LAS VEGAS — The UFC's Reebok fight gear will get a splash of color beginning this weekend.
For the first time since the UFC's apparel partnership with Reebok began in July 2015, fighters from UFC 200 were given a color palette to choose from for their fight shorts. Previously, athletes wore some combination of black and white with a small bit of color denoting country of origin.
The new range of color choices also depend on the country a fighter represents, a UFC official confirmed with MMA Fighting. Fighters competing out of the red corner get the first pick of colors. If two athletes are from the same country, the blue corner will get a choice of one of the remaining colors that the red-corner athlete did not take first.
For instance, Joe Lauzon and Diego Sanchez, both from the United States, will meet Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. Sanchez, the red corner fighter, chose blue for his fight shorts. That left Lauzon with a choice between black and chalk.
"I chose blue, because you know what?" Sanchez said. "What color does the first-place ribbon get, baby? What color does the first-place ribbon get, baby? It's blue. It's blue. That's what color we get."
Typically, the higher-ranked fighter gets the red corner, though the selection is more arbitrary when neither fighter is ranked.
The colored fight shorts will be here to stay beginning at UFC 200. The full, new Reebok fight kits, including jerseys, will be unveiled in September, a UFC official confirmed with MMA Fighting.
Cat Zingano, a red-corner fighter, had the choice of wearing blue shorts, but chose white (or chalk) anyway. For one, this is her first fight since the Reebok partnership. But more importantly, white had meaning for her.
"I felt like white is appropriate, because I'm trying to have this be like a rebirth so to say, coming back into this sport and it being pure," Zingano said.
Julianna Peña, Zingano's opponent, said she had a choice between yellow and black and she chose yellow, because it was "more vibrant." Peña represents Venezuela. Kelvin Gastelum, who faces Johny Hendricks at UFC 200 and represents Mexico, took green as his color.
"I like it, man," Gastelum said. "It's better than the boring black and white, everybody the same. I like color. I like to stand out a little bit. I think it's better."
Jim Miller, who faces Takanori Gomi, and Sage Northcutt, opposite Enrique Marin, will both wear blue, like Sanchez. Hendricks opted to stick with black. The only colors he wants to wear in the Octagon, he said, are from his alma mater Oklahoma State.
"I don't need any of that lime green or all that other kind of stuff," Hendricks said. "I'm basic. I'm just a simple man.
"If they would come out with an orange and black one, then I would make a fight for that one. If they're not, then I'm not worried about it."
Reebok has had its share of issues, beginning with the fact that fighters are no longer able to wear their own sponsor logos in the cage, causing most to lose money on the deal. There have also been embarrassing typos and faux pas in the year since the UFC and Reebok have partnered together.
Just two weeks ago, women's fighter Valerie Letourneau had a wardrobe malfunction in a fight against Joanne Calderwood in Ottawa. Reebok invited Letourneau to their headquarters in Boston to discuss the issue with her.
"The official top is so low," Letourneau told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Even if I wear something under, if you move the top a little bit it's going to show my boobs. And all fight I was worried, I was pulling it, I was uncomfortable. And what happened was in the third [round], she literally pulled the three tops, and they went all the way down. I honestly thought that everybody saw my breasts until I could see my fight itself."
Letourneau said she was "embarrassed" and obviously that's not something a fighter should have to worry about while also defending punches, kicks and submissions.
Zingano said things like that are not uncommon for women in MMA.
"The fits are a little bit tricky, but I think it's good," Zingano said. "It's always a concern going into a fight. I don't fight in sports bras anymore. The last two times I did I actually fell out and no one noticed, but it was a lesson learned for me. I always fight in a tank top now. The first are definitely not universal. Girls, we're built differently. Some are more curvy than others. Some have bigger tops than bottoms, vice versa. I know they're trying to change it as we go and we'll see what happens."
The changes are coming, beginning this weekend with color. The first year of Reebok's apparel deal with the UFC has been rocky, but improvements do seem like they are on the way.
"Reebok is making stuff from the ground up," Lauzon said. "New material, new stitching, new everything. I think it's gonna get good, but of course there's gonna be some bumps in the process."