If you think being a professional fighter frees you of workplace squabbles and bureaucratic red tape, think again. Because Bellator flyweight Brooke Mayo is currently dealing with just that in a dispute with her manager that is at risk of derailing her career.
It’s safe to say that Brooke Mayo’s pro MMA career did not get off to the start she’d hoped for. After an excellent amateur turn, Mayo went pro with Bellator MMA, making her debut in February 2017 against Veta Arteaga. However, a controversial doctor’s stoppage dealt her an immediate setback. It was a stoppage that didn’t sit well with Mayo, who would later tell Cageside Press that despite calling an end to the fight due to a hematoma over the eye, the doctor on hand hadn’t even checked her vision.
Then came another blow, in the form of a decision loss to Kaytlin Neil at Bellator 183 that September. It put Mayo in a perilous position, 0-2 as a professional fighter after an amateur run that saw her rack up no less than eight wins.
That was September 23, 2017. Mayo has not fought since. That, however, is not entirely her decision. For over six months, Brooke Mayo has been in a contractual dispute with her manager and former coach, Dan Black. It’s a messy situation, to say the least.
Cageside Press spoke to Mayo about the situation that led to her being on the shelf for months, despite being prepared to fight. In Mayo’s opinion it boils down to looking out for her own best interest as a fighter.
“I was unhappy with my management because of multiple reasons,” she told us over the phone just a few days ago. “First and foremost, my manager also used to be my coach. He was one of my first striking coaches. After my first fight with Veta Arteaga, I saw some things and I heard some things and I just kind of evaluated the situation. I was like ‘look, I need to kind of move forward with a more serious camp, a more serious coach'” she recalled. “There’s nothing wrong with him personally, but I just felt as if I wasn’t reaching my max potential.” And so she told Black that moving forward, she only wanted him as a manager.
“Obviously that didn’t go over so well, but at the end of the day, I needed training partners, I needed resources, and it was really hard,” she explained. “We were training in a really small space, only really able to do mitts, didn’t have training partners at all to prepare me for the Veta Arteaga fight. So I said ‘I want to keep you as manager, I want to give you credit where credit is due, and keep paying you for your services and for your time.'”
That led to Mayo leaving Team Black MMA and joining Team Alpha Male. From there, she’d move to the Nick Diaz Academy, where she’d trained off and on for years. It was while with Alpha Male, however, that things became more strained with her manager, Black.
“He would do things like call Urijah [Faber], call their managers over there and say ‘she still needs to represent my team and put my team name on her, she can’t just be representing you guys.’ All this weird stuff. He would call people, even sponsors, behind my back and ask them what they were giving me, even though that has nothing to do with our state athletic commission contract,” she told us. Cageside Press confirmed with the California State Athletic Commission that sponsorships are not covered by Mayo’s managerial contract, although in the wording of the agreement, “Manager reserves the right to select trainers” is listed. Surprisingly, it’s a standard clause. “This is our language in our contract,” the commission rep said (Mayo confirmed the wording is there, but had it reviewed by a lawyer, who questioned whether it was standard outside of the CSAC).
Mayo is of the belief that Black was looking for a percentage of her sponsorship money despite it being outside of their managerial deal. She went as far to ask him for a copy of a sponsorship agreement between them recently, though she says he has yet to reply.
Worse, said Mayo, although Bellator had given her the green light to pick up some fights outside of the promotion, Black refused to book any. “I would talk to him and be like ‘Hey I really want to fight outside my Bellator contract before my next fight, can you get me a smaller show fight?'”
“Now you’re trying to effect my training relationships, you’re trying to discredit me, and make me look bad to people I want to be with to the end of my career.”
The response? “‘No I think that’s too risky, I don’t want to do that.'” As Mayo pointed out, however, it was just as risky to go 0-3 in a major promotion. “With that, it’s just kind of frustrating. I do have a sense that just because the purse isn’t a Bellator purse, it means it’s too risky and not worth it. Not necessarily for my career and building back up my record, but for his financial gain,” she said of Black’s response.
In any case, Mayo applied for a release from her manager’s contract, and for arbitration, with the CSAC at the end of November 2017. Phone calls had begun to the Nate Diaz Academy, said Mayo. Black “called my coaches there, talked to Nate, talked to Randy Spence, and said ‘I’d prefer you didn’t let her train here, I want you to kick her out'” she recalled. Even more troubling, “he also said that I was using drugs, that I was a bad person. I was informed this by a couple people, not just one person.”
“Now you’re trying to effect my training relationships, you’re trying to discredit me,” she told us of Black’s actions, “and make me look bad to people I want to be with to the end of my career.” He continued to contact sponsors when she posted them on her Instagram page. “He would either have a problem with them supporting me, and say ‘I don’t want you to support her,'” she said, or tell them “‘I could take you to court and sue you if you’re giving her money.’ He told my friend ‘anybody who’s given her anything, I could sue them.'”
The CSAC confirmed to Cageside Press that they received Mayo’s application on December 1. They in turn notified Black on the December 7. Under their guidelines, he had twenty days to respond. According to the commission, he did so in person on the final day possible, December 27. Mayo questions the validity of that claim. While the commission does allow responses to be made in person at their office, when she spoke to Black, he indicated he’d attended their office on December 19, before Christmas. The CSAC, meanwhile, told both Mayo and later Cageside Press that it was two days after Christmas on the 27th. In an e-mail Mayo provided to Cageside Press, from a CSAC representative, they also confirmed that Black did not respond in writing until February 2, 2018. However, they pointed out that Section 227(b) of the California Code of Regulation does not require a written response.
What’s not in dispute is that Mayo did not hear back from the CSAC for some time. Shortly after submitting her application, she called the commission to follow up, asking if they needed anything else. They confirmed that they had received her forms, and told her to wait to hear from them. However, December turned into January. When no call from the CSAC came, and the allowed time period for Black to respond had seemingly expired, Mayo assumed she was in the clear. She began looking at getting her own fights, including one with Global Knockout, which later fell through when the card was cancelled.
Here’s where the bureaucratic nightmare kicks in. Brooke Mayo told Cageside Press that no one from the commission called her until February. A CSAC rep confirmed that time frame to Cageside Press, then later modified their comment to indicate a conference call was made at the end of January. Either way, no one from the CSAC reached out to Mayo during the critical period between her application being submitted, and Black’s window of response expiring. Even if he did respond on the final day, Mayo was not informed in a timely fashion. She’d already been on the shelf since September 2017. She wanted to fight, to build up her record.
The CSAC told us that “there really isn’t anything set on when we should respond,” in regards to getting back to an applicant. “We get a lot of these, there’s six people in this office.” Short staffing and the fact that only one person responds to arbitration cases and contracts were cited for the delay. As was the Holiday season. The CSAC did state that they “don’t think it was unreasonable” in terms of response time.
What happened next was the conference call that Brooke said came in early February, and the commission says took place late Janary. In either case, it was nearly two months before she had heard anything. Then came a call “out of nowhere” with the CSAC, who had Dan Black on the line. “‘Okay we have Dan on the phone now,” Mayo was told. “We’re going to work this out.'”
It took her by surprise. “A week before I have a fight set up, now you’re going to come at me and want to have a meeting?” At that point, it became clear that Mayo wouldn’t be able to book fights on her own, as the CSAC arbitration process was underway.
“So on the phone, we talked,” she said. Only, “I felt like they weren’t necessarily listening to my points. When I would tell them things about the sponsorship issues or the team issues,” Mayo told us that the CSAC replied “well that’s not part of our contract, you’re going to have to get a separate lawyer for that. Sorry.”
“They made me feel as if I had no power in this situation and no reason to even get out of the contract with him,” she continued. “I kept repeating myself, saying this isn’t a healthy relationship, this isn’t good for either of us, it’s best if we move on, how can I move on?”
“How can I resolve it? Do I need to pay him something, do I need to do something else to get to move forward with this process?” she asked. “They really gave me no answers, no way out.”
“I’m kind of disappointed in the commission, I really felt as if they were going to protect me as a fighter,” she later added. “When I went to them, I wrote out my reasons. I didn’t get three fights in a year with him, he’s also acting not in my best interest, saying things about me that are unprofessional. I made a list of a few other things, that I wrote to them in my arbitration and release request.”
Ultimately, the CSAC went over her points, and told Cageside Press that they did not find Black in violation of her contract. The contract does stipulate that Mayo is owed three fights per twelve month period, according to the CSAC. Mayo has fought just twice since February 2017. However, the commission took into account the medical suspension Mayo received after the Artega fight, which was originally five months. Even though it’s not uncommon for such a layoff in MMA, and Mayo fought again in September. And even though that suspension was later reduced.
In theory, Mayo still had plenty of time for another fight. Yet Black refused to book her outside of Bellator. Mayo did not want to fight in Bellator again until she had a win on her record. Because of that, the commission sees the three fight issue moot. The CSAC stated that Mayo was offered a fight for July 2018 with Bellator in Thackerville, but had declined it. Mayo rejected that claim. “No, I never got offered that fight” she responded when asked about a potential Thackerville fight. “I was not offered any fight for Thackerville in July.”
Mayo did confirm she was offered a fight at Bellator 199 this past weekend. However, Black offered the fight to her coaches, going around the fighter herself. When her coaches balked at that move and suggested Black reach out to Mayo, he did — and insisted she sign the deal ASAP. Mayo had issues, including her weight, and the fact that she was still looking to fight on a smaller regional show. And even with a fight at the end of April 2018, the math seems a little wonky. However, the commission rep told Cageside Press that they’re taking Black at his word as having offered her other fights on smaller shows. They did confirm, however, that there is nothing on record about said fights, at least on their end. Mayo told us no such offers were made, and the only talk with other promotions came when she believed she was free of her contract with Black.
One interesting twist is that, per the CSAC, it’s ultimately the manager who can decide where a fighter fights. So in a case where the promotion under Scott Coker is being the “good guy” and letting Mayo get some experience elsewhere, it’s ironically her manager, who should be looking out for her best interest, that is the stumbling block.
Scott Coker was awesome, he’s like ‘for sure, do what you need to do, just keep us in the loop’
“I don’t want to paint him as a bad person,” she said of Black. “To be honest, when I first met him, I thought ‘he really has my best interest [in mind], he really cares about me.’ I really liked him.” When the relationship soured, however, “not only him but also the commission are making me feel powerless and trapped, and I don’t really like that. I’m a pro fighter, I’m an athlete, and I feel as I should be treated as such, and treated with more respect than this.”
Mayo does see fault on all sides of the dispute. “When he first had me first sign my Bellator contract, he also painted a picture for me, that gave me certain expectations,” she explained. “I think for managers, it’s a good thing to think about managing expectations for fighters. If you can’t deliver something to a fighter, can’t produce what they want you to produce, don’t pretend like you’re going to. He was telling me that I was going to fight frequently, they were going to do this and that as a promotion to promote me, to get me excited about signing. I still love Bellator, I think it’s a great promotion for me, but the things he had promised me definitely didn’t come to fruition.”
On the other hand, “a lot of it’s my fault too, my record sucks, I’ll own up to that. I didn’t fight how I should have fought, I can totally understand why I’m in the position I’m in because of my own performances,” she admitted. “But at the same time I wanted to rectify that with fights outside of my contract. Scott Coker was awesome, he’s like ‘for sure, do what you need to do, just keep us in the loop’ — I was like ‘great, thank you so much.’ He’s been so great to me.”
The impact of the dispute on Brooke Mayo as a fighter and a human being has not been small. You can hear it in her voice when she talks about the strained relationship with her former coach. “Barring me from sponsorship opportunities that I’ve arranged myself, talking to my coaches and teammates and saying all these bad things about me, it was upsetting,” she told us. “It’s also distracting. Basically I just came to the point where ‘I’m not fighting until this is resolved with you.’ It’s really distracting, it’s really petty. And I don’t want to have any negative energy when I go into my fights. I don’t want to be thinking about anything other than the fight.”
“All this nonsense has really stressed me out,” Mayo said of the situation. She’s considering pursuing another legal avenue to resolve the issue, if a second attempt at being released from her contract, and another round of arbitration, fails.
“I’m 0-2, I don’t have room to be doing this half in, half out thing. It’s either now or never. I need to be 100% physically and mentally before I fight again,” she explained. When it comes to another legal option, it’s a last resort. “I don’t even want to do that. I tried to sit down with [Dan Black] in person and say ‘hey lets come to an agreement, lets work this out just between us.’ I even asked him ‘what number do you want? What do you want monetarily? And then also where is my supposed sponsorship contract that you have me in, that you’re calling people stating that you have legal rights to my sponsorship? I want to see that, and I want to know how much you want to get away from you basically.”
“He said he’d give me that in 30 days,” Mayo continued. “That was the beginning of April. I e-mailed him twice in the last week, asking how much do you want, and where is that sponsorship contract you’ve been threatening people with?” Mayo is also aware of another fighter trying to free themselves of a deal with Black, experiencing difficulties with the commission as well.
In a follow-up conversation, Mayo also wanted to go on record to point out Black’s bullying tactics on social media. The Team Black MMA Instagram, of late, has been posting less than inspiring messages targeted at #millennials that Mayo believes are directed at her. “Everything happens for a reason, but sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and you make bad decisions” one reads. The post is also tagged #Don’tBeASnowflake. Mayo told Cageside Press that Black had in the past referred to her as an “entitled millennial.”
In her next attempt to break free of Black, Mayo said that she is “going to try and elaborate on my points, rewrite [the application], add new information that’s come up. If nothing comes of that, I’ll probably have to go to the Department of Consumer Affairs, and then I’ll probably have to go get a lawyer outside of that.”
“All this is probably going to be expensive, but if it costs me some money to get my career back on track and get me mentally in a healthy space, I’ll spend however much money it takes,” she finished.
There are some positives for Brooke Mayo at the moment, however. “I’m super happy with training right now, I really like who I’m training with, where I’m training right now, what I’m learning,” she told us. “There’s a lot of things I still can do, as a pro fighter, as an athlete. I love jiu-jitsu, I can always compete in that in the off time. Then I’m trying to keep up on the striking side of things, the MMA side of things too. My teammate Chelsea Chandler, she fights for Invicta, I try to be her main training partner, be there for her, be a supportive teammate. That helps me get better, when she’s working to fight, I’m pretty much in fight camp too.
“At least when I come back I’m going to be a lot better than you guys have seen.”
Hopefully it won’t be too long before the situation is sorted out, as it’s clear all parties need to find a resultion.
We’d like to thank both Brooke Mayo and the California State Athletic Commission for their time, and for answering our questions in regards to this story. Dan Black subsequently responded to a request for comment following publication of this article, saying that “there is the truth and there is what Brooke is telling you and they’re two different things.” He added that “I know I am in the right and have screenshots to prove it” but declined further comment citing a preference to address things through the appropriate channels rather than the press or social media.
Update, May 22: Black added on record that Mayo was offered a date at Bellator’s upcoming show in Thackerville. Bellator, however, could not confirm that, saying only that matchmaker Rich Chou would not speak to the media. Black also said that he was “open to letting her fight outside of her contract,” but was concerned about her being cut with a loss in the regionals. The Nick Diaz Muary Thai coach disputes asking the camp to kick her out, and he says he provided Mayo “full access to any of my affiliates including Nick Diaz Academy, El Nino Training Center (Leslie Smith and Keri Melendez), Nor Cal Fighting Alliance (Kelly Fasholtz).”
“I paid for all of her medicals to go pro, drove thousands of miles and paid god knows what in travel expenses for years to get her to the point where I was able to negotiate a deal with Bellator,” Black stated. “You’d think a fighter would be grateful.”
As it pertains to sponsorships, Black said that “the UFC deal with Reebok messed up the sponsor market for everybody else,” Black added, pointing out that “if UFC fighters are only getting $2500 why would a company want to pay thousands of dollars to sponsor a fighter that isn’t on TV?”
Black contends that he does have a sponsorship deal with Mayo. “I will say yes we do have multiple agreements one of which covers sponsorship, marketing, branding, etc.,” he said. “Those issues are not handled by CSAC and will be dealt with in civil court.”
Citing potential civil action, Black declined to speak further on the subject, or give an answer as to whether he’d be willing to walk away from the contract for a fee, something Mayo has offered. Additionaly, he told us that posts made on the Team Black Instagram page tagged #Millennials and #DontBeASnowFlake were not targeted at Mayo.
Below is Brooke Mayo’s original post about the situation, from her official Instagram page.
I still do not know when I’ll be able to return to the @bellatormma cage. When I started out as a pro, my goal was to have 4 fights a year. It has been a year and 3 months since going pro and I’ve only had 2 fights total. Even though Bellator cleared me to fight for small local shows, my offers have dissipated due to the manager issues I am currently dealing with. I am still trying to come to some sort of a compromise with my manager who has decided he does not want compromise. While I am trying to be positive and focus forward, I will fully admit I am unsure which direction my career is going. All I know is that I am training and improving everyday technically thanks to my friends and teammates @nick_diaz_academy Thank you again to all of you that support me. I apologize for being so inactive. I hope you all understand it is not by choice. I want to fight frequently without distraction or stress of negative people that want to see me lose or suffer. I still love martial arts and fighting with all my heart so don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. #MMA #BellatorMMA #illbeback #martialarts #martialartist #passionate #wandering #notlost
May 15 3:05 PM EST — Updated with Dan Black’s response.
May 22, 10:20 AM EST — Added additional comments from Black.