For the past 12 years, Brian Butler has staked his claim in the mixed martial arts management business by recruiting young fighters, building them up through the regional fight scene and eventually putting them into major promotions like the UFC or Bellator MMA.
In the current landscape, one way up and coming fighters get an opportunity like that is due to the willingness to step up on short notice when a replacement is needed.
That’s exactly the call Butler—who also manages former UFC champion Rose Namajunas and former Bellator champion Douglas Lima—received this past weekend when the UFC was seeking out a fighter to face Marlon Vera at UFC 239 after his original opponent Sean O’Malley was pulled from the card. The UFC offered Butler’s bantamweight prospect Drako Rodriguez the chance to sign with the organization and face Vera on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Rodriguez is 5-1 as a pro with all of his fights coming under the King of the Cage banner and his manager was unbelievably excited to share the news that he was getting the call up to the UFC. After notifying Rodriguez and getting his acceptance for the fight, Butler then reached out to King of the Cage to share the same good news with them.
What happened next was something Butler never expected.
“Drako Rodriguez is my fighter and I need to be clear when I started managing him, he was already under a contract with King of the Cage, which I never thought of as a negative at all,” Butler explained when speaking with MMA Fighting on Monday. “King of the Cage has been around forever so I was like that’s great, it’s a credible show. Like I do with Titan [Fighting Championships] and LFA and all these other regional shows that I work with, they’re all happy to graduate people to the UFC or Bellator or a major promotion. They’re all supportive and they all help it.
“I reached out to [King of the Cage president] Terry Trebilcock and he was traveling to Cuba or some place out of the country and I couldn’t get him on the phone.”
Butler says it took a day to receive a call back from Trebilcock, who has been a mainstay in the mixed martial arts business for well over a decade.
“I told him ‘Terry great news, we got the call for Drako.’
“He said, ‘what do you mean?’
“And I said, ‘we got the call for the UFC and I just wanted to call you and let you know and make sure that I did my job and not trying to do anything without your consent,’ assuming that he was going to be happy for the kid.
He’s like ‘I’m not letting him out of his contract, it’s not going to happen,’” Butler said. “I was so caught off guard. Are you kidding me? This is his dream and you only fought him locally because he can sell tickets for you. I believe his last fight was $750 [to show] and $750 [to win] and now you’re not going to let him go to achieve his dream in the UFC?
“He’s like ‘nope, I’ve got too much invested in him.’”
While Rodriguez had four fights remaining on his King of the Cage contract, Butler assumed it was just a formality to move on to the UFC when the offer came along.
When that didn’t happen, Butler claims he made an offer in good faith to buy out Rodriguez’s contract so he could still take the fight with Vera at UFC 239.
“I could tell he was angling for me to try and buy him out of his contract. So I was like how much do you have invested in him? How much is he worth to you? He tells me $50,000,” Butler revealed. “I was like are you kidding me? He said ‘if you don’t get that, you don’t know much about promoting.’ I know that you paid him peanuts and he made most of his money off of ticket sales and you’ve only ever fought him locally where he can sell tickets for you. I know that much.
“I know for a fact you have not put $50,000 of your pocketed money into marketing Drako Rodriguez. There’s no way.”
Butler says he hung up the phone but eventually reached out to King of the Cage in an attempt to come to a compromise that would allow Rodriguez to get out of his contract so he could sign with the UFC.
“I’ll give you $5000 or $6000 right now to buy him out so he can go and have this opportunity and he didn’t answer me,” Butler stated. “I sent a message and said if this hits the media it’s not going to look good. Then he had his matchmaker call me and said ‘are you threatening us?’ and I’m like I’m not threatening you. It’s not a threat. I’m just telling the truth. There’s no threat here.
“If I’m misquoting something, tell me but tell me where I’m wrong? We got the call 100 percent to fight in the UFC next week. Are you allowing us to? No. So where’s the problem? The problem is Drako sells tickets for him locally and he doesn’t want to let him out.”
With no deal in sight, Butler was forced to tell the UFC that Rodriguez was unable to take the fight and the matchmakers had to move on to a new opponent for Vera.
According to Butler, Rodriguez was “heartbroken” when he heard the news and that he found out that unless something changes, he’ll have to fight out his current King of the Cage contract before he’s allowed to sign somewhere else.
“We are looking at four more fights with King of the Cage where we’re hoping Terry is not maliciously trying to ruin this kid’s career,” Butler added. “Terry also said he wasn’t ready for the UFC, but who are you to make that call? It’s not your call to say he’s not ready for the UFC. That’s a manager’s call and the UFC’s call. Obviously the UFC thinks he’s ready.
“The reason why I asked and I assumed we’d get the release from KOTC is because of that very reason and because I’ve dealt with LFA with Ed [Soares] and Titan with Lex [McMahon] and all of these guys are happy to put fighters into the UFC.”
MMA Fighting reached out to King of the Cage for comment, but have yet to be given a response.
As far as his own relationship goes with King of the Cage, Butler says he never plans on doing business with them again outside of managing Rodriguez until his contract is finished.
“I will never work with King of the Cage again. I don’t need to and I haven’t had to,” Butler said. “I will never work with them again if their goal is solely to hold people back because they can potentially sell some tickets for them. I put fighters in LFA and Titan to help them grow on a credible show to where I can get them to a bigger show so they can actually make a career out of this.
“To have a regional show like King of the Cage take away this kid’s dream is sickening to me. It is sickening.”
In the past, Butler says regional promotions are proud to graduate fighters from their roster to the UFC or other major organizations but this is the only time he’s actually had a situation play out in this way.
“Let me also make this clear, I’m not a bridge burner. I never want to burn a bridge,” Butler said. “I want to build bridges and help everybody work together and I believe that business is phenomenal, it’s growing, and there’s room for everybody so I don’t want to burn bridges.
“But seven UFC champions, two Bellator champions, two Invicta champions and in 12 years, I’ve only had one client in King of the Cage and that’s Drako. So I don’t need King of the Cage to build fighters. We have a great reputation for building fighters. So King of the Cage, while I would love to work with them, I don’t need them.”