Reebok And The UFC: The High Price Of Dissent

The UFC’s Way Or

Doing what you’re told is never fun. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the antithesis of fun. It implies that you’re willing to sacrifice your own personal motivations to appease an overseer of some kind. But, unless you were born with a last name that rhymes with Lockefeller, chances are you’re going to have to swallow your pride and follow orders at some point in your life.

You know who’s really not good at doing that? Professional mixed martial artists. Their career choice alone implies that they’re not one for rules.

While some have outside aspirations and potential contingency vocations, most have shrugged off the traditional job market in search of fame and fortune.

It’s no mystery, then, that when confronted with something as tenuous as a “uniform policy”, most fighters react like you told them they had to sit in an office all day.

They got into this line of work to avoid such pitfalls. Now you’re telling them what to wear and eliminating a massive profit stream? Expect repercussions.

And, yet, it seems that Reebok and the UFC had no idea the backlash they would face when ink was put to paper and some weird chick in a pseudo-poncho talked about “fit and function.”

Resistance is Futile

The instant tidal wave of bad press and complaints Reebok received from fans and fighters alike prompted swift action from the UFC.

Most notably, perhaps, was the firing of Jacob “Stitch” Duran. An employee of the UFC since the days when Jens Pulver and Tito Ortiz were titleholders, Stitch was “let go” when he made some comments regarding his now lowered salary.

When asked by Bloody Elbow how the Reebok deal would affect him, “it’s a solid shot. I got paid on a monthly basis so it definitely added up. I made really good money on that sponsorship so it’s kind of a shocker to transition.”

The man lost his job for that. He wasn’t even complaining, just acknowledging the fact that his overall salary was suddenly and dramatically lessened.

In one fell swoop, the UFC took what would have been forgotten in one 24-hour news cycle and blew it up into the fracas we have today. By doing so, they also made something abundantly clear: Don’t think you’re not expendable.

We Erased Tito we can Erase You

Nowhere is this clearer than in the removal of Brendan Schaub and Tim Kennedy’s respective “fight kits”. Two fighters that, while lacking in some areas, have a tremendous voice in the MMA community; when they say something, people tend to listen. With over 280,000 followers on Twitter between them, and an average of 2 million downloads per month for Schaub’s successful podcast, the pair have an undeniable audience.

And yet, no Reebok apparel bears their names. As popular as these athletes are, the UFC would rather forfeit any potential revenue their jersey sales would generate because of their complaints regarding the new sponsorship policy.

The thing these cases have in common is just how petty the UFC can be. As much as they would like to claim “big league” status (that was certainly their justification for this entire deal), Zuffa and its shiny-headed president act like school children on Valentine’s Day; don’t expect them to drop a card in your box if you didn’t like their new shirt.

They can’t have it both ways. Talk of a fighter’s union or association has long been lobbied around, though without any real action. Such an organization is becoming increasingly necessary.

The “independent contractors” the UFC employs (notice the contradiction) need a collective voice to express their concerns without the fear of retaliation.

That’s how things work in the “big leagues”, and it’s exactly why Zuffa isn’t there yet.