Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight Vitor Belfort is speaking out against the UFC’s sponsorship deal with apparel company Reebok.
In a recent interview with Brazilian TV program “Sensei SporTV,” Belfort said that the deal -- which prevents fighters from wearing sponsored fight gear inside the Octagon -- makes competing for the UFC something akin to slavery.
“Nowadays, MMA is much more entertainment than sport. I’m not satisfied with the way the organization is handling its part of the sponsorship,” said Belfort. “We are practically living in slavery. We can’t use our sponsors; they’re banned inside the Octagon. We have no property.”
Belfort, 39, has competed for the UFC intermittently since 1997, with his current run beginning in 2009. “The Phenom” has held the company’s light heavyweight title and owns the record for most first-round finishes in UFC history, but Belfort told “Sensei SporTV” that he hopes his lasting legacy will be that of a different sort.
“Breaking records is what I do best. I hope to leave a legacy for the fighters beginning to have awareness of the importance of a minimum wage,” Belfort explained. “It’s a contact sport. I don’t think it’s fair for a guy to receive $500 to get elbowed in the face. You need to have a pension, and that doesn’t exist. It will be for the next generation. Raise awarness about saving money, investing. Know that the life of an athlete ends.”
Belfort is not the first UFC competitor to criticize the Reebok deal, which went into effect last July. The controversial partnership caused former featherweight champion Jose Aldo to call for a fighters’ union, while fighters like Benson Henderson and Josh Koscheck have admitted that the deal influenced their decision to sign with rival promoter Bellator MMA.
Belfort is scheduled to compete this Saturday, May 14, when he will take on fellow 185-pound contender Ronaldo Souza in the co-main event of UFC 198.