As UFC and MMA fans we all love a good fight, right? So does Joe Silva, but then again some of you may not know who this guy is or why his opinion matters. Most people think the buck stops with Dana White. Sure he is the president of the UFC and on paper Joe Silva reports to Dana so you’d think the guy calling the shots and steering the ship is Mr. White. Well as entertaining and public as White’s personality is, and as good of a job as he does helping build hype and keeping the smack talk train moving along, he is just one player in a much larger organization that is the UFC. The fact is, Mr. White has many key individuals helping run the company, though those in the know would agree that no one has more influence on the success of the UFC than its ultimate match maker Joe Silva.
Joe is a relatively private man. He has no twitter or public Facebook accounts to speak of. He rarely makes public statements and his appearances near the octagon are incidental at best. At least they would seem so to the casual observer, but make no mistake this is not just any average “Joe” we’re talking about! Mr. Silva has without a doubt one of the most influential positions in the UFC, second only perhaps to the Fertitta’s (as owners of Zuffa, LLC, the entity that owns the UFC promotion) and in some circumstances Dana White.
So what does Joe do? Well, to put it simply, he sets up the matches. Other than the lighter weight classes, (these are handled by his partner Sean Shelby) he negotiates with all the fighters and managers to seal the deal on each of the fights for just about every card and has been doing so since just after the inception of the UFC. Joe has been making the UFC successful with exciting match ups longer than Mr. White has been at the helm. In a 2009 article by the Las Vegas Sun Dana White himself was quoted as saying that Joe Silva had become a sort of “right-hand man” to the original owner of the UFC, Bob Meyrowitz, who had co-created the promotion and ran it until selling it off to Zuffa, LLC in 2001.
Even after the sale of the promotion it was clear that Joe was a key resource and critical to the success of the promotion. He was kept on board and given the official role of “Match Maker”. Amazingly, despite his immense influence on the outcome of each UFC event (including much of the Ultimate Fighter TV series) he has managed to keep himself pretty well below the radar. Many of you may wonder why…. and this is where I can personally step in to tell you a bit about how a well oiled machine (or company) works.
A company (be it an S-Corp, LLC, Partnership or even a Sole Proprietorship) is often made up of several parts. Those parts may be individuals or teams of resources working together towards a common goal. At or near the top you have the President or C.E.O. That position may be one and the same with the owner, sole share holder or chairman of the board. However, if it isn’t then the Chief Executive reports to one of those three entities outside of the company itself. The president is responsible for both ensuring that goals are met and that the overall image of the company is represented according to the wishes of the company owners.
Beyond that, a chief executive has little hands on work to do outside of routine status checks, general team building and a lot of high level negotiations. A president however rarely is the one to execute a deal or directly hire anyone in a company outside of those who would directly report to him. Even then, many organizations have provisions for certain key executives who are not the chief executive to require board approval before the hiring or firing of an individual can happen. The bottom line is, as president of a company you don’t always have as much power as the public might assume. You do however have influence, but even the president can be persuaded or overruled.
A healthy relationship between a president and their direct reports is such that she/he will rely on their expertise to advise on direction. They should listen, take into account factors that may be out of the scope of responsibility for that individual and ultimately agree or disagree. However, the first no is never the end of a conversation in business. That’s just the beginning of a negotiation.
So let’s jump back to Joe Silva and how he may be working with Dana White. White often makes public statements about what will or will not happen and sometimes those things pan out and sometimes they don’t. This isn’t necessarily due to him being fickle but rather because his experts may have advised him of a better course and then an agreement is made to proceed in which the direction changes and Dana relays this publicly. The best chief executives know when to speak and when not to speak publicly. Dana is in a precarious position as controversy is one of the elements that fuels the fire of competition that is the nature of a combat sport. As much as people may love to hate on some of his past contradictions, by being public about his opinions and then changing course actually does a good job of keeping fan interest in the ever evolving sport.
That all being said… behind the scenes, behind closed doors… one of the individuals working hardest to bring you the fights you love to watch is Mr. Joe Silva. He can make or break careers with a single phone call. His influence is stronger upstream than Dana’s is downstream because Dana trusts Joes judgement. Otherwise he would never employ the man to begin with. So what about all this business regarding Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans…. Sure Dana said it “likely won’t happen”. He doesn’t want to see that fight happen, but I can assure you that if Joe Silva crunches the numbers, looks at the contracts and finds a sweet deal to be had between the two of fighters and the promotion, then that fight will happen and Dana will happily change course to follow suit. This is not because he is indecisive, but rather because he is a smart manager who listens to his key resources.
Incidentally this is how I run my company and I can attest from years of experience that having held similar positions of influence (like that of Mr. Silva’s) in the past that the counsel of an expert is rarely disregarded or overridden.