UFC Reebok Deal Squeezing Fighter Sponsors Out of Cage Draws Mixed Reviews

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Daniel Flynn/Breitbart Sports

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, fresh off accepting a fight with Benson Henderson that will occur just 15 days after his victory over Myles Jury, tells Breitbart Sports that the UFC’s agreement with Reebok that removes all other sponsors from fighter gear in the octagon actually helps bottom-card mixed-martial artists.

“The lower fighters aren’t benefiting as much now,” Cowboy responded to a Breitbart Sports question on Tuesday’s conference call for the January 18 UFC Fight Night card in Boston. The former professional bull rider, who has become a fan favorite for fighting anywhere, anytime and delivering highlight-reel head kicks, holds that lower-card guys enter the octagon with “probably-two thousand bucks on top of their shorts.” And, even then, Cerrone maintains, mixed-martial artists must sometimes chase around the companies whose insignias appeared on their trunks for the promised cash.

Cerrone has been derided as a company man by vanquisher Nate Diaz for taking short-notice fights despite his eagerness to brawl making him a legend among fans.

One of the complaints in the lawsuit against the UFC filed on behalf of Cung Le, Jon Fitch, and Nate Quarry against the promotion centers on the allegation that the company tries to take a cut of the endorsement deals of the pugilists who compete under their banner. Last week, Jon Jones responded to a Breitbart Sports question on his abrupt, mid-deal transition from Nike to Reebok by admitting that his stated reason for the change–a claim that Nike dropped him because of a press-conference brawl–wasn’t the real reason. “The truth of the matter is I did not get dropped by Nike,” Jones confessed. “It was a mutual thing, something that we had discussed months before the actual fight.”

The UFC signed a six-year deal with Reebok this fall for the athletic outfitter to provide the fight-week apparel for mixed-martial artists competing in the promotion. Athletes will receive a cut of the Reebok money based upon where they stand in the rankings. The policy goes into effect this July, when fighters no longer will enter the octagon with myriad sponsors on their trunks or banners.

Not every fighter feels as enthusiastically about the one-size-fits-all sponsorship deal with the sneaker company as Cerrone. Desmond Green, the Titan FC featherweight champion who recently defeated former UFC competitors Steven Siler and Miguel Torres, told Breitbart Sports before Christmas that the fighters with whom he talks and trains express skepticism about the Reebok deal.

“I’m with a bunch of UFC fighters,” Green tells Breitbart Sports. “The overall consensus is that they’re not too happy about it.”

At least one incident involving the complete absence of sponsors, when Cody McKenzie lost a 2013 decision to Sam Stout while wearing white shorts with pockets and the store’s tag hanging from them for part of the bout, seems to have propelled the conversation about the appearance of competitors. In 2011, Dennis Hallman, who owns two wins over Matt Hughes, fought in a garish speedo. The controlled look of mixed-martial artists in the octagon may have as much to do with the UFC’s push to mainstream the sport in the midst of a massive contract with Fox as it does with attempting to keep all the profits made on their broadcasts within the company.

“We’re independent contractors,” Green explains. “For the UFC to kind of come in and say, ‘Listen, everybody’s got to do this.’ They’re taking away money from us.”

Green, a 14-3 rising star yet to compete in a UFC cage, notes that when a loss excludes him from a win bonus or the inability to land a fight keeps him away from a paycheck, sponsors keep the 25-year-old father afloat. He believes, “Only the premier champions and what not, it looks like, are going to be making the most out of this Reebok deal.”

But Donald Cerrone, who wore a Budweiser shirt and drank from Budweiser aluminum bottles after his victory over Myles Jury on Saturday, holds a more optimistic view of the Reebok deal despite it limiting the exposure of his sponsors on fight night.

“In the Reebok deal,” Cerrone maintains, “everyone is going to get paid. This is a good deal all the way around.”


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