Like a clown with a Home Depot credit card, sometimes things just don’t go great together. The UFC and Reebok further proved this point Tuesday by holding an event that was part press conference and part fashion show to unveil the new fighter uniforms that have been months in the making. Dubbed #UFCFIGHTKIT, the event ended up being a perfect disaster that neatly summarized everything wrong with the deal.
If you’re unfamiliar with how the UFC operates, its fighters are independent contractors. Until now, they have always been allowed to decorate the shirts and shorts they wear to the cage with sponsor logos. The end results ranged from interesting to a garish nightmare of gryphons and condom ads doing battle across a purple landscape of bruised thighs.
Promotional newcomers average around $7,500 show money per fight in the UFC and fight at most 3 times per year. From this they have to pay taxes and trainers and buy supplements and food that doesn’t come with 41 choices of dipping sauce. It’s a woefully low salary for the largest organization in the business, and the UFC has come under fire in the past because fighters have been forced to take to crowdfunding to fund travel to their next fights. The sponsor model was one that allowed low tier fighters to make enough additional coin to recoup training costs while simultaneously giving sponsors the opportunity to vie for the valuable crotch space of strikers vs. the vaunted booty spot of wrestlers (Shut up, there’s a science to this).
There is currently no such thing as a fighters union or association set up to grant the numerous independent contractors any kind of collective bargaining power when dealing with promotions, so when Reebok and UFC set out to broker a six year deal that would further restrict the earning potential of fighters, the fighters were not involved in negotiations.
Though the UFC has defended its position and insisted otherwise, the end result is exactly what you would expect from an agreement between two parties primarily concerned with increasing their own brand awareness through terms set forth to a third party that was not invited to the negotiation. Reebok gets to push exclusive apparel in one of the fastest growing sports markets in the world, and the UFC gets to test its bizarre claim that having a uniform brings mainstream credibility to a company that already attracts Fox Sports contracts and ads for the next upcoming major movie or video game.
The fighters, though? They get a $70 million contract to divvy up among the roster over the next six years. It was initially said that all of the money would go to the fighters, then it became most of the money minus some undisclosed administration fees. Details as to how the money would be dispersed to the fighters were not part of the initial deal, and information as to how much money fighters were currently making was not considered.
All of this led to Wednesday’s unveiling of the new uniforms, or “fight kits” if you want to use the search engine friendly term.
The event looks like it’s set in the walk-in pantry across from the conference room at the airport Ramada and none of the presenters bothered to dress up for the occasion. Reebok president Matt O’Toole shows up rocking a blazer and a t-shirt with some launch codes written across the front, and a sweaty Dana White looks like he just poured himself into whatever pullover he was wearing the night before. The first twelve minutes of the broadcast consisted of Reebok executives penetrating our souls with an honestly impressive array of useless buzzwords to describe the latest breakthroughs in polyester technology. Bad camera angles almost allowed you to read along with the teleprompter.
From there it’s a schizophrenic light show set to middle tempo dubstep occasionally punctuated by badly pronounced names as fighters are introduced. If #UFCFightKit were a bigger spectacle of light against dark, George RR Martin would be furiously figuring out how to end it. The final result?
Earned through poor bargaining power. Worn with contractual obligation.
What exactly is going on here? When did the UFC become The Hunger Games set in space, and why are all of the champs dressed like Death Eaters? Is the UFC relaunching American Gladiators? Will Jon Jones play Turbo? Wait, is Swackhammer building a new amusement park?
These kits will come in three varieties. There’s stormtrooper black and gold for champs, white shirts with accents colored like your nation’s flag if you’re feeling really adventurous, and standard black and white if you’re just some scrub whose merchandise will end up in the $8 clearance pile at TJ Maxx.
The highlight of the show is when Corrina Werkle, General Manager of Reebok’s Training Business Unit takes the stage to tell us the competitive advantages of this new product line. Werkle seems like the type of lady who would ask you if you went to Harvard if you told her you were into MMA, and her forced, teleprompter-backed interactions with fighters only reinforced the awkwardness of everything happening.
But wait, there's more!
If the press conference wasn’t enough to earn your dollar, the actual website launch was also full of bugs. Each “replica jersey” available for purchase has the fighter’s name written across the back. Some names were simply formatted poorly, others were entirely wrong. Marcio LyotoMachida? Giblert Melendez? DID GLEISON TIBAU AND THIAGO ALVES DO THE FUSION DANCE!? Other instances included fighters being referred to as their birth names instead of what they actually use in real life. Would you purchase a Charles Liddell jersey? How about Kevin Ferguson or Rebecca Rawlings? I suppose we can’t have our editing standards too high considering manufacturing of these $95 jerseys was likely outsourced to who knows where in Asia. We’re just lucky they don’t say “Please help” along with a set of coordinates stitched into the tags.
You can watch the full disaster below: