NEW YORK – We are officially entering the Reebok era of the UFC. An army of big-name fighters (as well as Olivier Aubin-Mercier) trotted through the laser-lit fog of the Skylight Modern to show off what the new designs look like. Men in skinny jeans and beards clapped at all the cauliflower ear sauntering down the runway like it was a regal Manhattan fashion show. The new "kits" are light weight. They are nationally coordinated. They aren’t anything Cody McKenzie could ever feel quite at home in, but they are exactly what the UFC promised.
And that is...professional.
Sleek, it turns out, comes in the color of homogeny. For once Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey belonged to the same general aesthetic. The days of the odd Dude Wipes banner across a fighter’s ass belong to yesterday. Sponsorship banners in general are dead, dude. It’s time to Be More Human, as the Reebok slogan goes. Professional athletes in the UFC will now look the damn part. No more bloody human billboards. Beginning July 11 at UFC 189, our eyes will be streamlined. Rich Franklin’s Neapolitan pink and chocolate trunks will soon feel as ancient as Babe Ruth’s tiny baseball glove. Pregnancy rates will skyrocket with no Condom Depot in sight.
Breathe in the new era! One text I got from an MMA personality as the "kits" were being showcased read, "Those outfits look like the Long Island Repertory Theater doing ‘Rollerball.’" Maybe. But personally? I love it. In my mind Reebok should have rushed in as soon as Dennis Hallman showed up in the Speedo.
But at last here we are.
Not that there aren’t some kinks to work out.
For instance, Jon Tuck is not from Gum. Nor is there a Giblert Melendez on the roster. And it’s a bit of a stretch to tie Jorge Masvidal’s entire identity to Cuba. Then again, identities are changing everywhere with this deal. Who the hell is Demian Baptista? What is a Marcio Lyoto Machida? If you thought calling Bec Rawlings Bec Hyatt was bad, trying calling her Rebecca Rawlings. That’s what Reebok did. And surely Thomas Lawlor isn’t the same as "Filthy" Tom Lawlor, the man who looks like he arrives to his fights via boxcar.
Those things will of course be sorted out. Unveilings are about having reached a horizon, not the niggling details. By the time July 11 rolls around, all the names will look as they should (probably) and the fighters will be banded together in a broader range of professionalism. This was one of the things that the UFC has been trying to accomplish for years. The time is now.
And Lorenzo Fertitta said he was only too happy to associate with a globally recognized brand on this historic day, rather than those drifter-types that showed up across the crotches of countless hundreds for far too long.
"I think it was the sense of overkill of sponsorship," the UFC’s CEO said. "And quite honestly, not taking anything away from some of these companies -- I’m sure they’re all hard-working companies, taking risk and trying to be entrepreneurs and make their stuff happen -- but we just didn’t feel like the level of some of the brands associated on the trunks, or the walkout tees, were a good fit for where we want to be. We want to align ourselves with some multinational, global sponsors. And when you do that it attracts more, and when you attract more of those sponsors then it attracts them to our athletes. To our fighters. And now you have a number of our athletes that have sponsorship deals with all of these companies."
It’s easy to understand that logic. Even the fighters who are losing money in the immediate can surely understand the concept that you are who you hang around. But still, there’s a sadness to change.
During the MMA boom period from 2005-2012 or so, the associations to MMA were manifold. We had more "douches" per capita than about any other sport. There were "tools" who were going to get got, or worse, "exposed." It was an earthbound Brohemia, filled with barbed-wire tattoos, energy drinks and a certain kind of apparel. Who will ever forget the skulls in headdress, the imps in sombreros or top hats, the flaming griffins and iron eagles, the gratuitous dyspotic (and gleefully unapologetic) look that defined the culture? That scourge was a terrible thing to come out of MMA, but it was our scourge.
I will miss those days. I asked Lorenzo if he would, too.
"Whatever the fans connect with is all I care about," he said. "I mean, [that look’s] not for me. I wear t-shirts that are plain. That’s just me. I was never one to say I know what the right style is, but at the end of the day it’s a phase that this sport went through. It was driven probably by Affliction, I would say, who did a tremendous job. You’ve got to give those guys credit for literally building a company in a very short period that was a big, sustainable company. Then TapouT sort of followed their lead, and then there was this huge rush of people kind of running to create these businesses. Some worked, and some didn’t.
"It was a phase that I think is over, and I think that what you’re going to see, whether it’s the UFC fighter kit or just brands that are in the MMA space, they will continue to be there -- the Venoms, the Bad Boys – and are probably going to migrate towards a cleaner sporting look. That would be my guess."
My guess, too. So long Condom Depot and Dude Wipes. Adios Dynamic Fastener and Fred’s Auto Body. So long crossbows and half-decaying skeleton angels. Hello clean-looking Reebok. Hope the hunch behind it all is right. Maybe it is time for this sport to Be More Human.