01 Jan Taura MMA fighters complain of pay, promotion issues, Taura criticizes ‘lack of patience’
At least four fighters have yet to receive full or partial payment from Taura MMA for bouts that took place on its previous two events.
Marcelo Golm, Paulo Sergio Santos and Deivison Ribeiro, who competed at Taura MMA 11 on Oct. 30 in Kissimmee, Fla., are among those who have yet to be paid by the promotion, MMA Fighting has learned.
One athlete who fought at Taura MMA 10, which took place one week before Taura 11 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said he received only a portion of his purse for his bout. The athlete spoke on the condition of anonymity because he believed the promotion would sort out the issue and didn’t want to complain publicly.
Others who competed for the Brazil-based promotion waited as long as 17 days to receive payment after Taura MMA 11 in apparent violation of the contracts they signed. Several threatened to report the promotion to the Better Business Bureau and hounded officials on social media until they received payment.
There were other alleged lapses behind the scenes at the Fox Deportes-televised event, as well. Preliminary card fighter Jake Swinney said he sustained a cut during his fight and waited backstage for the entire event, only to be told he couldn’t be stitched up because the commission doctor hadn’t been paid to do so.
“I came here – I did my job,” said the lightweight fighter. “You guys should be stitching me up right now.”
Longtime MMA manager Alex Davis first reported the payment issues this past Saturday on social media. Other managers and fighters described a promotion that initially delivered on big promises and ran a professional event, only to fall short on obligations large and small.
Although problems can always happen, I am of the position that you should not even try to host an event if you do not have the $ to pay the fighters in hand. This is sacred
— Alex Davis (@Alexdavismma) November 22, 2020
“Technically, they’re a great show,” manager Roman Isbell, who repped several fighters on the Taura 11 card, told MMA Fighting. “But just the headache of all that, I don’t want to put my fighters through that again.”
In a prepared statement sent to MMA Fighting, Taura MMA said 80 percent of the athletes were compensated and the promotion is “close to paying off the remaining 20 percent.” Officials declined to say which fighters are still awaiting payment; 20 percent of fighters from both cards translates to six athletes.
“Taura MMA has always honored its commitments and it will be no different this time,” the statement read. “The delay was due to all the adversities faced during the pandemic, such as the delay in receiving payments from sponsors and other investors.
“However, we know commitment and guarantee no one will be left without receiving what has been agreed. Despite understanding the financial urgency of some, we regret the lack of patience. After all, we will return even stronger in 2021 and will remember those who have always been by our side.”
Taura MMA had two more cards scheduled for 2020 featuring the likes of ex-UFC champ Renan Barao and Gleison Tibau, but the promotion recently postponed the events to 2021 due to “COVID-related issues.”
Davis criticized the company’s lack of transparency and the tone of their official statement.
“You can’t do an event if you don’t have money saved for the purses,” Davis told MMA Fighting. “The same way they paid the hotel and others employees up front, they need money to pay athletes. Athletes are the weak link who already take risks inherent to this sport, and it’s not fair that they have to take more risks when a promoter doesn’t have enough money to pay the purses.”
Davis said he contacted Patrick Cunningham, the executive director of the Florida State Boxing Commission, on how to proceed in this situation.
“[Taura MMA] is not communicating with the athletes,” Davis said. “My athlete [Paulo Sergio Soares] received no communication whatsoever, and they say athletes have to be patient when we have no idea what does that mean. How is he going to have patience when the promotion isn’t even giving him an idea of when he’ll get paid?
“I don’t like to be combative with promotions, but you have to do it right. You can’t embark on a business adventure placing all the risks on the shoulders of the athletes.”
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the FSBC, declined to comment directly on the issues raised by the fighters and managers and wasn’t aware of any complaints against Taura. She said generally that contracts between fighters and promoters are not overseen by the commission, though FSBC rules require fighters to be paid no longer than 24 hours after fights.
As a condition of receiving a promoter’s license, promoters are also required to post a $15,000 surety bond that can be used to pay “fighters and taxes or other obligations related to the event.” It’s unclear what would trigger the release of funds to fighters; a follow-up request for comment went unanswered at the time of this writing.
Featherweight Mark Dickman agreed to compete at Taura 11 on 10 days’ notice. He hadn’t competed in nearly three years, but took the bout on short notice to start a comeback. He wound up losing to Paulo Sergio Santos via second-round TKO due to injury. Afterward, he said, his leg was “jacked up” from the fight. But that wasn’t the end of his troubles.
Like several fighters on the card, Dickman, who is managed by Isbell, learned on fight night that his contract with the promotion gave it seven days to pay purses. Isbell said he wasn’t familiar with the payment clause when he first volunteered his fighters.
One week later, Dickman said his money still wasn’t ready. So he went after the promotion on social media, messaging several accounts until he was directed to the promotion’s matchmaker, Lucas Lutkus. After a confrontation, he said, Lutkus admitted he hadn’t been paid either.
Ten days after the event, Dickman received a transfer from digital payment company Zelle after he gave his banking information to three separate people, he said. A fee for a corner license, typically deducted by the promotion from a fighter’s purse, was doubled even though he’d only had one corner.
“I’m just glad I got my money and got out of there,” he said. “It seems like they were just counting on a bunch of money, and a lot of big sponsors pulled out, and they’re just burning cash and lying to these people.”
In an interview with MMA Fighting, Lutkus, who also manages fighters in his native Brazil (though none on any previous Taura events), confirmed he has yet to be paid and told the promotion to compensate the fighters first. He stood by the Brazilian promotion and attributed the pay issues to normal growing pains amplified by troubles with the event’s main sponsor and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re under a little bit of fire, but it’s to be expected,” he said. “Even though it was something that was out of their control, it was something that was in their contract.”
Swinney, who’s also managed by Isbell, thought the promotion might be spending above its means when he saw the lavish accommodations for fighters, who were put up in condos near Disneyworld. The promotion, however, didn’t pay for his travel, and he said Isbell picked up the flight from his hometown in Las Vegas.
Sitting backstage at Silver Spurs Arena, Swinney kept calm as he waited for his cut to be treated. After an initial confrontation, officials intervened, and he got his stitches. In a prepared statement, Taura blamed the delay on doctors needing “authorization from the event” to stitch fighters in the ambulance, “a procedure that is paid separately.” The promotion said Swinney was only held up for “a few minutes.”
When Swinney’s pay didn’t arrive one week after the event, he said he started messaging officials on social media. On Nov. 16, he received the money, less corner fees he said he was told would be covered by the promotion.
“I got a little heated with the guy,” Swinney said. “I didn’t call him any names, but I told him that the situation was f*cking bullsh*t, and he didn’t appreciate that I was using that kind of language. But f*ck him.”
Lutkus said he never told fighters their fees would be paid, but regretted the miscommunication over standard deductions to fighter purses and said he may make them explicit in future contracts.
The matchmaker said he’s worked with other promotions that have left his fighters high and dry, and Taura MMA won’t do the same. He expects everyone to be paid in the near future.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but at least it’s not going to be the worst-case scenario, where we have seen so many times with the promotion folding before they pay the fighters,” he said. “I’ve already talked to them about how the situation looks, and they are seeing it. They are aware of how bad it looks, and they’re doing everything in their power to get it dealt with as soon as possible.”
Dickman, though, has already made up his mind about working with Taura in the future.
“I think a lot of people are like, Fox [is broadcasting the event], these guys have money, I don’t want to piss them off and they don’t want to work with me,” he said. “But I don’t ever want to work with them again, because that’s just not how you do business.”