exciting and new! I grew up watching Mike Tyson in his “dominating” years and I still remember where I was when he got beat by Buster Douglas. Its crazy how one person dominating a sport can really grasp the average fan and make them remember specifics from a fight 20 years later. That was really when I took an interest in boxing and other stand up martial arts. I was not a fan of the ground game in the beginning due to a lack of understanding. Now, I think BJJ is the most complex and interesting martial art around.
How did you decided to get into sports management? Tell us a little about B3 Sports and some of the history behind your involvement in MMA.
I have a background in management and working with people. My college degree is in psychology, so what better way to use that than to “manage people”? A good friend of mine several years ago asked for help with managing his fights and everything that goes with it. I loved being in that atmosphere so I decided that I was going to dedicate time and effort to help as many people that I could. Being in the business of managing MMA fighters can never be about the money. I think that is a misconception that some have. I consider myself a good manager because I do it because I love and respect the sport. I do think that there is another misconception that others have which I call the “Don King Stereotype”. I know that Don King is not a manager, but I feel as if that is the perception that a lot of gyms and individuals have when they see a MMA manager….feeling that I am coming in to “steal” their fighter or try and get money. Once they see that I work side-by-side with the gym owners, trainers, and fighters using the hierarchy that they establish, and open some doors that they may not have access to, they want me to work with all of their fighters. I want to walk in the gym with a big sign saying “I’m here to help” before the pre-judgement starts. Like I said, it only takes a short time for individuals to see what I’m about and what my company stands for. Then they become very receptive.
What are your thoughts on seeing the sport grow here in Houston?
More and more gyms are popping up in Houston and the surrounding areas which allows more opportunities for people to train. We are very fortunate to have quality promotions in this area that actually care about the fighters and give them chances to succeed. It is a double-edge sword though. One problem that I’ve had with Houston MMA is that we seem to be at a civil war with each other, per say. I don’t see it as much in many other large cities, where their top fighters continue to fight each other, canceling each other out. What I mean is this…if we have 10 fighters in Houston that have the talent and ability to possibly get to the next level, why are they fighting each other? One will win and one will lose, but what happens to the losing fighter? On a national scene, his record is now tarnished. On the flip side, it is one reason why the shows here in Houston are some of the best in the country.
What part do you (B3 Sports) hope to play in the ascent of Houston MMA and its fighters into national prominence?
It is a really good feeling to see the B3 fighters in the cage, especially on the national scene. It means the world to me for my company to work with an amateur fighter and give them the exposure and opportunity that they may not get otherwise, and being behind them as they climb the ranks. Watching those fighters compete in large shows, on television, and in the spotlight is something that makes me feel like a proud parent. That is how I feel about the fighters that I work with. They become family to me. It means a lot that I can use my contacts and relationships with individuals that I have worked very hard to establish and give a fighter an opportunity to represent their gym, the city of Houston, and the state of Texas on a national scene.
What is it that you do for your fighters? Is it primarily matchmaking? Procuring sponsors? Give our readers (your average MMA fan) some insight on what aspects of a fighter’s career you assist with.
A very good question and I don’t think that I could sum everything up in just a paragraph. I like to have the fighters ONLY focus on training and getting ready for the fight. That’s when I feel like I’m doing my job. From the small things such as lining up tickets for their family to the large things like securing sponsors (and everything in between), I take it all very seriously. One thing that all of the fighters represented by B3 will say is that I go above and beyond to make sure that they have everything they need. I speak to the promoters, put my fighters in positive situations on shows, make sure they have proper gear, secure sponsors, line up interviews, and make sure they have no uncertainties leading into a fight. I provide research on their opponent and make sure that when their song starts (to walk to the cage), they are fully confident that 100% of everything has been taken care of. You (as a fighter) train for the fight and I’ve got everything else covered. That’s when I’m successful.
How do you go about picking opponents for your fighters? And do you sometimes recommend your guys NOT to fight certain people? What’s this decision making process like?
When I speak with promoters, either by them calling or emailing me or vice versa, I will go over the available openings for specific weight classes. More times than not, I get a call about a particular fighter that I manage asking for their availability. It has come a long way from me begging my way on fight cards for my fighters to now fielding calls and emails every day asking for either a particular fighter or for “any B3 fighter available”. Once a matchup is offered, I then get in touch with the gym owner/trainer of that particular fighter first and let them know about the possibility. I get their thoughts before it is discussed with the fighter. Once they approve, it is then discussed with the fighter about that particular matchup. The decision to either accept or decline the fight is 100% on the fighter. I offer my suggestions and thoughts about the fight, whether positive or negative, but I fully support what the fighter decides and their word is final. They are the ones getting in the cage/ring and I want to make sure it is something that they are confident about and a situation where everyone is on the same page.
What’s the best part about being in this business? What’s the worst?
The best part of the business is immediately following a fight, whether a win or loss, a fighter comes up to me, gives a hug and says “thanks”. If you’ve been to a show where I have had a fighter competing on, I’m sure you’ve seen me pacing around like a nervous parent. Although I’m not in the cage, I feel the same pain and the same enjoyment that my fighter feels. Seeing guys get opportunities that they wouldn’t have had elsewhere and making the most of those opportunities is the best part of being a manager. Having everything come together for a common goal is the most rewarding thing I could ask for. As far as the worst part of being in this business, it’s the time sacrifice. You really have to love the sport to dedicate the time it takes to make it. People that know me personally know that I’m working 16 hours a day to be successful. Sometimes that is what it takes and I don’t cut corners. Also, people that know me personally know the sacrifices that my entire family makes so that I have the opportunity to devote the time and effort it takes. I’m very lucky to have the family that I have.
Tell us a little about some of the fighters you manage who you consider ready for the next level.
I have a few guys that I manage full-time that are ready for the next level. The first is Adam Schindler who just won at Strikeforce. He is currently 8-1 as a pro and is the current lightweight champion for 2 different large organizations. He won the fight of the night at Bellator, beating Brian Melancon, and most recently pulled off what others say was the submission of the night at Strikeforce here in Houston. Adam will be on the big screen very soon, possibly with his next fight. The next is Levi Forrest, who is the current Legacy welterweight title holder. Levi is another fighter that is ready for the next level and will be there soon, beating Mike Bronzoulis in his most previous fight. The third B3 fighter that is making a name for himself is Andrew Craig from Team Tooke. Andrew just beat a superstar in Rodrigo Pinhero at Bellator very convincingly with a third round TKO. Andrew has the most talent at 185 that I’ve seen in a long time. I’m sure I’ll catch hell for not mentioning other fighters that I work with too, so thanks Mike…ha!
What’s 2011 and beyond hold for B3 and its stable of MMA Competitors?
Continue to move forward. That’s one thing that I tell my fighters to stick to. Once they move up a level, continue to do so. I have recently brought on Rich Burmaster to help with B3 recruiting and he’s already doing a great job. With a lot of our fighters getting bigger opportunities on a national scale, I am having to travel more and Rich greatly helps out when I have to do so. You’ll see more quality fighters on cards sporting the trademark B3 Fist logo as shows approach and keep looking for some breaking news about a few guys signing multi-fight deals with the “big boys”. Can’t spill the beans yet…
Any other thoughts you’d like to share about Houston MMA?
Houston MMA is growing and doing so fast. We can expect more big shows in the future which will give local guys more opportunities. I’m excited about the direction MMA is going here in Houston. With guys like Mick Maynard at Legacy and the opportunities that he gives the fighters here, we will continue to make noise in the world of MMA. If you’re a fighter here, take advantage of those opportunities given and make the most of them. If you see me walking around at a fight, take the time to stop and say hello. I’m there because I love the sport and I’m always happy to be at a fight. I always appreciate good conversation with others in the MMA community, so don’t be a stranger when you see me.
Thanks for the time and insight, Ragan.
Authors Note: For fighters seeking representation, please consider ALL possible avenues before choosing the best agency or manager that works for you. Below are some of my recommended articles to read before you make an informed decision.