The one-year anniversary of the UFC’s official implementation of the Reebok-sponsored outfitting policy is fast approaching, and at least lately, the outcry regarding the deal seems to have subsided.
Of course, the second half of 2015 brought enough bad reviews and embarrassing miscues to last a lifetime for the much-maligned partnership. A little bit of peace and quiet on the sponsorship front is probably welcome, both for the promotion and the apparel company.
Joshua Burkman, for one, thinks the long-term ramifications of the deal will benefit all involved. While many fighters have lamented the sponsorship dollars that they have lost in the past year, “The People’s Warrior” believes the outfitting policy will allow him to focus on what really matters: the fights.
“My situation is a little different than most fighters. I say that because I manage myself and I have for the majority of my career,” Burkman said during an appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “There are things about that that I really like. I have a really good relationship with [UFC President] Dana White. I have a good relationship with [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva. I can call them up and ask them questions and have conversations at any time. The same with sponsors. I really enjoyed going out and getting sponsors and building those relationships. A lot those relationships I still have and I still work with them.
“The thing I like about the Reebok deal for the UFC is I feel like it cleaned up a lot of that for me where I can focus on the fight now, and I’m not out trying to get sponsors and logos for my clothes.”
Burkman will face Paul Felder in a featured bout at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The evening’s main card airs on Fox Sports 1 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. Burkman will be making his second lightweight appearance following a lengthy professional stint at 170 pounds.
The 36-year-old Salt Lake City native began his MMA career in 2003, before it hit mainstream audiences with the introduction of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The former junior college All-American football player was ultimately confident enough in the sport’s potential to turn down a scholarship offer from the University of Utah and a possible professional career on the gridiron.
“I knew this was gonna turn into one of the bigger sports in the world, as soon as I watched it, as soon as I was able to do it,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to be around later into my career. I knew earlier in my career the money wouldn’t necessarily be there. I knew I needed to fight later into my career to optimize the ability and the chance to make some good money in this sport. It’s gonna continue to grow and get bigger and bigger. I absolutely thought it would turn into this. I thought it would compete with every major sport. I think there’s just more of that to come. Fighters are gonna gain popularity and have chances to make bigger and bigger purses.”
According to Burkman, part of that growth includes major sponsorship agreements like the one in place with Reebok. He says the deal eliminates managers from the equation, many of whom were taking a significant cut of fighter’s endorsement earnings in MMA’s earlier years. And Burkman points out that not all sponsors offered lucrative deals, either.
“A lot of those sponsors I didn’t really go with or like anyway in the fight world. I lot of companies would nickel and dime fighters. Here’s 500 bucks, 1000 bucks for your logo,” he said. “Managers would be out there, and managers would sign a $200,000 deal with a company, and then they’d give some of the up and coming fighters $500 to put a logo on their chest. And they’d give the bigger fighters maybe $2,000, maybe $5,000. So managers were making $200,000 deals and giving fighters pennies. Some of that stuff I wasn’t alright with. I don’t think it was great for the sport. The Reebok deal doesn’t bother me at all. I miss being able to have the individuality to wear what you want to wear, but I think this is part of the sport going in maybe the right direction. Hopefully that benefits the fighters a little more down the road.”
Additionally, Burkman believes that simply having the UFC connection is the biggest benefit to any fighter. That affiliation increases long-term earnings potential significantly, even if the initial financial hit from the outfitting policy was painful.
“The champions and the highest-level fighters have got hit the hardest. Part of it cleans up the sport and makes it a little more professional,” Burkman said. “There’s still the opportunity to go out and get sponsors and use your name to do public speaking and benefit companies. “Nobody should ever lose sight of the fact of what a machine and a monster the UFC is, and the ability to tie your name to that and create a business for yourself. That’s long term,” he continued. “That’s what I like to attach myself to in this sport. It’s a chance for marketing, for building your brand, building your business. I’m grateful for the marketing and the name recognition the UFC has brought me.”