Before the announcement of India’s Super Fight League, most of the Asian MMA community probably never heard of Ken Pavia. There’s even a high chance that the average MMA fan in America doesn’t know him either, but if you were in the industry, you’d probably hear his name everywhere. That’s because Ken has been one of the top and most well known agents representing the top names in MMA for years.
Ken and his company MMA Agents fast became one of the top companies managing professional mixed martial artists. MMA Agents boasted a clientele that included names such as Anthony Johnson, Chris “Cyborg” Santos, Chris Lytle and Martin Kampman. They managed fighters in the top organizations such as Pride, Bellator, Strikeforce and of course, the UFC. Ken eventually sold the company to focus on other projects, one of them being India’s first professional Mixed Martial Arts league, The Super Fight League.
ProMMAnow.com’s Asian correspondent Wesley De Souza had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Ken on his life in the MMA industry, the SFL and his thoughts on his partners in the SFL. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did.
WDS: First and foremost, thank you so much for granting us this interview with you. We greatly appreciate it:
Ken: My pleasure. Thanks for the attention.
WDS: You’ve been a major player as a sports agent for many years with a company that you founded, MMA Agents, managing fighters from Bellator, Pride, Strikeforce and of course, the UFC. What was it like being in that field for so many years and what lessons have you learnt from it about the Mixed Martial Arts industry?
Ken: I managed fighters for the love of the sport and because as a fan MMA is awesome but to have a personal and business relationship with someone that engages in this sport makes it that much more exciting. What I learned was that through the growth of the sport we contribute and make sacrifices often just to get by. The travel, lack of sleep, and absence of structure can be very trying. It reminds me of football with leather helmets of baseball before free agency when the sacrifice was there but the return hadn’t matured yet.
WDS: As we all know, you’re now the CEO of India’s first pro-MMA company, called the Super Fight League (SFL). How did you, being from California, become one of the head honchos of a company that’s half way across the world?
Ken: A very sharp serial entrepreneur by the name of Raj Kundra with a vision flew to Beverly Hills and asked for a meeting with me. Raj recognized an opportunity and what he has shown me in the two months I have worked with him is that he is a man of action, not a man of words. He believed he needed experienced professionals in each department of his organization and has put together the most impressive team that I have seen in 10 years in this sport. I am honored to be a part of it. He was also very flexible in working within the parameters of my other responsibilities with TKDN. We both saw the enormous potential synergies between the organizations.
WDS: For our readers that are unaware of the SFL, could you tell us more about it and it’s concept of Sportainment?
Ken: Sure, MMA as a sport is a complete unknown to the Indian audience. I was constantly asked “Is it real?” and “So it is a kick boxing league?” and “That cant be safe, do people die?” Raj recognized that we needed more than the sport to initially attract the audience. As a result we have paired down the card to 8 total fights and will begin and end the night with chart topping performers in concert. The concert names alone would fill the arenas. Sprinkle in the backing of the Indian film industry, Bollywood, and huge celebrity involvement like our co founder Sanjay Dutt, and it becomes an entertainment experience. So you come for a concert, stay for the fights, and hopefully we will get you addicted along the way.
WDS: What’s your target audience? While we know that the most obvious targeted demographic will be the males aged 18-35, what other segments are you trying to capture with the Sportainment concept?
Ken: The target audience in the US was once the 18-35 year old males because that is where the majority of the disposable income the advertisers seek lies. But I think that has expanded in North America. We are casting our net wide, and that will be evidenced by the concerts that will be included. We want you to bring a date or even feel like it is OK to bring your teen-aged kids because what you are watching is a highly regulated safe sport where the combatant are of a very high skill level.
WDS: Your partners, Sanjay Dutt, Raj Kundra and Daniel Isaac are all big time names in their respective fields. What is like working with them?
Ken: There was natural synergy from “go”. Raj is a much like me in that we refuse to be outworked and love what we do. He has achieved high levels of success in many businesses and he is definitely hands on in this endeavor. There is enough humility and willingness to delegate and work as a team. Dan is Mr. Indian MMA. If there is an Indian fighter anywhere in the world he knows everything about them. I was particularly impressed with his old school MMA stat knowledge particularly with the lack of coverage in India. He is so grateful of the opportunity to bring the sport to his country. Sanjay is a presence and a huge star in India. You can sense that in speaking to him, even though he is very approachable and has a quick wit which keeps people laughing. You don’t realize just how big he is there until he is in the company of Indians that have grown up on his movies and the public in general and then it is very apparent the level of stardom he has obtained. We are very lucky to have him as a leader on our team.
WDS: How different is it being a CEO of a fight company as oppose to being the President of a MMA agent company? Are you feeling the stress that Dana White has always talked about already?
Ken: My belief is stress is self controlled. I actually felt much more stress as an agent because of the responsibility that I pledged to take on as the guiding light for 55 plus clients. And stress motivates me. Greg Jackson once said to me one of the elements of success is to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Fortunately I have deep rooted connections in the sport and many friends. My personality is such that we really get along or we really don’t, not much middle ground. So I have turned to the majority that I really get along with in helping me advance the company. I use the same contacts and resources I used as an agent in my role with the SFL.
WDS: The MMA scene is blowing up in Asia with companies such as the URCC from Philippines, Dare in Thailand, Ruff from China, ONE FC from Singapore and now the SFL bursting onto the scene. What are your thoughts on the Asian MMA market and how does it compare to the North American market.
Ken: We were trail blazers here in the US and now the path is worn and negotiable. While we are seeing more organization spring up in Asia, and in Europe for that matter, look for quicker advancement. While they are 10 years behind now, they will catch up at some point. Ultimately the speed of success is reliant upon the most crucial element which is broadcast revenue. The faster the sponsors accept MMA and are willing to buy commercial time, the faster the money will make it to the new MMA organizations. Outside of the UFC I believe we have hit a plateau here in the US.
WDS: Will the SFL only limit shows in India or are there plans to take it outside the country?
Ken: We have plans for 6 shows this year, all in India, but we are weighing all options and giving consideration to foreign opportunities.
WDS: Where does the SFL plan to get it’s fighters from? From what we understand you’ll be using home grown talent for a majority of the fight cards and international names for the main event. Any plans to bring in fighters from other countries such as China, Korea and the Philippines into the SFL to compete?
Ken: You will see a nice blend of Indian and International talent. Our model at this time is to seek exciting fighters who have achieved a significant amount of success in major organizations and also provide fights for our developing Indian talent. To date there has been no real opportunities for advancement for Indian fighters, well we are changing that. Dan and the SFL have made significant strides in cultivating and improving domestic Indian MMA fighters.
WDS: We understand that you’re also the VP of Takedown Entertainment being responsible for creating strategic partnerships with MMA fight promoters, sponsors and suppliers globally. Could you tell us more about this?
Ken: My role with Takedown is to spearhead the aggregation of archive and live content rights from fight promotions around the world and to negotiate strategic alliances for broadcast and digital media distribution. Takedown is currently preparing for the next phase of its business – we’ve been working diligently behind the scenes – and people should look for big news from Takedown very soon.
WDS: You seem like a very busy man who is living MMA 24-7. What do you do in your free time (if you have any) to unwind and get away from the madness?
Ken: MMA is not only my job and career but when I am not working it is my passion and hobby. Free time? Well it is 2am now and I have 3 or so more hours tonight. When I find time I watch old fights, surf Sherdog record finder, slip in a work out, get lost in social media, and when I really want to treat myself I nap on a beach until I turn bright red.
WDS: What do you like about Asia, especially in India?
Ken: The people have been great. They are very genuine. I keep waiting for a hidden agenda but it seems there isn’t one. Culturally it is much different than California. I also enjoy tasting the cuisine of the lands I visit and India is no different, although its cuisine is like no other.
WDS: Tell us why, in one sentence, we should watch the SFL.
Ken: Because it will make you stop missing Pride.
WDS: Any parting words for our readers and the fans of the SFL?
WDS: One last question and we really have to ask this. Is Sanjay Dutt really as fierce as he looks?
Ken: Dude is intense, but I wouldn’t say fierce.
Thank you so much for your time Ken. It’s been a pleasure and we can’t wait to see what the SFL has in store for India and Asia on 2012!
Ken: Thank you for covering us.