Nine months after UFC’s six-year deal with Reebok became effective, fighters and managers still have different opinions about it.
Longtime MMA manager Alex Davis, who represents a long list of UFC fighters that includes Antonio Silva, Edson Barboza, Thiago Tavares and John Lineker, was used to looking for sponsors for his clients before and after their fights. The UFC-Reebok deal started in July 2015, and he’s still hopeful that things might change.
"It looks like this deal, at least for me, didn’t bear the fruits both UFC and Reebok expected," Davis told MMAFighting.com. "I think it wasn’t good for athletes, and had a negative effect in the MMA industry that was growing and supporting the sport.
"We have to wait. Reebok is a big company and is developing products. I think they will learn with the things that are wrong and fix it. I hope it changes something in the medium and long terms. The Reebok deal might bring a positive effect for the sport long term because it gave the sport more credibility among other big companies, but it became a huge hit for athletes short term because it took a lot of their money."
Davis expected the Reebok deal to help other promotions, with brands looking to sponsor non-UFC fighters since they wouldn’t be able to enter the Octagon anymore. Nine months later, he admits it never happened as he hoped.
"What worries me the most is that I expected that the companies that used the UFC to advertise their products would use other promotions to invest their money in other promotions, but that never happened," he said. "These other promotions don’t have the same platform the UFC does. They are still far from the UFC in terms of production, media and public relations. They don’t give those brands the same exposure the UFC did. Many companies were hurt with this deal and that took a lot of money away from the sport, which I think is wrong."
With more than five years left in the UFC-Reebok deal, Davis hopes they open space for other companies to sponsor fighters inside the Octagon.
"I think their graphic design made it less interesting," said the manager. "They should also allow other sponsors in there. It would be more interesting, and also help fighters compensate the lack of resources in the sport right now. I have a great relationship with Reebok, but this thing isn’t moving the way everybody expected. We knew it would never be like it used to be, but we expected something positive, but we didn’t have this positive return yet."
While he works to get his fighters the best deals possible, Davis expects important victories in the coming weeks. On April 23, Edson Barboza faces former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis at UFC 197, and a win puts the Nova Friburgo-native closer to a shot at the gold.
"I admire Pettis. He’s a great fighter and an excellent person," Davis said. "I’m also friends with his coaches Duke Roufus and Daniel Wanderley, but that’s a fight everybody wants to see. Pettis is great, spontaneous, but I think Barboza hits harder and will win.
"You never know what future might bring," he added. "He has won six post-fight bonuses in the UFC, so he might get an opportunity soon. And when the time comes, he will win the title."
Two weeks later, Antonio Silva enters the Octagon to battle Stefan Struve in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 87 in Rotterdam, and it’s a pivotial moment for the Brazilian heavyweight after winning only one of his last six UFC fights.
"I think it’s a good fight for Bigfoot," Davis said. "I have a huge respect for Stefan Struve and his manager. Bigfoot has navigated through different ways of fighting and I believe that if he brings back the fight style he did before, to go for takedowns and ground and pound, like he did to Fedor (Emelianenko), he demolishes anyone. With Struve, he will do that. Bigfoot has big fights ahead of him, but has to do what he did best.
"That was one (reason), other mistakes too, but the surgery he had, it took a while for his hormone levels to be perfect again. These things cost him his fights with (Andrei) Arlovski, (Frank) Mir and (Mark) Hunt, but heavyweight is complicated. One good punch and anyone goes down."
Another talent in Alex Davis’ stable is Thiago Tavares. At 3-1 in his last four fights, the featherweight is still waiting for an opponent after making quick work of Clay Guida in November.
"He fights like every fighter should: when you win, you win in spectacular fashion; when you lose, you leave everything you got in there," said the manager. "He’s been a victim of the lack of fights under 155 pounds. Sean Shelby, the matchmaker, only has four spots per event, and we have a lot of Brazilians. We’re waiting. He’s anxious, calling me every day, but we’re at the mercy of this situation."
Even though he’s coming off a 39-second victory over Guida, Tavares is still outside the top 15 of the UFC featherweight rankings, while Guida is currently ranked at No. 15.
"It’s bizarre. This ranking has no logic," Davis said. "Thiago doesn’t refuse to fight anyone. He still has a lot of things to do in this division. He’s in the UFC for nine years now, but he’s still 31 years old. He has a lot of big fights to do in the UFC.
"Guida was a name that we asked, and we got it. Now, Darren Elkins is a good name, he did a good fight recently. Maybe (Max) Holloway. There are a lot of big fights for him. Right now, we’re not asking for specific names because of the state of the division, but we know a good fight is coming."