- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
MMA manager Ali Abdelaziz joins Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to talk about what's next for Henry Cejudo, the dominance of Kayla Harrison and why Justin Gaethje hasn't fought since losing his title shot against former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey folks. I am Kevin Iole, and welcome to Yahoo Sports. And if I talk about the busiest man in MMA, we know it's Dana White. But maybe the second busiest man is this guy right here, Mr. Ali Abdelaziz. He manages just about everybody in the UFC and elsewhere. I mean, this guy has a million fighters. Ali, how are you, my friend?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I'm good, man. You just make me blush. You put me in the same sentence as my man Dana White. Thank you. Thank you. It's an honor always talking to you. You're a legend. And I always get excited and nervous talking to you.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, every time I talk to you, I said like, I want to talk to Ali about one or two things. It's like, well, let's talk about Kayla. Let's talk about Henry. Let's talk about Islam. You've got a long list of people. So let's start with a guy, Triple C, who's making a lot of noise about a comeback. Henry Cejudo, the former flyweight and bantamweight champion, now talking about a comeback. We know Henry has kind of kidded around a little bit. Is he serious now? And are we going to see Henry Cejudo back in the cage?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Listen, when Henry said he's retired, I left him alone. I never really talked to him. I never asked him anything. He was here last Thursday. And I was like, listen. He comes to me, is like, Ali, really I can beat this guy. I said, if you beat this guy, will you defend the title? He said, 100%. I just needed a little time off. I've been competing since I'm 12. I just needed a little break. He said, I'm coming back. I'm going to fight 45 to defend the title. And I might go back down to 135 and get the other title, right? He is coming back for sure. And I know this.
My relationship with Dana in the UFC has always been great. And I never going to come to let Henry do a cash grab, beat Alexander and leave, right? And it's one of the most important things to me. Will you defend the title? And he said, yes. And I got to get him and Dana in front of each other. And they need to talk face-to-face. And I feel Dana left the door open. And I feel he have some kind of interest to it. But he just want to make sure, he have to protect his title.
And we will go, maybe next week or some, try to set some up with Dana and sit down with Sean, and Dana, and all everybody at the UFC, and to make sure this is something they willing to do and they want and Henry also willing to do.
KEVIN IOLE: If Henry were to become a three division champion, obviously it would be unheard of in MMA to do that at the highest level. He's one of what, five, that's done it in two divisions. Would he be giving Khabib a run for the money if he pulls this off and defends the 45 pound title? That would have meant he would have defended all those titles, right?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: He's the greatest of all the time. He'll be the GOAT of ultimates. You have to understand, in a conversation, my list is--
KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE] that you say that.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: --my list is Khabib, Kamaru Usman, Henry. So if you stick a needle in your butt, you disqualify yourself. You're not even in the conversation. No disrespect to nobody, but if anybody who is tested positive for enhancement drugs, you are out of the conversation.
Listen, Henry have an argument now. Kamaru Usman have an argument now, too. He's going to keep defending his title. I really want him to go up to middleweight and win a second time, right? That's what I really want for him. Henry's definitely, he come back, win a third title, defended it. He's the greatest of all the time. Nobody will ever catch him.
Dana White like art, right? I would demand for Dana to put like a statue of Henry with his cap and Triple C hat.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, Volkanovski would be a good matchup for him, the champion at 145, because he's shorter like Henry is. But there are some big, tall guys in that division. Max Holloway, Yair Rodriguez, other guys, the featherweights are the ones that are starting to get up there. Will the length and the reach be a problem for Henry as he moves up to fight these bigger guys?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Yair is not in the conversation. I don't consider him one of the top five, or six, or seven, in the division. Max, yes. But at the end of the day, how many times without it Henry's won it? How many times, we said he's going to lose? How many said, we're going to get him knocked out? This is one man I'm never going to doubt. I truly believe Alexander is a great champion. I have a lot of respect for him, especially after the last fight. I think nine times out of 10, Henry can beat him. I really say that.
People are going to say, he's just saying that because he's my guy. I said this about a lot of guys. But I never going to put my neck to the fire if I don't think Henry can beat him. I will never allow Henry to come back if I don't think he can beat him. I think the UFC know he can beat him. I know he can beat him. He know he can beat him. And this is why the UFC, part of it, they don't want to take a risk with Henry. But I can guarantee everybody. If Henry beat him, when he beat him, he would defend the title. Give him a rematch, or fight Max.
KEVIN IOLE: All right, well that sounds fair enough. Now, another one of your clients I think, is in the running for the greatest something or other. And that would be Kayla Harrison. And I have her in my women's pound-for-pound list now, which I didn't before because I kind of felt like she hadn't faced the opposition in the MMA that some of the other fighters have. But after her last fight, I just thought, I mean, this woman is overwhelming. And I just want to talk to you. She's fighting in the PFL championship coming up soon. And I'm curious, how good is Kayla Harrison now, in your opinion? But more importantly, how good is she going to be two or three years down the road?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: You know what the problem is? If you want to beat Kayla Harrison, you try to beat her now. Because in a year and two years, I don't think anybody can beat her now, but I'm talking about she's getting better by the minute. You have to understand, she's the most decorated fighter ever come to MMA, man or woman. She's a two time Olympic champion, she's a judo world champion, and she's [INAUDIBLE] champion.
And the way she dominate people, she always speaking about, I want to be like Khabib. I think she's beating people worse than Khabib beating people. It's not her fault she beat these people in a minute, or a minute and a half. At the end of the day, she's beaten everybody they give her, right? They said she can't make 45. She went Invicta, and she committed a crime scene. Kayla Harrison should have went to jail after this fight.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I remember that fight.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: She should never be fighting these girls. But at the end of the day, is not this many people willing to fight her. [INAUDIBLE] doing their best. And they're doing a great job. They built in the 55 roster and they getting girls left and right.
But let's see what happen. She going to fight a very tough girl. We're not looking over it. I don't care what the out said. Fight is a fight. Anything can happen. And tune in, October 27, PFL, a female fighter headline over six title fights. This is the most respect they have for her. And we all should have for her. In my opinion, she's the pound-for-pound greatest female fighter ever did it.
KEVIN IOLE: Hard to say that over Amanda Nunes, though. I mean, look what Amanda Nunes has done, right? I mean, Amanda has beaten everybody, and she's beaten them in convincing fashion. I mean, harder--
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Yes, I respect Amanda Nunes. I think she's amazing. But Amanda lost. Amanda, she's been broken in a fight. Kayla has never been lost. She never broke in a fight. When you look up, and I'm biased, too. I'm not going to play here like I'm right down the middle. I'm biased, too.
But I truly believe this. I think Kayla can beat everybody. Listen, I'm not going to instigate to see her fight her teammate, because this is not what I do. They have the same coaches. They have the same everybody. But I'm going to say my girl can beat everybody. And I truly believe that. If you told me last year, I would told you no, she's not ready. She is ready now. I say this. She'll beat Amanda, Cyborg, Aljamain Sterling, all in the same night.
KEVIN IOLE: That is a lot.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Aljamain Sterling. And I talked to Aljamain, and he seems down. He's down to fight Kayla. If you want to get the smoke, he can get it. No problem.
KEVIN IOLE: All right, we'll pass on that one. But-- [LAUGHS]
ALI ABDELAZIZ: You have [INAUDIBLE] Why can't women fight this man if they want? It's fair game as long as Aljamain make some money.
KEVIN IOLE: There we go. All right.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I like Aljamain. I'm just messing.
KEVIN IOLE: I know you are. But Aljo, I like you. I just want you to know that was Ali that said that. I didn't ask the question.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I like Aljamain. He's part of the angel Gracie clan. [INAUDIBLE] But I always make a joke with him. But listen, Kayla is the real deal. I know it's no bullshit with you, Kevin. For you, even bringing her name, is I'm honored. Because I think she's the greatest, right now at this moment. She's the greatest.
KEVIN IOLE: She's really paid well by the PFL. And of course, if she wins the championship, she gets that million dollar bonus. So is her future remain in the PFL, because she can fight at 55 and get that big thing? Or do you feel like her future would be in one of the other promotions?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Listen, when people talk about PFL, they're not a minor league. They have big pockets. They have deep pockets. They pay fighter well. At the end of the day, she might become a free agent. But I never said about anything she's leaving. But at the end of the day, if she become a free agent, and maybe I'll do a deal next week. You never know, right?
And somebody out there buy the triple, the double, I guarantee if PFL told me, Ali take that picture. PFL have been good to Kayla. They've been very good to me. I believe you have to be loyal. But at the end of the day, I'm a servant of many masters. She's my master. I work for Kayla. And I'm always going to do what the best for Kayla, and what's the best for Kayla's family and her career. But loyalty is something very important to me. And I'm always going to be loyal. But Kayla come first.
KEVIN IOLE: You're saying that you think she's the best fighter in the world right now. So if that is the case, in her next contract are you going to demand, because Amanda Nunes, we know, makes a lot of money. If she--
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I don't think Amanda Nunes make as much as Kayla now, to be honest with you.
KEVIN IOLE: I shouldn't say I know what Amanda makes. But I believe I know what Amanda made.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I know what Amanda make, too. But you know what Kayla make?
KEVIN IOLE: I don't.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I'm telling you this. Kayla in five month's period, make way more money than Amanda. It's not even close. And I'm telling you that if we decided to stay next year, she will make almost double what Amanda make. Listen, I like watching Amanda. She's a great fighter. I'm not knocking her. But I'm telling, Kayla Harrison is the highest paid female athlete in the MMA today. There's nobody getting paid more money than her. I don't know what Cyborg make, to be honest with you. And I don't really care. But I feel Kayla would beat all of them.
KEVIN IOLE: Let's transition. And one of the favorites out there that I have is Justin Gaethje. He has got a fight with Michael Chandler. Now Ali, can you explain to me to start with, why it's taken so long to get Gaethje back in the cage. I mean, it seems like he should have been fighting. He's a guy that loves to fight. People love to see him fight. It seems like it's been a while since we've seen him. Why is that?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Listen, I feel Justin felt like he should've fought for the title instead of what's his name, the Bellator guy. He should be fighting him. And I feel he didn't get the opportunity. He's a little bit salty. I agree with him. He should have got salty.
But I understand what Dana is trying to do, too. Dana was trying to erase the memory, the phenomenon, of Khabib Nurmagomedov. Because Khabib had beaten Dustin, have beaten Justin. And Dustin went and got a win. Justin didn't fight. And I supported him. I support Justin. He signed a new contract. Congratulations. He's getting paid very well. And he's fighting November 6. And all you have to do is turn this guy light off November 6. And after that, he'll get his title shot. Simple.
KEVIN IOLE: What do you think about Chandler. I mean, the way Chandler fights, obviously against Oliveira, that was an unbelievable fight for the title.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: It was a great fight. It was a great fight. It was a great fight. Listen, I'm not taking anything away from the guy. But he's a guy that got put in a position. Did he deserve it? No. But I'm salty about it? No. I don't care, because I don't get mad when people get opportunity. Do I like the guy? He's not one of my favorite people to like. But this business is not about who I like, who I doesn't like.
The only thing I want, November 6. Justin Gaethje will turn his lights off. And when he wake up, he understands his level to this. When you come to the UFC, is level to this. And I feel he's a good fighter. And all the time, I explain myself about good and great fighter.
Justin Gaethje is a former champion. He's a very smart fighter, my opinion. One of the best mind in the game, Trevor Wittman, a great coach, make a lot of adjustments. You see what Justin Gaethje have done. From fighting Michael Johnson, going crazy, coming back, knocking out Tony Ferguson, Barboza, Vick, back-to-back, right? The man doesn't take any punishment anymore.
And I truly believe, November 6, Mike Chandler is going to wake up and going to see light. And he's going to say, know what? I understand. They're going to shake hands. And they're going to move on, no hard feelings. And I think Justin Gaethje has a completely different level. That's it.
KEVIN IOLE: And another guy that a lot of people think is at a completely different level is fighting the week before, UFC 267, Islam Makhachev. He is now fighting Dan Hooker, which I think is an interesting matchup. I like that matchup. In my opinion, maybe I'm wrong, but I like the matchup better than Rafael dos Anjos, who had to pull out because he got injured, for Islam. Obviously, the grappling is going to be an issue for Dan. How do you see that fight going? And do you think Makhachev is closing in on title contention?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: When Islam fight, you can put Islam against this fruit. Islam going to do what he does. That's why a lot of people don't want to mention his name. That's why a lot of people want to fight him. The only guy wanted to fight him, was willing to fight him, was Beneil. I believe he's the toughest fighter and Islam's his toughest fight. This is the two guys, I believe one of them going to be a champion one day.
At the end of the day, I respect Dan Hooker. I think what he's doing tremendous, leaving his family. But I feel it's a payday. It's a payday. He's going to make some money. I'm glad for him. I respect it. I'm not saying this in any kind of disrespectful way. I just believe if you do a pound-for-pound list in the UFC today, I think Islam Makhachev is a tough fight. I see this kid the last seven years. He's one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighter today. I believe he can beat some guys at welterweight, middleweight. I see him in action. I see him beating rounds.
KEVIN IOLE: Middleweight?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: He will beat some guys at middleweight. I guarantee you. You can ask about him. It's a reason why people avoiding him. That's why, I guess Dan Hooker, much respect for taking this fight. But at the end of the day, he got paid to step in, well-deserved.
But at the end of the day, it's just a payday. The only chance Dan Hooker have is a lucky punch. Like Khabib said, if he doesn't get his lucky punch, it's going to be a long night. And I believe in Islam's skills. Dan Hooker, he's dangerous. Yeah, have great knees.
But when it comes to complete, is not one complete fighters in the UFC more than Islam today. He's on this level of Kamaru Usman and [INAUDIBLE] as complete. And I think he's going to be one of the greats. And I think he's the guy who's taking Khabib's spot in this region.
And all of them talk in the gym. Islam bring everything he does in the gym to the fight. He is much better than Khabib as a fighter. But Khabib brings so much charisma, personality, he trash talks to you inside the cage. And I think Islam is getting comfortable every fight. And I think if you want to beat Islam, fight him now. Don't wait a year from now and fight him, because he's going to be unbeatable.
KEVIN IOLE: Do you think Khabib is going to be the coach of the year, by the way? If Islam wins that fight, Khabib has had a hell of a year as a coach.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: He's undefeated right now. But I don't think Khabib care about being coach of the year, because I think Khabib will travel to different cities. And he have million dollars project everywhere. He's just went up to help his team. He wants to help his team.
He's going to Bellator. He's just signed some guys in One FC December 4, he's going to be going to One FC to corner some of the guys. He's everywhere. And I told him, why are you doing all this? He said, without these guys, I will not exist. This is the people who helped me become a world champion. And I'm going to help all of them.
KEVIN IOLE: One of the things he's doing, I've heard, and I don't know a lot of details. But maybe you can fill me in on this, is he is actually putting an MMA fight promotion together that's going to be in the US and have some fights on TV and whatnot. Can you tell me a little bit about that and when we'll see that go?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Yes, he have Eagle Fighting Championship. It's the biggest promotion in Russia. And I think he's working on making his USA debut. And I think he's going to put on some of the biggest name free agent in the sport. And I think you're going to hear some news about this. He's doing it. He's in control of it. I'm just a manager. I'm just his manager. He have a whole entire team working on this.
But listen, we need the UFC, Bellator, One FC, PFL. And if we have Khabib giving opportunity, some of these guys will free agent and make money. Why not, right? I think every promoter out there will be favored to it. It's not going to be trying to compete with anybody. It's just going to be one promoter. But I'm talking about, it's not going to be a low-level budget promotion. It's going to be high, high-level mixed martial art.
KEVIN IOLE: And I've heard you got great plans for a broadcast and streaming and whatnot going on. So that seems like Khabib is thinking of all--
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Where are you hear all this stuff from? Because nobody has--
KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE]
ALI ABDELAZIZ: OK, but listen. Yes. He's coming--
KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE] on WhatsApp, just remember that.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Khabib coming to the US. He's have a big plan for the US. And I think he have a great team in place. He's going to have great fighters. I will help get some of these fighters on his show as a manager. At the end of the day, it's opportunities for young fighters. Or older fighters maybe who's no longer in the UFC or Bellator, anymore. You can give them opportunity. And Khabib wanted to give this opportunities. And why not?
KEVIN IOLE: And let's wrap with this, Ali. One of the things I think is amazing about you is how many fighters you actually have. I think you have like seven or eight fighters in the PFL finals. Is that correct?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Yes, I do. The last season, the reason I didn't have all the titles because Magomedkerimov got sick. And Ray Cooper won the fight by default because Magomedkerimov didn't fight. Because I think Magomedkerimov, top five, one of the best welterweight in the world. This year, I have eight guys total in the final. I truly believe we'll have all the title at the end of the day.
They didn't get to the title because I am their manager. I just put them in there. They beat everybody in the PFL roster, because I truly believe I represent the best fighters in the world. And they prove it. It's a tournament. It's a bracket, right? And they will be able to make it to the bracket.
And I know some people said, your guys win titles every year. I say, yeah because my guy whoop your guy every year. Because my guy is on a different level of fighters. And I believe you see the resurgence of Chris Wade. So happy for him. He's fighting Movlid, the other one of Khabib guys. I think it is going to be the best fight of the whole night.
KEVIN IOLE: How do you keep all that straight? Like in other words, there's big agencies that have a lot of agents. You're basically one guy. How are you managing to keep all this together and getting everybody taken care of?
ALI ABDELAZIZ: I have a great team. I have a great team work with me. I have Rizvan as an agent. Ronny Markes as an agent. I have Firdaws now as a new guy, as an agent. And at the end of the day, I'm a kid I never have nothing throughout my life. And I have this. If I have to work 20 hours a day, I'm going to do it. And I really love and enjoy doing this. I cannot complain about how busy I am. And I see people, I work too hard, no.
I have an opportunity to work with these amazing athletes. Some people actually I like. I don't manage nobody I like. You can never meet anyone I manage I don't like, or they don't like me.
At the end of the day, this is a blessing from God. And I'm very grateful for it. And I'm going to help as many people as I can throughout my journey. As long as I'm alive, I'm never going to stop doing this, because I really love doing this. And I'm grateful. I'm very grateful. And my family support me. And my fighter support me. And everybody have understanding. And I'm grateful for this opportunity.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, a lot of good stuff going on with Ali Abdelaziz. Ali, my friend, I always appreciate you. Thank you so much. We will talk to you soon.
ALI ABDELAZIZ: Thank you, Kevin.