While owning and operating the successful Milledgeville Academy of Mixed Martial Arts (MAMMA) since 2007, Frank Mullis continues experiencing all sides of the business including managing and promoting professional fighters.
The connection to the MMA industry dates back to 1996. Several friends in Raleigh, N.C. became heavily involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
Through them, Mullis met BJJ names like Ricardo Almeida and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Champion Matt Serra.
“In 2000, we went to Abu Dhabi to the Submission Wrestling World Championships. There I met a lot of UFC fighters,” Mullis said.
A year later he was a writer and photographer for Submission Fighter Magazine and was a featured writer for the popular MMA website Abu Dhabi Submission Wresting Championships, adcombat.com.
Four years further along Serra, then a viable UFC product, asked Mullis to coordinate some seminar engagements, which began a long relationship.
“I’ve managed Matt for the last seven years,” he said.
Two current fighters, Leonard Garcia and Andrew Yates, together with Serra, now retired, utilize Haymaker’s Empire Sports Management created by Mullis and two partners.
Garcia, a UFC veteran with six fight of the nights on his resume, recently knocked out Kevin Aguilar in the first round at the recent Legacy FC 26 event aired on AXS TV.
The “Bad Boy’s” third consecutive victory took the vacant Legacy FC featherweight title.
“Garcia was 0-5 when we picked him up and now he’s a champion,” Mullis said. “One thing I like about him is that he’s a devout Christian.”
Andrew “The Golden Boy” Yates is a top tanked featherweight competing in the World Series of Fighting.
Trips to New York, Texas and Las Vegas are an every three months routine for the local MMA figure.
Mullis said there are plenty of “scum bag” type agents and managers in the pro MMA world.
“There are only two types of people in the sport — very good people and very bad people. It’s a small world. You learn quickly who you can and can’t trust,” Mullis said. “I wanted to help guide my friends that were getting into the sport to put them in a place where they felt safe with all the offers of fame and fortune. We care for the fighter on a personal level. We don’t see them as a dollar sign.”
The sponsorship game is as tough as ever considering the UFC has 55 shows planned in 2014. Hundreds of fighters vie for the same companies.
“Very few of the fighters have mainstream sponsors,” Mullis said. “At one point it was easy to get five and six figure sponsors. Now, even your main event fighters are probably only getting the low five figures.”
Many casual observers don’t know how much the UFC takes from fighters and sponsors.
“If I got a clothing company sponsor, they have to pay the UFC a percentage just to be seen,” he said.
Being a manager isn’t just showing up to fights.
Mullis has done everything from cut weight with, book hotels, order food, be security and set up deals for Serra.
He remembers his fighter’s welterweight title defense in Montreal, Quebec against Georges St. Pierre.
Serra wouldn’t eat at the hotel fearing someone would poison him because the hometown fans wanted a GSP win so badly.
“The rematch was insane,” Mullis said. “We were afraid that something would get done to his water or food.”
Behind the cameras, Mullis learned that several fighters are teenagers who never grew up.
“A lot of these young fighters are getting fame at 21 years old, and I’m glad I’m not managing them,” he said. “Just because you are on TV doesn’t make you a normal guy.”
Sitting ringside during popular UFC fight nights brushing shoulders with famous actors and athletes rewards the hard work.
These friendships and industry connections benefit Milledgeville MMA students.
Look for Garcia to visit MAMMA this spring. Serra comes down often as well.
Students get to train with world-class fighters they might never otherwise see here in Milledgeville.