ufc-fight-kit-fighters

The recent launch of the UFC’s Fight Kit in association with Reebok has produced a lot of coverage and comment, much of it negative as fans criticise the homogenisation of the fighters’ look and the banality of the designs while quickly picking up on lamentable mistakes such as the misspelling of fighter’s names.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a UFC story if the haters weren’t out in force, but is the predictable knee-jerk backlash justified? Let’s break it down…

The Good

First of all, the Fight Kit lends a degree of professionalism and brand identity which places the UFC in the same territory as the biggest names in sports, from the various forms of football (whether association, gridiron, rugby or aussie rules is your preferred version) to the alphabet soup of the big business North American sports and this can only be a good thing for the credibility of the UFC and by extension, MMA as a whole.

The idea that the Fight Kit will stifle fan association to individual fighters is very much blown out of the water when you consider that other competitors who wear a uniform, from Kobe Bryant to Lionel Messi don’t suffer from a lack of stardom or secondary sponsorships (although that’s an issue which we’ll come back to in a bit)

Of course, uniforms tend to be associated with team sports, but the UFC’s biggest selling point remains it’s own brand, with fans tending to follow the promotion rather than the fates of individual fighters in much the same way you’ll follow your chosen football team, rather than changing allegiance just because your star player signs for another team.

The Fight Kit further enhances this brand identity, making UFC events even more visually distinctive from their competitors and really bringing home the idea that MMA is a proper, professional sport and that the UFC is the pinnacle of that sport.

Seriously, does anyone really lament the fact that UFC fighters will stop looking like Nascar drivers, covered in a multitude of often incomprehensible sponsors?  I mean, what the hell IS a Dynamic Fastener and do we really want fighters advertising the Gun Store?

The Bad

To be honest, the fighter remuneration as part of the Fight Kit deal is pretty poor and is unfairly structured.

The ‘entry level’ Fight Kit sponsorship is only $2’500 for a fighter in their first five UFC bouts – that’s only about £1600 – which combined with the UFC’s entry level fighter pay of $10k to show and $10k to win – giving a definite payday of about $12’500/£8k for a UFC debutant. ($22.5k/£14.4k if they win…)

That’s before tax, before a fighter pays his coach, sparring partner, dietician, gym fees, transport & accommodation, for potentially half a year’s work… but a full discussion of fighter pay is better gone into a length elsewhere. Suffice to say, it doesn’t really seem enough for a fighter who is supposed to be competing at the top level of the sport and as such, a full time athlete.

The payments are scaled to reward those fighters who’s UFC tenure endures past a handful of fights, going up to $5k after five fights, $10k after ten, $15k after fifteen and $20k after twenty fights.

While tenure isn’t necessarily reflective of a fighter’s marketability (for example, Conor McGregor is considerably more marketable than say, Matt Wiman) it is obvious that a lengthy UFC tenure, performing on PPV and network TV is going to make even a career gatekeeper more of a name worthy of sponsorship than the newly arrived, knockout happy champion of an organization with less exposure.

However, it is definitely an anachronism that the likes of two-time title challenger and top five contender Gilbert Melendez will earn only $2’500 in Reebok sponsorship for their next UFC fight (which would be his fifth in the organization) while perennial mid carder Dennis Siver will be in line for $20k.

A bit more fairly, regardless of the length of their UFC career, title challengers will earn $30k and champions $40k which seems a better reflection of their worth to the promotion and the sponsor. However, these amounts still pale in comparison to the

Many fighters have complained that they will be losing out as their old t-shirt and short sponsorship deals fall by the wayside so it does seem that if the

One question that I’ve never really seen posed or answered would be the affect on secondary sponsorship. Footballers might have to wear the kit of their current team, but they can make a great deal from boot sponsorship (clearly glove sponsorship isn’t possible as the UFC have their own branded gloves) as well as endorsing other products such as shin guards, training gear etc.

Would the UFC still allow their athletes to endorse training gear by Hayabusa or Bad Boy or have signature t-shirts with Affliction? Will fighters be banned from using their status as a UFC fighter to advertise or promote other items – Conor McGregor’s current endorsement of mobile game ‘Game of War’ coming quickly to mind.

Given the way the Reebok suits talked about the UFC deal being as much about breaking into the considerable ‘combat training gear’ market, I can’t see them being too happy about UFC fighters doing secondary deals to say that Hayabusa (or whoever) do the best shin guards or hybrid training gloves…

In any case, it really seems that the vast majority of UFC fighters are losing money from this arrangement and that is NOT cool.

The customisation of the Fight Kit seems a bit limited, with personalization extending about as far as the fighter’s names (ideally spelled correctly) and nationality, barring the distinctive champions’ kit, which is again almost identical from champion to champion. For all the much lauded talk of personalization, it seems to extend about as far as getting your name on the back

Would it really have been so difficult for Reebok to work with fighters to have a preferred colour scheme and fighter-specific logo for each member of the roster, while still working off an agreed UFC/Reebok template?

It just seems to me that they could have made the Fight Kit better reflect the character of individual fighters, as well as the brand dominance of the UFC and Reebok.

The Ugly

The Fight Kits themselves are pretty uninspired, mostly looking like pretty generic training gear with many online commenters comparing them to tennis outfits. I mean, would you wear this in the street or pay £48 for it?

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Almost worse, the Fight Kit launch was like some a corporate sales pitch, mixed with a fashion show set against a hellish backdrop of booming voiceovers, jarring dubstep and flashing images. It reminded me of the launch of a new F1 car or the Teen choice awards in it’s polished sterility, trying so hard to seem cutting edge and vital, but failing on both counts.

All in all, I think that the Fight Kit is a positive step for the UFC and the sport of MMA as a whole.

If they could make the fighter payments a bit more generous and a bit more reflective of a fighter’s status/worth by rewarding them for their card position* as well as tenure, I’d be much happier on that account. It would also be nice if they could make the kits a bit more exciting and individually characterful.