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« | Home | »

Reebok is the burning tire in UFC’s growing dumpster fire

By Zach Arnold | July 1, 2015

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Good news for UFC — California state Senator Leland Yee copped a plea deal with the Feds in his racketeering & extortion case, so the prospects of UFC management or Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission possibly having to hit the witness stand dropped. We’ll see if the wiretap evidence is kept under seal or not by the Federal judge in the case.

And that’s about it for the good news lately for UFC. Really. UFC’s reverse-Midas touch these last several months is more or less standard operating procedure.

Where to begin? UFC calling Reebok fighter uniforms “fight kits.” A $70 million deal with Reebok that has been lampooned with zeal by everyone. How much of it is product and how much is actually cash? UFC is now starting their USADA drug testing program. They’ve banned fighters from using IVs after weigh-ins due to the serious problem of weight cutting.

And they got their ass kicked again in trying to get legislation passed for MMA in New York. It’s one thing to buy off Sacramento. It’s another to buy off Albany. As soon as the clock ran out in Albany, UFC was seething with outrage on Twitter about “corruption.” Yes, the folks in Las Vegas are seething with rage about corruption.

Under normal circumstances, the Reebok deal would be the most embarrassing notch on UFC’s 2015 business campaign. As Zane Simon appropriately noted, UFC’s Reebok rollout says a lot about both companies in the global marketplace. This is what you get when you want full control and envision a sport where every fighter’s image by Corporate is scripted as a generic puppet that is largely over-tanned, ripped, and covered in tattoos. Where guys are labeled independent contractors but are restrained from obtaining sponsors due to “Fight Kits.” Where fighters can’t afford to pay for month-long training camps in locations like Mexico City. Where fighters are trashed with glee by management not just on their way out but when they’re on top.

Rampage Jackson long ago joked that Las Vegas thinks they can put a bunch of guys in a cage labeled “UFC” and that it will sell. We’re about to find out now with those dreadful “UFC fight kits” just how much having UFC uniforms sells shows and sells uniforms.

We’ll find out shortly when Chad Mendes, filling in for Jose Aldo, fights Conor McGregor on short notice. UFC set up Aldo to get trashed by McGregor on a pathetic “world tour” public relations pit stop. A guy who has been champion for years was treated as the ultimate jabroni. UFC managed to string the fans along as much as possible before pulling the plug on Aldo’s title fight because of a rib injury. And now Aldo is being portrayed as the coward, the guy who’s afraid of UFC’s mini-version of Seth Rollins. Except, as far as I know, Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns didn’t actually live at one of Vince McMahon’s properties while getting the push of a lifetime.

Right out of the UFC playbook, we have Mendes vs. McGregor for yet another UFC “interim” title. How many more interim title belts can you have? I suppose we’ll see what the value of marketing an interim title belt is if the DA in Albuquerque is able to string a court case together against Jon Jones.

If McGregor beats Mendes, he’ll do so on short-notice. If Mendes beats McGregor, the UFC’s multi-year investment will be flushed down the toilet in exchange for a rematch between Aldo & Mendes that I’m not sure the mainstream casual fan will care about.

The UFC wants you to respect them as some sort of major sports conglomerate but they want you to scrutinize them as if they were a proverbial mom & pop shop.

It’s the fight business. When it rains, it pours. The problem is that so much of the crap UFC is facing has been entirely created by their own doing. They may not pay a price right now but they will pay a price later for mismanagement. UFC is not going away any time soon. Whether or not UFC is sold in the future, that’s a different question to ponder for another time.

The real concern MMA fans should have right now is not whether the sport has “peaked” or what the growth potential looks like. The real concern is whether or not the money that currently exists is going to exist in 10 years. PRIDE was able to bring in the best talent in the world because they had a massive contract with Fuji TV. Once the Fuji TV money was pulled due to the yakuza scandal, the jig was up. UFC faces a situation where they need to figure out how to maintain their current revenue streams to a point where they keep the status quo. Growth prospects look limited in a best-case scenario.

It’s all about the future. Fighting for UFC can bring you some fame. It can bring you some money. But for most fighters, it won’t. Most fighters will continue to have to work day jobs. The money for sponsorships isn’t going to be there in the foreseeable future. Fighter pay remains anemic. The prospects of intrusive drug testing make a “UFC lifestyle” less desirable. Money is the mother’s milk of politics and the fight business. Floyd Mayweather is making $220 million a fight and has the Showtime media platform to boost his earnings prospects. Where is that platform for UFC fighters?

If the UFC wants to remain relevant, they’re going to have to be able to attract athletic talent away from other sports. No matter how UFC spins it, their economic model & management structure is their own worst enemy. Reebok discovered the hard way that associating yourself with UFC can bring tremendous public relations heartburn to your own brand.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 19 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

19 Responses to “Reebok is the burning tire in UFC’s growing dumpster fire”

  1. Dave says:

    How is it that a win over Dennis Siver gives Conor the new found riches to bring his camp from Ireland to Las Vegas for months of training. While your in the company’s good graces a fighter gets special treatment. Conor should be aware of the UFC’s need to destroy (or at least try really hard to) any star who becomes big enough to feel entitled to a fair percentage of their worth.


    Reverse midas touch sums up this year. Now ufcs desperately chasing a leprechaun in Conner “lucky charms” Mc gregor.

    “Yes, the folks in Las Vegas are seething with rage about corruption.”

    …those without sin eh?

    So what about the possibility Aldo vacates and moves up? Might be a good time if he wants to protect his legacy. …rather than looking bad either by loosing or being busted for peds… not saying he’s juicing just saying its one or the other.

    I see the ufc pattern is to denigrate and broom the 10 year vets regardless their champion status.


    Well since the ufc just announced an oct 24th show in Dublin… I’m going to predict Mc Gregor looses next weekend. And, suffer another injury putting him on the shelf until after that show.

    Included in dana’s consolatory speech will the phrase “just can’t catch a break” and or “this year has been crazy”.

  4. 45 Huddle says:

    1) Still too many watered down shows with a roster that is too big.

    2) Somebody pointed out that the shirts made the fighters look they had belly fat. If Reebok can’t make MMA fighters look in shape… they have failed miserably.

    3) Mendes is going to win. I haven’t bought into the McGregor hype yet.

    4) The playing field has never been more uneven for fighters. I don’t see why anybody would want to be a professional MMA fighter right now.


    wow I see what reebaok was talking about with “customization” you can have ufc fighter jersey with two fighter combos?|

    I can buy the Pickett and tape my first name above “pickett” and then I can say i’m a fighter too!

    and can someone tell me if Renzo Gracie is getting paid for his shirt?

  6. Jeff Montelongo says:

    for anyone who’ve seen season 3 of The Wire:

    Zuffa = Stringer Bell
    paid NY lobbyists to legalize MMA = Sen. Clay Davis

  7. Steve4192 says:

    The comparison between Pride’s financial situation in 2006 and the UFC’s current situation is pretty damn thin. Pride folded because they only had one major revenue stream (FujiTV) and it were blackballed from replacing it when it went away. The UFC has a shitload of revenue streams (PPV, FightPass, FOX, Globo, Televisa, etc.) which make it much easier for them to survive a downturn in any one market. That is the whole point of ‘globalizing’ a company.

    Also, while I agree the whole Reebok mess has been a PR nightmare for the UFC, I don’t see it having any impact on their bottom line. Casual fans don’t give a shit about the business of MMA and all the shady shit that goes on in the background. They just care about face punching and ultraviolence.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      There’s no sudden collapse forthcoming. However, stuff like the kit makes it increasingly less likely that they’ll be able to keep making stars either when they can’t/won’t allow for individualism in the ring. If anything, they’re maximizing their available revenue for the now with little consideration for 10 years from now. They better hope and pray their chosen son has learned how to wrestle, or all they will have managed to do with their enormous expenditure is create another B-tier headliner.

  8. rst says:

    Is it just me or does those uniforms make them look like the cast of american gladiators.
    Maybe whenever UFC signs someone, in addition to their likeness for the rest of their lifetime they should make them legally change their name to something more befitting a member of a team of comicbook superhero’s.
    Like Tattoo Gun, the Leprechaun or the Brazilian Waxer.
    randy rousy can be “You go girl”.

  9. JV says:

    The uniforms.. err.. dress code.. oh sorry “Kits” I meant, I wouldn’t want the UFC to get in a whole heaps of trouble on the issue of employment vs. contracting.

    Anyways, these new crappy fight kits remind me of how if someone in the 1980’s tried to envision a futuristic sport.. oh my god what would they wear? probably lots of neon tight stuff with humongous letters, maybe add some kneepads and some flying skateboards.

    • rst says:

      Now that you’ve pointed it out I am noticing an unfortunate lack of chrome shoulder pads and studded codpieces.

    • Tradition Rules says:

      “Anyways, these new crappy fight kits remind me of how if someone in the 1980’s tried to envision a futuristic sport.. oh my god what would they wear? probably lots of neon tight stuff with humongous letters, maybe add some kneepads….”


      That’s hysterical! That and they remind me of the uniforms in the comedy “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”,…like on Ben Stiller’s Globo-Gym team, The Cobras!

  10. rst says:

    Ooh, ooh, ooh…

    TUF is getting a little long in the tooth,
    here’s a new show!

    Zuffa eye for the MMA guy!

    Give them a new hair style, a new nickname and a reebok “kit”…

  11. DIAZ'S PACKED BOWL says:

    I posted this here, too hard to read on sherdogs dumb black background…

    By Jordan Breen Jul 3, 2015

    I’m no conspiracy theorist. I don’t think that Zuffa architected the timing of Jose Aldo officially pulling out of UFC 189, and it goes without saying that Aldo’s infirmity is a gut punch-level disappointment. With that said, the timing of that announcement certainly helped the Ultimate Fighting Championship in one particular capacity: burying its embarrassing UFC fight kit unveiling on Tuesday and quieting the Reebok backlash for the time being.

    If not for the stakes and nature of the Aldo news, it would look like a classic politics-and-PR 101 maneuver, the timing just so particular, coming nine hours after the UFC-Reebok kit press conference — long enough to get news reports out but not long enough to let everyone get their hottest, deepest screeds out there and certainly not long enough for the chirping voices in the MMA echo chamber to build to a full cacophony of scorn. It’s a bit of dumb luck in a hard week for the UFC, and frankly, I won’t stand for it.

    You know me, obsessive and annoying dead horse beater that I am, I can’t resist. However, in fact, I’m not digging up this fairly fresh grave just to get in a few kicks. I want to eulogize what we’re leaving behind. The next time we see fights in the Octagon, it’ll be a new world blanketed in bland attire under the guise of professionalism. For now, we’re leaving behind a literally more colorful, personable time. It cries out for remembrance.

    Before that, those kicks I mentioned.

    The fact that the criticisms of the UFC-Reebok presser were so uniform, pun partially intended, is instructive. It wasn’t just that it was portrayed as a nationalistic fashion show; it was a nationalistic fashion show from dubstep hell, a surreal morsel of a dystopian future. With dozens of hand-picked international UFC fighters on stage in their virtually identical Reebok attire, they looked like an army of trained mech robot pilots from a science fiction movie. No one, not the Reebok brass, not UFC President Dana White, not any of the UFC stars like Conor McGregor, Joanna Jedrzejczyk or Cain Velasquez who were called to the microphone, seemed like they wanted to be there.

    Why would they be? For Reebok, this is simply another chance to market to a niche sports training demographic, like CrossFit. For UFC execs, they know that this rollout is going to be anything but popular. Fighters know they’re mostly getting screwed on the deal. Again, speaking of the uniformity of public sentiment, even the most perfunctory of UFC announcements are usually marked by roster fighters endorsing the cause via social media, even when it’s forced. Twitter and the like were positively silent on the talent front, save for this notable tweet from UFC middleweight Josh Samman:

    Cosmetic makeovers are typically never successful on launch; take it from someone at However, what stinks about the UFC-Reebok kits goes beyond taste and aesthetics. It’s a fundamental misreading of the role apparel plays for combat athletes, in general, and MMA fighters, in particular. In an era in which the UFC is more desperate for recognizable stars than ever, it has whitewashed a 600-fighter roster into palette swap enemies in a 16-bit video game.

    There is something wonderfully ironic about the UFC and Reebok patterning their inaugural kit after soccer. Naturally, both companies are looking to the politics of respectability and the fact that futbol is the most internationally visible, inclusive sport and one that generally confers class and integrity. Of course, this comes at a time when FIFA is mired in scandal and soccer is in its most profound state of disrepute in years.

    The phrase “kit” itself is a peculiar choice. It’s clearly a direct rip from soccer nomenclature, but it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t chosen deliberately as a way to avoid the phrase “uniform,” which has obvious implications for the UFC, its enterprise and whether or not its fighters are employees or independent contractors. The phrase “jersey” has no real currency, as despite the kit’s inclusion of a rash guard, fighters don’t actually compete in them. While I’m firmly in favor of MMA having linguistically robust jargon, the fact that “kit” has no cultural precedence in MMA makes the actual thing itself seem all the more foreign and alien.

    It’s obvious to see how we got to this point. The UFC’s larger, promotional aesthetic — and by extension and emulation, all of MMA’s — has been satirized and mocked to the point of mainstream humor, to an extent that average people will draw a sketch of a mohawked, tribal-tattooed miscreant in an Affliction shirt reflexively if you ask simply ask them, “What does an MMA fan look like?” However, not every MMA fighter is some yahoo in a bedazzled V-neck. In an attempt to look “professional” like other sports, we end up with a 180-degree turn, with a UFC uniform stripped of anything that could resemble personality. Worse, any space on the gear that could be used in a psycho-visually positive way is taken up with an enormous diagonal “UFC” graphic across the chest.

    This is another piece of the soccer irony, as the UFC’s kits are modeled after soccer’s in every way except the dimension that matters most: soul. Whether you’re talking the jerseys for international sides or the kits for a regional team, soccer gear has personality and individual flair. You get horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, coats of arms, different kinds of collars, different kinds of sleeves and every eyesore color combination you can even dream of. They display and reinforce tradition and, by extension, identity. They do not say “FIFA” or “UEFA” across the chest in ostentatious fashion, pushing the brand at the pyrrhic expense of its athletes. Consequently, the UFC kits are left looking like giant Uno cards.

    You know what else makes soccer jerseys unique? The giant team sponsor on the chest from which the club profits. This is another issue entirely, but surely someone would take me to task for not stating the obvious.

    As much as I delight in the shambolic — the fact that “Giblert Melendez” has instantaneously become a widely understood MMA meme or Josh Koscheck is claiming that the UFC has no legal right to sell merchandise with his name on it, despite being still presently available from the Reebok store — I know that we’ve already lost something. Skills still settle scores in the cage; it takes more than a pair of shorts to make a successful MMA fighter. Damn if a great pair of shorts can’t crystallize their persona, though.

    A pair of board shorts trimmed in flames or icicles may sound corny divorced from context, but they still added a hard-to-explain richness to Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. As if the nickname “Cro Cop” doesn’t go far enough, Mirko Filipovic’s checkerboard trunks captured his essence better than anything else, as silly as it sounds, even if he has forsaken them in recent bouts. Didn’t hurt for showing off those Earl Campbell thighs, either.

    Again, it’s not even that the UFC uniforms are disappointing on a design level; it’s that those failures coalesce in a way that undermines the ability to a) sell this overpriced, $80 merchandise and b) sell the UFC fighters themselves.

    Kazushi Sakuraba wears orange, Phil Davis wears pink and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson wears woodland camo. Anderson Silva is black and yellow, Rich Franklin is chocolate and strawberry swirl. Melvin Manhoef wears gladiator shorts and Carla Esparza wears a singlet. Dennis Hallman wore a speedo once and Jutaro Nakao wore the same one his whole damn career. That doesn’t even account for all the miscellaneous ring-walk gear, from wacky costumes to a T-shirt with a cheeky message. Hell, Georges St. Pierre comes to the cage in a gi, which somehow, Reebok doesn’t even produce for public consumption.

    As far as actual MMA training products go, the most notable successes in the sport’s history were natural reactions to fighters’ individual, idiosyncratic tastes. Shinya Aoki liked to grapple in long tights like Shooto veterans from 20 years prior; his training partners thought it was novel and it caught on. Aoki showed up to fight in his technicolor spats, hit gogoplatas on folks and pushed every grappling nerd to get a pair. Frank Mir is a massive heavyweight jiu-jitsu player and struggled to find shorts that offered him the necessary mobility to grapple, until Sprawl hooked him up with its split-seam board shorts before his UFC 46 rematch with Wes Sims. As simple as the design was, it caught on like wildfire in the community and helped put Sprawl on the map in that niche space.

    Do I even need to bring up the reaction to and ongoing legacy of Chan Sung Jung’s “Korean Zombie” shirt by Tricoasta or B.J. Penn’s black belt vale tudo trunks, produced by RVCA? The organic process of a single person’s preferences creating a piece of attire that inspires and excites an audience is dead now, beneath the sport’s greatest stage. I’ll suffer the ocular torture of a million Affliction shirts if it means we get another garment as iconic as Jung’s, but at no time in the immediate future will a UFC fighter’s choice of attire stagger the MMA population and spawn serious conversation, for better or for worse; and that’s a damn shame.

    I choose my words carefully there, as I do believe there’s a measure of hope. The greatest irony of all is that from this point forward, the UFC-Reebok deal will be judged on its flexibility, a word they actually misspelled on the big screens during Tuesday’s presser despite it being an emphasized buzzword within the presentation.

    It would be both tone deaf and flat stupid for the UFC and Reebok to not consider the constructive criticisms of fighters and consumers going forward. Likely, most of that conversation will center on secondary sponsorships and whether an agreement can be reached for fighters to sell some small part of their apparel space. The cosmetic component can’t be ignored, however. The world is better lived and more fondly remembered in color, and the UFC has just filtered its product to black and white, albeit with flag decals.

    It’s possible if not probable that some of you think I’m just being an overly mawkish aesthete, but I’m confident that time will vindicate me, and I’m not even talking about a far off, distant time. You might think this is all much ado about some crummy kits, but let me inform you that starting with UFC 189, there’s four UFC events in seven days. That’s 44 fights with 88 different fighters in one week, all wearing fundamentally the same gear with only the faintest whiff of customizability, personality or intrigue. Even if you detest fashion as a cultural concept, it will start to eat at you. You will miss the days of putting up with a dozen fighters wearing ads on their ass in order to enjoy one over-the-top costumed entrance, just to make you feel alive again.

    While I’m being helpful, let me remind you that if at any point during those 44 fights you get confused as to the identity of any of the 88 combatants, their full name is conveniently located on the back of their jersey — the jersey that they are not wearing inside the cage while they compete, of course, because they are not soccer players.

    • rst says:

      “…bland attire under the guise of professionalism.”

      It does seem to contradict the spirit of MIXED martial arts.

      The root and soul of the whole sport that competed different disciplines against each other to determine the best.
      Yes, MMA training has been streamlined into “MMA training”, but everybody does still have a root strength that they generally represent.

      The individual look and costume within the glove and shorts rules were the expression of who you represented and who represented you.

      MMA is not a team sport.

  12. david m says:

    This is a star-driven business. There are certainly aspects about a fighter’s outfit that make him or her more memorable, but let’s be honest, stars are made with their fists and their mouths. Wearing Reebok won’t hurt McGregor’s drawing power, just as being sponsored by Xbox didn’t help Mighty Mouse’s. Casual fans don’t give a shit about the plight of the fighters, nor does Zuffa. I think the Reebok debacle is awful for the fighters (by stealing their money–seriously, why doesn’t someone sue the UFC on this? These guys are independent contractors and I see no rationale for the slow creep towards being employees without any of the benefits or union membership to have a say in how their jobs are managed), but I don’t think it will have any impact on Zuffa’s bottom line, unless more fighters start moving to Bellator to make more money, or just quit the sport altogether.

  13. rst says:

    “…but I don’t think it will have any impact on Zuffa’s bottom line, …”

    Not as long as Zuffa can get away with it.

    “…unless more fighters start moving to Bellator…”

  14. Chris says:

    This was a very thoughtful, insightful article. Great job!


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