Malki Kawa is one of the more well-known guys in the mixed martial arts world who doesn't happen to be a fighter.
As the agent for UFC stars Jon Jones, Benson Henderson, Carlos Condit and numerous others, Kawa deals with the UFC's matchmaking team of Joe Silva and Sean Shelby on an almost-daily basis.
He's also known for being quite outspoken on his Twitter account, where he interacts with his near-50,000 followers. In the days leading up to and following the release of the first edition of the UFC's official rankings, Kawa expressed criticism that the system wouldn't be any good. He claimed that managers and fighters would be attempting to cozy up to voting journalists in the hopes of securing a better ranking.
"I love causing this commotion on Twitter. I've already seen reporters and others lobbying for guys and things like that," Kawa told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "The reality of it is—and I don't care what anyone says—is that if you're on Twitter and you're tweeting about how great a guy is, you're lobbying for stuff already."
But Kawa noted that most of his Twitter action is all in good fun.
"I actually don't have a problem with these polls. I think it's hilarious," he said. "I love causing the controversy by saying 'oh, guys are going to be calling these media guys to try and get their guy higher in the rankings.'"
One major criticism of the UFC's new ranking system is that it could be used to propel fighters into fights they may not deserve. Despite the fact that over 20 full-time journalists are part of the current voting panel—with more on the way in the days and weeks ahead—many fans have stated their belief that the rankings are wrong, with fighters assuming spots they don't deserve.
Kawa says there is little concern that the new system will affect the fighters generally considered to be the best in each weight class. For the most part, those fighters are unanimously considered the best, with one or two spots separating one fan's opinion from the next.
Instead, Kawa said, it will be those fighters looking for more recognition who are affected the most.
"I think this is going to affect guys who are trying to be in the top 10, or in the bottom of that top 10. That's where this is going to be very controversial," Kawa said. "Where it becomes a problem is number 16 to 6. That's where the issues are going to come. How do you get a guy in there? What's it based on?"
But the media-voted rankings are no less mysterious than the UFC's internal rankings and matchmaking policies. The public rarely hears from Silva or Shelby, and we rarely find out why a fight was created other than the standard "it's a fight the fans want to see" response.
The truth is that Silva and Shelby continually juggle fights based on records, impact and the ability to create matchups the fans want to see. The process results both in closely-matched scraps between evenly ranked competitors and in seemingly unfair bouts created solely for the purpose of selling pay-per-views.
Kawa deals with all of this on a daily basis. He pushes for bouts that will help his clients move rapidly to the top of the division and renegotiates contracts to try to secure the absolute highest payout possible. Despite Dana White's insistence that the rankings won't be used to determine who faces who in the Octagon, Kawa insists they'll be another tool in his arsenal.
"This is going to help me out. It's a tool I can use. I can say that I've got this guy who is ranked No. 7 at 155," he said, "and someone calls them up and says 'Hey, I want to fight this guy.'
"Does it make sense for a guy who is not ranked in the top 10 to take on my guy at No. 7? The only way I would do a fight like that is if it's something the fans really want to see, or if my fighter says that he wants the fight."
Kawa says that, despite all of his Twitter ribbing, he does believe that the rankings will ultimately be a good thing as long as the voting media make complete and informed decisions.
"If the media is really basing their opinions on actual facts and not just picking fighters that they like or the fighters that they have access to, I think these things can be used as a real tool," he said. "If they're just putting guys wherever they want based on who they like or whatever, then it's a waste of time.
"But I don't think that's going to be the case. I hope that's not the case."
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