“I really can’t speak to the past. I can only speak to the acquisition of WSOF by PFL, which then brought a new vision with it as well as new top management.” — PFL CEO Peter Murray talking to Bleacher Report in August 2018.
The Professional Fighters League (PFL) held a total of 11 events in 2018, including the recent New Year’s Eve season-ending championship bonanza.
The promotion is currently in its second incarnation after changing its name from World Series of Fighting (WSOF) – a promotion embroiled in a series of litigious claims which are still finding their way through the courts. At the heart of the claims lies an ever-present nucleus of people who are still involved with the promotion today, either in an official or unofficial capacity.
While the WSOF duly transferred ownership after the multiple lawsuits levied against them in 2017, the new financial backers of the rebranded PFL seemed to want to keep certain former executives in downgraded roles for purposes of continuity.
Former President of WSOF, Ray Sefo, would take up the role of Fighting Operations President, while former CEO, Carlos Silva, would become President of Event Production and Business Operations. This transfer of power seemingly opened the door for a fresh start for both Silva and Sefo, who had both come under fire for their incestuous relationship with Ali Abdelaziz, the owner of Dominance MMA Management and a former WSOF executive. Abdelaziz was relieved from his duties after it was revealed he was engaging in a serious conflict of interest by also managing multiple fighters who fought for the promotion.
It appears that these bad habits are hard to shake. Sefo and Silva’s problematic friendship with Abdelaziz still lingers and is very much present under the rebranded PFL, even if it’s not officially recognized by the states they promote in.
PFL was set out into three stages over the course of the season: the regular season, which represented seven events in total; the playoff rounds, which represented a further three events; and the finals, which was a singular, year-end event.
(*Since publishing The Body Lock has independently confirmed another fighter on the PFL roster that is represented by Abdelaziz and Dominance MMA Management. Herein data will be amended to reflect the new information.)
Sefo and Silva effortlessly reverted to old habits and turned to their former colleague and friend, Ali Abdelaziz, to fill the 11 scheduled events. Through Sefo and Silva, Dominance MMA Management managed to secure spots on the PFL roster for a total of *28 fighters throughout 2018. The total number of fighters that appeared through the entirety of the season totaled 92, meaning that fighters represented by Abdelaziz accounted for *30.4% of the entire roster.
Through the entirety of the regular season, 43 fighters represented by Abdelaziz were involved in 42 of the 76 matches, equating to *55.2% of the total bouts. In the proceeding playoff rounds, 17 fighters represented by Abdelaziz featured 26 times across 23 bouts, raising the percentage up to *58.9% of the total bouts. The final on New Year’s Eve saw that number yet again spike to 71.4%, as six Abdelaziz represented fighters featured in five of the total bouts.
The disproportionate roster places awarded in the regular season ultimately afforded more opportunity to Abdelaziz managed fighters to progress into the latter, more cash-beneficial rounds. It’s a simple matter of probability; one which has been heavily skewed in favor of a solitary management company: Dominance MMA Management.
While those numbers are certainly alarming, it’s worth noting that the regular season and the playoff rounds also had a number of fights involving Abdelaziz represented fighters fall out. The regular season saw four fights canceled involving fighters represented by Abdelaziz. The playoff round saw that increase by another five.
Furthermore, throughout the entirety of the season, there have been a total of five fights between guys managed by Abdelaziz. Effectively a win-win situation as Abdelaziz reaps the benefits whatever the outcome. With Abdelaziz’s “big brother” Ray Sefo acting as the official matchmaker, the relationship warrants scrutiny.
Card placement of Dominance managed fighters was also skewed in favor of Abdelaziz throughout the regular season. Over the course of the regular season, 25 out of the 42 main card fights had Abdelaziz fighters involved, equating to *59.5%. Fighters managed by Abdelaziz featured in 9 of the 11 co-main events and 6 of the 11 main events, equating to 81.8% and 54.5%, respectively.
The blatant cronyism shown to Abdelaziz by Sefo and Silva has facilitated their friend and former colleague into earning a hefty sum off the back of his clients, who, given the data, have been given every possible opportunity by the PFL to line Abdelaziz’s pockets unfairly. When fighters from a solitary management company account for almost one-third of a promotion’s entire roster, the relationship between manager and matchmaker warrants scrutiny.
This relationship is demonstrably problematic given it has the opportunity to facilitate unfair business practices, and it also raises a whole myriad of questions that investors would likely want to be answered. Why is Dominance MMA Management being given a disproportionate number of spots on the PFL roster? Could financial kickbacks in return for spots on cards be an issue? Dependent on state, are fights between fighters managed by the same manager legal? Could other managers mount a legal case for unfair business practices against the PFL? If questions linger regarding whether or not a conflict of interest exists, real or perceived, is it not in their best interest to avoid the appearance of impropriety?
Jordan Breen of Sherdog noted, “The potential for managers to influence illegitimate outcomes is obvious if they control the majority of a talent of pool, or worse, both parties in a specific fight. It doesn’t matter whether or not anything nefarious actually happens in reality, either; even the appearance of impropriety is a major issue.”
Esteemed investigative journalist Mike Russell stated that Abdelaziz would have stood to earn at least $500,000 from his clients in the PFL New Year’s Eve championship event had they all won. When you factor in Abdelaziz was also taking a cut of Kayla Harrison’s purse and also a percentage from finale loser Steven Siler (who lost to another Abdelaziz client, Lance Palmer), that number increases.
Here is a sobering stat: Ali Abdelaziz stood to make at least $500k in tournament management fees tonight from his clients including Vinny M and Lance Palmer. His annual WSOF salary was $100k.
— Mike Russell (@MIKERUSSELLMMA) January 1, 2019
By allowing Sefo, Silva, and Abdelaziz to engage in these practices, the new, rebranded PFL is falling into many of the same pitfalls which raised them legal issues in their former incarnation. When CEO Peter Murray stated “I really can’t speak to the past,” maybe it’s time to realize the past is actually the present and there are legitimate concerns about this being an ongoing issue.
Should Sefo, Silva, and Abdelaziz continue operating in this manner, scrutiny and criticism is warranted, and accountability from shareholders should be expected.