Opinion: Shoestring Budget

By David Bixenspan May 26, 2017
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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As we close in on the second anniversary of the start of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s outfitting deal with Reebok and the mistakes that were made, especially early on, it seemed like it would be difficult for the early issues to be topped.

There was the graphic at the unveiling event stressing “FLEXIBILTY.”

Fight Kits that strictly used real names, which primarily affected Cub Swanson and Brazilians who use nicknames for last names like Demian Maia (Baptista), Gleison Tibau (Alves), and Jussier Formiga (da Silva).

Fight Kits for beloved UFC stars Naofumi Yakovlev, Marcio Lyoto Machida, Jacare “Ronaldo” Souza, and everyone’s favorite, Giblert Melendez.

An Irish map t-shirt that, in omitting Northern Ireland, accidentally evoked “The Troubles” and nearly ruined their relationship with SBG Ireland, the home of Conor McGregor.

But while all of these are completely ridiculous and often hilarious, they’re all clear oversights. Maybe the Ireland shirt was someone with no understanding of Irish geography and politics, but the thought process, was, at worst “we’ll use the one on the bottom, that’s the one everyone calls ‘Ireland.’”

As other issues appeared later, they were, in some ways, more concerning, because some called Reebok’s core competency into question. During the first year of the deal, it was not unusual to watch UFC cards where the vast majority of fighters wearing Reebok’s board shorts were unhappy enough with the fit to cut them down the sides and turn them into improvised Thai shorts. The Reebok “fight bra,” marketed as being designed with input from Ronda Rousey to avoid the wardrobe malfunctions the happened with off-the-shelf sports bras, instead appeared to be responsible for an increase in such issues. It even became a major factor in a 2016 fight, arguably even playing into the finish of Joanne Calderwood’s TKO win over Valerie Letourneau. On top of that, one element of the female fight kits, the tank top favored by some distaff fighters, is, like other loose-fitting tops, banned as a safety hazard under the 2017 update to the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports’ Unified Rules.

Even the worst thing Reebok had done, its lowball offer to the UFC, is more the UFC’s fault for accepting it without a proper understanding of what the fighters’ now-eliminated fight week sponsor income was.

Still, throughout, it’s not as if Reebok had done anything where the reaction would be anger and dismay. At least until this past weekend.

Several items made news from the first annual UFC fighter retreat, which replaced the Fertitta-era fighter summit. Cristiane Justino allegedly punched Angela Magana and it was (sort of) caught on video. Numerous fighters alleged that a speaker from Anheuser Busch showed up drunk for a morning engagement. Leslie Smith asked a receptive Kobe Bryant about collective bargaining. Vocal journeyman Kajan Johnson voiced his issues with the Reebok deal, but it led to an impromptu airing of grievances that the fighters were unsatisfied with. But in the long run, it will be hard to think of this weekend without immediately going to the stupidest thing that happened.

Reebok reportedly had a special gift for every fighter in attendance: A one-time use, 50 percent off coupon code to use on their website. The company that had been the target of hundreds of fighters’ wrath for two years as the catalyst for the end of huge chunks of their income ... gave a group of professional athletes a coupon. To buy sportswear.

When the coupon, tweeted by former UFC title challenger Cat Zingano, first showed up online, I remember thinking that, as amazingly galling a move as this was, at least Reebok was giving out something that they would not send to the average consumer. I was thinking as someone who has spent way too much time on sites like SlickDeals, that even if it was incredibly insulting to the fighters, it wasn’t as bad as it could be, because they were at least treating the fighters as more special than the average customer.

That was the wrong way to look it at.

It’s actually more insulting to the fighters than if it was a 20 percent coupon or something like that. If Reebok did that, at least you could say they’re just doing the bare minimum like repurposing an existing promotion and printing those codes on new cards for the fighter retreat. By doing a new promotion where new codes were generated that provide greater savings than any promotion we could get, Reebok is positioning itself as magnanimous. Reebok is saying that these professional athletes are so special that instead of giving them free gear like other professional athletes, the company is going out of its way to give them a very special deal not available to the average person.

This is far from the first time that the UFC roster has been treated like something other than professional athletes. But it could serve as the impetus for the fighters deciding that it will be one of the last.
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