Combat sports are not for the faint of heart. They are often referenced as cutthroat businesses in which only the strong survive. Attempting to change that narrative within his circle is longtime combat sports participant, advocate, trainer and manager Amer Abdallah.
Abdallah has served the combat sports community in every facet. From being a kickboxing champion, gym owner and coach, promoter, manager and adviser, Abdallah has created a family-like atmosphere and carefully chooses the athletes he works with based on chemistry.
He has formed strong bonds with boxing icon Mike Tyson, world-class trainer Jeff Mayweather, two-division champion Badou Jack and several others involved in combat sports, from boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Abdallah’s relationships outside of boxing have led to sponsorships and marketing opportunities for his fighters.
Abdallah recently spoke with Zenger to discuss his time in combat sports, his relationship with Tyson and upcoming plans for Badou Jack and Badou Jack Promotions.
Percy Crawford interviewed Amer Abdallah for Zenger.
Zenger: How are you?
Abdallah: Always blessed, always great and always grateful.
Zenger: You have been involved in every aspect of combat sports. Give us a little background.
Abdallah: I’ve been blessed to be in this fight game going on 25, almost 30 years. I started as a fighter in martial arts, karate and later kickboxing. My love was always for boxing. I had a great amateur career, national titles, international titles and then moved over to the professional ranks. Thank God it went very well. I retired undefeated, world champion, defended my title [WKA Cruiserweight World Champion]. I did everything that I needed to do. I always touched the business part of the game.
In my second pro fight, I became my own promoter. That’s where I realized the business of the sport. Took a little bit of time and started a promotional company. I think I was the first fighter to ever promote themselves. That was back in the late ’90s early 2000s.
As the business grew, as the promotion grew and my career did well, I started working with more fighters. I had a gym. New York state is divided into two segments, upstate, which was Syracuse at that time, now it’s Buffalo. And then there is New York City. I was the head coach for the upstate team for a few years. I touched the coaching part of the game. I ran my own gym for almost 15 years.
I was a gym owner, manager, promoter, adviser, and I transitioned into the business side after I retired, thank God. We work with our choice of athletes and champions that we work with that we can help build and take through the game based on my experience, the connections and network that we have.
Zenger: You don’t withhold the knowledge you gained over the years from your athletes. How important is it for you to share your learnings?
Abdallah: You know, Percy, my go-to statement that I’m known for “This is a business disguised as a sport.” A lot of fighters, their job is to go out there and put on a great fight. They want to fight the best guys out there. And the first thing that I tell my fighters: “What do you want out of this? Do you want a career where you are going to fight the biggest fights, championship hard fights, or are you trying to make money to retire, safe and healthy?”
I think there is a fine line between those two. And there is a safe, happy medium between them. They are their own worst enemies. They just want to fight big fights, hard, tough fights, and the money doesn’t make sense at that point. Even the upside, there isn’t much of an upside when you take into accountability the physical demands of what happens to them down the road. You have to have a team that can save a fighter from himself, and you have to position him where he can monetize his opportunities the best way that he possibly can.
Today, we’re in an age where social media is a factor. Could you imagine social media when Mike Tyson was around? It would have been a game changer. He would have been the biggest thing ever. And with everything that he does in the ring and then outside of the ring, people following him, and him always being in the spotlight, Mike Tyson would have been the top influencer in the world if social media had been around. To prove that, when he did come back at the age of 52, he still did one of the top ten PPV’s in the history of boxing. That all alludes to how powerful social media is.
Especially, in the regions we work, they say, “What kind of following does he have?” They don’t ask how many world titles they have, or how many world champions has he fought. All in all, it’s a business, and you have to touch every part of the business. You have to be able to fight your ass off, you can’t be a fraud in the ring. Marketing, fighting the right guys, have the right team, carry yourself the right way, be present on social media, and I think that requires a good team. Tie that in with a good financial manager, a good financial adviser, investors and so on.
Zenger: You seem very selective about the type of fighters you work with. Is that accurate to say?
Abdallah: Absolutely! I have turned down a lot of big names recently that I have talked to. We were not on the same page. If I can’t add value … and the only way I can add value is if we’re on the same wavelength. My fighters, I tell them, “I want you to question everything that I say to you.” Sometimes things might not make sense to you, but if I explain them to you, you will understand where I’m headed. I might be looking five steps down the road where you’re only looking one to two steps down the road. Sometimes we step over dollars, but that’s because we are going to pick up hundreds of dollars. So, sometimes the fighters will want to pick up one dollar, and I’m saying, “Don’t do that, it’s going to ruin your opportunity down the road.” And they may not understand that.
Thank God, the majority of the time I have been right. Have I been wrong? Of course! But our track record speaks for itself, and the guys that we work with have done some of the highest endorsements in the history of boxing. We have some of the best partners. We line our athletes up with some of the best promotions and make the biggest fights. That’s what the business is all about. I don’t want to work with 15–20 guys. I would be doing a disservice to them at this stage. I enjoy working with a handful of guys that I can touch, move around and be able to position them for what’s best for them long term.
Zenger: You have built amazing relationships with Jeff Mayweather, Badou Jack, Caleb Plant, Mike Tyson, and the list goes on and on. These relationships seem to go beyond boxing.
Abdallah: That’s a two-way street. [Jacob] “Stitch” Duran was on a trip with us, Badou’s last fight when we went to Dubai. “Stitch” said, “Listen, I’ve been on hundreds of trips with hundreds of guys; this one takes the cake. You guys treat everybody like family.” Mind you, sometimes I’m overbearing when it comes to the fighters and the camps. That’s only to eliminate any kind of issues that you might have. It’s a family atmosphere.
There’s one voice, which is usually the head coach, so in Badou’s case it’s Johnathon Banks. He stirs everything. Communication is very important. You have to have someone tying all of that together, and everybody feels like a family. It’s just as much fun as it is a mission or a job.
I tell all of my fighters, “If you don’t win, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you gotta win the fight. That’s all that boxing is based on.” It’s a very unforgiving sport. It’s not like MMA or the UFC, where you can have a .500 record and still be fighting for a world title, because you are the second-best guy in the world. I love the model they have; boxing is very unforgiving.
All in all, we have a great relationship because we trust each other and there is genuine love. I have done deals with guys like Mike Tyson on a handshake that was done in 15 seconds. It’s not small deals, but there is mutual trust, and we both know that everybody is in it with the highest level of integrity, and as long as you have that, what else do you need?
Zenger: Mike Tyson seems like a very guarded guy. What is it like being friends with Mike and being let in, so to speak?
Abdallah: I was just on the phone with him yesterday. He’s the kind of guy, the first thing he will ask about is your family and your health. When you’re around Mike … you have to understand this before you can answer that question because it’s a loaded question. You have to look at the makeup of Mike Tyson. What’s the history of Tyson?
This is a man who has been in the limelight his entire life. Ever since he was 13, 14 years old, people have known who he was. He made a name for himself. People always had their eye on him. Could you imagine at 21 years old, Percy, if you had global media following you around? And then when you reach the age of 50, God willing you stay alive that long, and have your health that long, at the age of 50, people reminding you of what you did at 21, and there is documented proof. What do you think that does to a person? Come on, man. I can’t be held accountable for something I did two years ago or last year, let alone something I did 30 years ago.
Mike has been burned a lot. Mike has been manipulated a lot. Mike has been used a lot. So, the guy’s got his guard up, as he should because most people that come up to him, they want to take a picture and then pitch some kind of a deal to him. People pitch him ideas time and time again. You get sick of that kind of stuff.
Mike is one of the sweetest, most genuine, most insightful people that you will ever sit and talk with. He said something to me one time, and it hit me. I teared up right in front of him. He goes, “Everything that I have, I worked for, but everything I worked for, I don’t have.” I thought, this guy has been taken advantage of so much because he trusted certain people. He’s not going to sit down and do a forensic audit of the books. But he just trusts people to do that, and sometimes those people he trusts aren’t that honest.
That’s why the people you see around Mike are either his family or an extension of his family, a very tight circle. His wife does a phenomenal job of keeping people away. I give her so much credit for everything she does, everything she endures. She keeps the wheels on the train, and it’s powerful.
Mike Tyson … during our time, he’s viewed differently by this generation. I brought Mike to an event one time, and they said, “Isn’t that the guy in ‘The Hangover’ movie?” I’m thinking, “Oh my God.” It’s a different demographic. Mike Tyson was larger than life during our time, and that’s why I touched on it when discussing social media. He is an absolute living legend, so every time I talk to him or I’m around him, I remind myself of that.
At the end of the day, he is a human, he has feelings, he has emotions, and he has a history of people taking advantage of him. I guess that’s the long answer to your question. The short answer is, he is a beautiful person. He is very well-read, very intellectual, believe it or not. I know people like to paint him as this bruiser, killer, but he is very intellectual, very articulate guy, and he’s genuine. He’s real! He doesn’t have that kind of filter, and some people can’t be around that. I love it.
Zenger: Absolutely! I’m sure you have big plans for this year.
Abdallah: We’ve got a ton. I’m hoping that we are going to announce some game-changing news that will be coming out of the Middle East. Badou Jack of course has his Badou Jack Promotions. We are looking to do some things with that. He just did a historic fight, where we partnered with Probellum. Badou fought for the first time in the Middle East, which was always something that he’s wanted to do. That has opened a lot of different doors.
Badou Jack Promotions … we’re looking to have some great news coming out of that. His foundation, Badou Jack Foundation, we’re proud to announce that we are in several different refuge camps around the world helping refugees and orphans that wouldn’t have help outside of Badou extending his arm and helping them. We are very proud of that. We got a couple of other fun things that are coming out also that are a little bit under wraps, but it’s going to be a historic year.
Edited by Kristen Butler and Richard Pretorius
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