The Business of MMA: Glenn Robinson

Profiling the movers and shakers of the MMA world

Glenn Robinson took a unique path into the world of professional cage fighting.

Agents and managers in all sports usually start out with a law degree, and most of them get into the business because they love sports. Becoming an agent to a football star or a baseball star gives them instant access to a jock fraternity that would otherwise remain completely closed, and that’s probably a pretty cool thing to a guy who turned to law after discovering that they didn’t quite have the athletic genes to take their talents to the next level after high school.

Robinson, the founder of Authentic Sports Management, didn’t take this path. A self-professed creator, Robinson had been building things since childhood. Five years ago, he decided he wanted to find an industry that needed some excitement and spice it up. He knew how to create a brand. He could market just about anything on the planet. All he needed was the right niche, and he settled on the tool industry.

Five years later, Robinson has created a tool empire. He has six manufacturing plants in China that build his product, and he has major deals in place with Home Depot, Best Buy and numerous auto part shops. You know those huge, flashy tool displays you find at Home Depot during Christmastime? Those belong to Robinson.

He got into mixed martial arts in a totally innocent way, helping out a fighter friend as a favor. One thing led to another, and today Robinson finds himself at the helm of one of the largest sports management firms in mixed martial arts. Transitioning from the tool industry to the fight game seems like a task too difficult to undertake, but Robinson says it was easy.

“Building a brand is building a brand, and we have been building brands for years. Getting publicity is a matter of knowing how to get the right people, like (former UFC PR director) Jen Wenk. We already had a full marketing staff. My head of marketing used to be the head of marketing for the NFL, and she was also the director of sports marketing for Coca Cola. It was an easy transformation.”

“Although it’s a different product, you’re still building a brand. I know this is not a popular thing to say, but the fighters have to represent themselves as brands. Take the fighter who gets busted for cocaine. That’s going to ruin his image. That’s going to ruin who he is and what he’s capable of earning.”

Robinson is well aware of the stigma attached to sports agents, managers and agencies. Scott Boras and his ilk are often seen as low-class (or no-class, in certain cases) slimeballs, and with good reason. When your top priority is milking as much money as you possibly can from both a sports franchise and your client, there’s a good chance you won’t be seen in a favorable light.

“It’s one of the reasons that I did it. I’ve been chastised for saying this in the past, but a lot of these guys really had no representation. It’s not like boxing, where it’s grown so much over the past twenty or thirty years. It’s a sport where a guy is represented by their brother or their brother in law. A lot of guys came over from Brazil. They can barely speak English, and they’re signing contracts. So honestly, the goal was to help them.”

Robinson loves helping his fighters. His tool business enables him to do the right thing for his guys without worrying about making money, and he’ll often forego the standard fee for fighters on his roster who are at the lower end of the salary spectrum.

“If I have a guy who is making a smaller salary, how can you possibly squeeze money out of them? The money I take from them could help them pay three bills that month. I just enjoy helping. I got to call Kenny Florian last week when he was on vacation and tell him that he had his title shot. That made my week.”

Robinson and the team that makes up Authentic are highly invested in their fighters. In his eyes, they’re not just clients or fighters – they are a tight-knit family of people from diverse races and backgrounds. The “Blackzilians” work together, train together and play together, and Robinson tries to foster that community in any way he can.

Yuri Villefort

Take the case of Yuri Villefort. Danillo’s little brother was scheduled to fight in June for Strikeforce, but was forced to withdraw after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL and meniscus. Injured fighters tend to do the same thing they would if they don’t have a fight coming up, and it usually consists of video games and plenty of sleep. But Robinson had other ideas for Villefort, and gave him a job with the Authentic creative team as a graphic designer.

“I could have easily given Yuri the money, but rather than just give him the fish, I wanted to teach him how to go fishing.”

Authentic’s in-house creative team – of which Villefort is a part, if only on a temporary basis – allows Robinson to create unique opportunities for his fighters, as witnessed in the Heavy-exclusive “Road to UFC 133” video he helped create for Rashad Evans.

Robinson allowed videographer Ryan Loco unlimited access to Evans’ camp and the entire Authentic team, and the resulting video offered a rare look into the mindset of a fighter in limbo. We saw a range of emotions from Evans, from utter shock when Robinson told him that Lyoto Machida had pulled out of a proposed UFC 133 bout all the way to genuine relief after he signed a contract to face Tito Ortiz.

Robinson wants to offer the fans more of these detailed experiences. His in-house animation department is hard at work on creating humorous cartoons featuring Evans and the other Blackzilians. There will be more videos with other members of the Authentic family, each offering an inside look at day to day lives of people we typically only see on television. He’s big on creating brands and believes that the actions his fighters take today will have a dramatic effect on who they are in the future.

“We’re trying to show that there are alternatives. It’s not just about today. It’s about ten years from now, when they are done fighting. Fighters are no different from actors or athletes in other sports in how they should represent themselves. The choices they make affect them tomorrow, and the choices they make tomorrow will also affect them. Look at Lawrence Taylor. The bottom line is that by making good choices today, you’re protecting your tomorrow.”

Robinson has a clear plan for the tomorrow of Authentic Sports Management. He doesn’t want to grow the company to the point where he can’t maintain a personal relationship with each of his fighters, so he’ll be selective in who he chooses to bring into the fold. He’s looking for good people who double as good fighters, and he wants to continue talking with potential sponsors outside of mixed martial arts to help his guys branch into the mainstream.

But more importantly, he wants to continue helping his fighters prepare for the day when they’re no longer needed in the cage.

“I want to keep building brands and keep building the people we work with. Every fighter in our camp, outside of Yuri, is either training for a fight or has a fight coming up in the near future.”

“It’s an exciting time for us as a company, and I only see it getting better.”