It’s time for the third Annual FIGHT! Power 20 of MMA, where we rank MMA’s top movers, shakers, moneymakers, players, and playas. The list is based on the idea that these 20 people can make real things happen — run an organization, book fights, put together large deals, open new markets, sell hundreds of thousands of PPV orders, or put asses in the seats at a fight venue or a movie theater.
From fighters and agents to entrepreneurs and executives, The Power 20 is a combination of all that MMA represents—a mixture of the best. When our panel of experts voted, these were the 20 peeps that had the MMA street cred to pay the bills.
20. URIJAH FABER – Fighter
Faber may have lost his WEC Featherweight Title more than a year ago, but “The California Kid” still remains the most recognizable star in the WEC. His life exemplifies his passion for the sport and his name recognition helped sell the organization’s first pay-per-view event. He’s still in the featherweight top 10, with rumblings of a move down to bantamweight. But wherever Faber ends up, one thing’s for sure—it will never be a boring fight.
19. BJORN REBNEY – Bellator Fighting Championships Chairman/CEO
Tapping the tremendous talent and fan base in the Hispanic market, Bellator’s tournament-style format runs throughout the year and broadcasts in the U.S., on ESPN Deportes, and in other countries world-wide. Under Rebney’s leadership, coverage expansion will include NBC, FOX Sports, and Telemundo, among others. As Season 2 wraps, current champions Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, and Lyman Goodwill prepare to defend their titles in Season 3, which will begin in August.
18. REED HARRIS – WEC GM
Since World Extreme Cage fighting was purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa three years ago, Harris has steered the featherweight and bantamweight divisions to new levels of notoriety, culminating with a successful inaugural pay-per-view offering in April. WEC has earned a reputation in MMA for never having boring fights, so Harris must be doing something right.
17. SHEIK TAHNOON – Abu Dhabi Combat Club Founder /Minority UFC Owner
One of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed was introduced to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by the Renzo Gracie in the 90’s. The Sheik created the ADCC submission wrestling tournament to promote competitive grappling in 1998. Held every two years, the event draws competitors from all over the world. Abu Dhabi hosted its first UFC event with UFC 112 in the U.A.E after Zuffa announced that the government-owned Flash Entertainment had purchased a 10 percent stake in the company. Look for Abu Dhabi to be a hotbed of MMA in the future.
16. MARK CUBAN – HDNet Owner
Up three spots from last year, the co-founder of HDNet—the first high-definition satellite television network—basks in the glory of providing the go-to place to watch a plethora of live MMA events, including K-1, DREAM, and XFC. HDNet Fights advertises as, “The channel with more live MMA events than any other network”— and they’re not kidding.
15. JEFF SHERWOOD – Sherdog.com Founder
The man they call “Sherdog,” is Jeff Sherwood, and he created Sherdog.com in 1997, the same year our No. 11 spot, The TapouT Crew, came onto the MMA scene. For both, business has grown from grassroots to gigantic. In Sherwood’s case, he developed the go-to place for MMA news, fan forums, and looking up the fight record of just about anyone who’s ever had their hands taped up. Sherwood continues his marked success by providing MMA updates and the Sherdog Radio Network content through podcasts with ESPN.com.
14. DEAN ALBRECHT – Agent
Albrecht started out as an agent at the age of 18, and after becoming the youngest ever General Manager in pro football in North America, he turned to representing MMA fighters. Albrecht’s extensive experience in management allows for top-level sponsorships and endorsements for clients that have included Frank Mir, Miguel Torres, Joe Stevenson, Quinton Jackson, Michael Bisping, Demian Maia, and Stephan Bonnar.
13. DEWAYNE ZINKIN / BOB COOK – Agents
The dynamic duo that is Dewayne Zinkin and “Crazy” Bob Cook, operating Zinkin Entertainments and Sports Management, is closing in on a decade of unique MMA management services that focus on long term career planning for fighters. Their roster of clients features Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin and a host of fighters from American Kickboxing Academy (where Cook also trains alongside Javier Mendez and Bob Camarillo) that includes Cain Velasquez, Josh Thompson, Jon Fitch, Mike Swick, and Josh Koscheck.
12. JORGE GUIMARAES/ED SOARES – Agents
The Guimaraes-Soares connection began in 2004 when Soares filmed and Guimaraes produced Passing the Guard, an MMA relatedTV show for the U.S. market. Now, Soares, who is also the owner of Sinister Brand Clothing, often interprets for his fighters in pre- and post-fight interviews. Based in Brazil, Guimaraes helps to run Team Black House, where their noteworthy Brazilian clients train, including Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonia Rogerio Nogueira, Paulo Filho, Pedro Rizzo, Junior dos Santos, and Jose Aldo.
11. TAPOUT CREW – Founders TapouT Clothing
In 13 years, the TapouT gang has gone from selling t-shirts out of the back of their car at local MMA events to selling t-shirts in 20,000 retail stores worldwide. With the most successful MMA clothing line out there, a bi-weekly live radio show, and a stable of sponsored fighters, the TapouT Crew—Dan “Punkass” Caldwell, Tim “Skyskrape” Katz, and the legacy of Charles “Mask” Lewis—continue the company’s original visions of success and dedication to the growth of MMA.
10. GREG JACKSON – Trainer
Every trainer has tricks, and all of the best gyms (more or less) teach the same stuff. What separates the great trainers from the merely good ones is an ability to connect with fighters and maximize their potential. Greg Jackson has built an empire on the aforementioned trait, but “The Fight Whisperer” holds it together by masterfully managing the egos of his fighters, partners, and associate coaches. The extended Jackson’s MMA family includes a UFC champ, a former UFC champ, contenders in several weight classes, and some of the sport’s hottest prospects. That’s a lot of influence, and Jackson wields it with a shrug and an easy smile.
9. QUINTON “RAMPAGE”JACKSON – Fighter
Rampage inspires enmity and loyalty in equal measure, and that guarantees high ratings and lots of pay-per-view buys. His second turn as a TUF coach and subsequent UFC114 main event fight were successful largely because of the heat generated by his nonstop clowning and trash talk. He leveraged fame in the fight game into a reprisal of the role of B.A. Baracus in the film version of The A-Team. It’s the biggest pop-culture crossover yet for an MMA star, and the exposure could have a huge impact on his marketability as a fighter if he chooses to recommit to training and competing.
8. BROCK LESNAR – Fighter
A star before he stepped into the cage, the former professional wrestler is a guaranteed pay-per-view draw. But the long-term impact of his decision to pursue MMA is far greater than PPV buy rates. Lesnar is helping to make the heavyweight class the marquee division in combat sports, a position it hasn’t held since Mike Tyson was in his scary prime. The former WWE Superstar also has redefine
d the look of the division, ushering in the era of super-sized elite athletes who have to cut weight to make the 265 pound limit.
7. SCOTT COKER – Strikeforce President
Depending on how you view the world, Strikeforce is either a company on the make or a distant second to the industry-leading UFC. Luckily for Strikeforce, its CEO, Scott Coker, is a glass-half-full kind of guy. Just three years ago, Strikeforce was a strong regional promotion with a few name guys selling tickets at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Now bolstered by assets acquired from Elite XC, a broadcast agreement with CBS/Showtime, and co-promotional agreements with M-1 Global and DREAM, Coker’s company is not only likely to survive, but to thrive in years to come.
6. RANDY COUTURE – Fighter
Universally admired and respected within the sport, Randy Couture is one of the few MMA fighters who registers a blip on the pop culture radar. He was one of the first fighters to parlay success in the cage into branded gyms, clothing lines, product endorsements, media appearances, and roles in television shows and films. His appearance in The Expendables, a Sly Stallone vehicle that features a murderer’s row of action movie stars, may catapult him to even greater heights of celebrity and market ability as a fighter, actor, analyst, and entrepreneur.
5. GEORGES ST-PIERRE – Fighter
Favoring tailored suits over t-shirts and jeans, GSP is the refined pitchman needed to sell MMA to state and federal legislatures as well as major corporations. The reigning UFC Welterweight Champion is photogenic, fan-friendly, and is the only MMA fighter who cashes endorsement checks from Gatorade and Under Armour. He’s as big of a star in Canada as you can be without putting on skates. His success has turned trainers Firas Zahabi, Phil Nurse, and John Danaher into stars in their own right, and his affiliation with Greg Jackson was key in making Jackson’s MMA a super-team that nearly spans the entirety of North America.
4. MARC RATNER – UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs
Ratner is the point man in discussions with states, provinces, and municipalities where MMA is illegal or unregulated. A former Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he serves as the defacto commissioner in countries where there is no regulation. Ratner knows the regulatory side of the fight game as well or better than anybody, and he is playing an increasingly important role as the UFC attempts to enforce uniform standards across the globe.
3. LORENZO FERTITTA – UFC Owner
As one half of Zuffa, LLC’s majority shareholders, Lorenzo is the more active of the Fertitta brothers. While his brother Frank III tends to the family’s Station Casino interests, Lorenzo works behind the scenes to expand Zuffa’s global footprint. Dana White is out in front talking about the company’s deals, decisions, and strategy, but Lorenzo is backing his play and signing checks. An increasingly visible element of the promotion, Lorenzo participated in a Q&A at the first UFC Fan Expo and gave a keynote address at the second Expo in May 2010, giving fans a peek behind the curtain of the world’s largest MMA promotion.
2. JOE SILVA – UFC Matchmaker
One call from Joe Silva can make or break a fighter’s career. The UFC matchmaker works in secret, cordoned off from the media, scouting for new talent and securing bouts for upcoming events. He hires and fires talent for the biggest promotion in the world, so even though he never speaks on the record, his opinion is heard loud and clear.
1. DANA WHITE – UFC President
Dana White isn’t as physically powerful as the men he employs, and he isn’t sitting on as much capital as his Zuffa partners, but he is far and away the most powerful person on this list. One could argue that his stubborn refusal to deviate from his vision and strategy is precisely the reason why the UFC became an empire under his stewardship. He makes more media appearances than most of the UFC roster combined, serving as the face of the promotion. He excommunicates those who displease him (see: Tito Ortiz, Sherdog) and offers absolution when it pleases him (see: Tito Ortiz, Sherdog). He walks among the people, Tweeting, video blogging, and handing out tickets to grateful fans at Pinkberry and the mall. Simply put, he’s got juice, and more of it than anyone else you’ll find on this list.