UFC fighters will wear uniforms made by Reebok next year after the promotion agreed to a sponsorship deal with the sports apparel company.
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said the six-year deal will change the aesthetics and economics of the world's dominant mixed martial arts promotion by creating a professional, standard look for fighters' shorts and additional gear in a famously individualistic sport. The uniforms will be revealed shortly before the fighters don them in July.
"It elevates the sport," UFC President Dana White said. "For everybody to be dressed the same, to look the same, it just makes everything more professional. Every year, we take this thing to another level."
The UFC will no longer allow its fighters to sell sponsorship patches on their trunks, a time-honored tradition in MMA and boxing. White and Fertitta said the new deal largely will make up for the lost revenue, and the fighters still can have sponsorship deals outside the octagon.
Fertitta said the promotion is distributing the "vast majority" of the money from its Reebok deal directly to its fighters, partly in a tiered system based on divisional rankings. White said the UFC itself will make almost no money from the deal for the first few years.
"We've done a lot of research in the last two to three years," Fertitta said. "We feel like we've created a program that's going to be worth at least as much, and in some cases more, than they're making (with sponsorships)."
Some fighters have criticized the prospect of UFC uniforms when the idea was floated by White in recent years, concerned about the interruption of sponsorship deals that sometimes pay the fighters more than their UFC contracts. Other fighters welcome their piece of a major sportswear deal while fighting in uniforms comparable to the gear worn by athletes in the other major sports.
"I think it's good for the UFC brand," welterweight title contender Robbie Lawler told The Associated Press. "I think it's going to be nice for the fighters to get a little extra money, and I think in the end it's going to be a little easier. We're going to be getting some of the sponsorship money that the UFC is already getting. It's going to be big for the sport."
Yet the UFC will eliminate many of its fighters' current methods of making money in a sport that's notoriously unprofitable for up-and-coming fighters. For instance, the UFC also is doing away with those garish, sometimes amateurish sponsorship banners typically hung behind competitors during MMA fight introductions.
"It makes me physically sick to my stomach when I see those guys rolling out that banner, but I never stopped it because I didn't want to take money away from guys when I couldn't supplement that money," White said. "Now we can give them something better."
Fertitta said the UFC could put corporate logos on its uniforms in the future, although the deals probably would be limited to one sponsor at one event.
"If we do put a company on there, it's going to be a major global brand," he said. "Think along the lines of European soccer."
The UFC's deal with Reebok is its biggest financial agreement outside its television contracts, White said, although the UFC is a private company that is notoriously reluctant to discuss its finances, including fighter pay.
Not all individuality will be lost under the deal. Fighters will be free to choose from different styles of uniforms, from the board shorts worn by many fighters to the tighter bicycle shorts favored by former welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and others. Women will have the option of wearing shorts with a skirt front.
UFC executives have chafed in recent years when its fighters' uniform misadventures reflected negatively on a company pursuing a more polished, professional image in line with its Fox broadcast deal and increased international presence.
Welterweight Dennis Hallman became a viral sensation — and not in a good way — after wearing incredibly skimpy blue shorts at UFC 133 in August 2011, briefly exposing himself during a first-round loss to Brian Ebersole. Hallman claimed he lost a bet.
At a Fox show in Sacramento last December, lightweight Cody McKenzie wore plain white basketball shorts with the tags still attached and a Nike logo crudely drawn on the leg. McKenzie, who was subsequently released by the UFC, said he had forgotten his fight shorts at the hotel.