Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
When it comes to other organizations and companies, the Zuffa way of doing business is quite simple: if you’re not with them, you’re against them.
Who can blame them really? After bringing the UFC back from near extinction and originally intending to work together with anyone and everyone to better the sport of mixed martial arts, Dana White and the Brothers Fertitta have seen their investment explode into its own monster. The UFC has become so popular, that to the casual fan, the organization is bigger and more well-known than the actual sport itself.
One-time working partnerships with Japan’s now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships and Fighting and Entertainment Group are now things of the past. Instead, the UFC is claiming victory over their rivals left and right, with both the International Fight League and ProElite folding this year alone. Slowly but surely, the UFC is becoming the only show in town, and with that power comes the ability to control almost everything, and sadly, even fighter sponsorships fall under this category.
When Tom Atencio and Affliction, his popular California-based clothing company, decided to get into the business of promoting mixed martial arts events, the UFC immediately prohibited their fighters from wearing Affliction t-shirts during broadcasts, essentially preventing fighters from earning sponsorship money as well.
Multiple fighters on the UFC roster were sponsored by Affliction but unfortunately most had their sponsorships revoked, leaving Georges St. Pierre as one of the only fighters still with the clothing company, which paid the welterweight title holder to wear blank shirts during his UFC entrance and post-fight interviews.
The UFC’s decision is relatively easy to understand. So is the notion that Affliction wouldn’t be able to walk right in and compete with the UFC, which they quickly found out in the months leading up to and after their debut show on July 19. In fact, the promotion went as far as meeting with the UFC last month to discuss a potential deal.
According to an article published this week by MMA Weekly, executives from both Affliction and the UFC met on September 26 to negotiate a partnership that would have had Affliction immediately cease operations as a fight promoter while having the UFC allow their fighters to once again be sponsored by Affliction as well as the ability to purchase select fighter contracts currently owned by Affliction as well.
Talks reportedly broke down after Affliction paid for advertisements during EliteXC’s “Saturday Night Fights” broadcast on October 4 and subsequently signed a partnership deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, one of boxing’s premiere promotional companies, eventually leading to a conference call this past Monday where both sides reportedly participated in a profanity-filled argument that resulted in a potential deal completely falling apart.
A recap of the conference call according to the article:
Two weeks passed since the first meeting with no constructive communication between Affliction and the UFC. Both sides believed the deal was off the table, but on Monday, a conference call took place between, among others, Lorenzo Fertitta and Todd Beard, Affliction’s co-founder.
Though the deal was not formally rejected by Affliction, it was clear that the goodwill between the parties had disappeared. While it’s unclear how the conversation went south, it went south quickly, with both parties directing profanities at one another. Towards the end, Beard reportedly told Ferttita, “you’ve (expletive) with the wrong guy.”
Affliction’s clothing won’t be shown during UFC broadcasts anytime soon and it turns out that the same goes for MMA Authentics and its “Cage Fighter” brand, which was reportedly banned from Zuffa-promoted events according to MMA Payout.
The UFC’s decision apparently comes after MMA Authentics earned the nod over the UFC concerning exclusive shelving space in Wal-Mart stores across North America.
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The UFC is able to take such measures by exercising Article 22.1 of the Zuffa Standard Contract, which states that “Fighter covenants and agrees that no wording, symbols, pictures, designs, names or other advertising or informational material… ii. of any sponsor in conflict or competition with Zuffa or any of Zuffa’s sponsors.”
According to the UFC Sponsor Request form sent out to all fighters and obtained by MMAPayout.com, “in addition to Affliction and the Xtreme Couture t-shirt brand, Cage Fighter, MMA Authentic, Familia Gladitoria and MMA Elite will also not be permitted. The Xtreme Couture Training Center is permitted provided, however, the logo must clearly refer to the mixed martial arts training centers and gyms.”
My thoughts: The UFC not allowing their fighters to be sponsored by Affliction after they decided to start promoting events is understandable, however banning MMA Authentics just because they were out-bidded on some Wal-Mart shelf space is down right immature and pathetic. Some of the UFC’s biggest stars - Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, and B.J. Penn for starters, are all sponsored by the Cage Fighter brand are likely not going to be very happy about this new predicament.
Sponsorships allow fighters to be able to train for fighters worry-free - the money from the sponsorship helps pay for gym time, training gear and partners, and any medical expenses among other things. The UFC is severely limiting the amount of companies that their fighters are allowed to be sponsored by and in turn, hurting their roster as well.
The UFC may give bonuses to the likes of Liddell and Griffin to appease them but the rest of the undercard fighters such as Sam Stout and Marcus Davis are pretty much shit out of luck and it’s extremely unfortunate. The UFC brand has become so popular that they really don’t need to counter-program broadcasts by EliteXC and Affliction and I’m sure White and company is already aware of the fact. Regardless of which organization wants to try and compete with them, the casual and mainstream fans are always going to come back to the UFC at the end of the day… because, well, it’s the UFC.
With great power comes great responsibility, and Zuffa’s biggest responsibility is the well-being of their fighters. Instead of participating in petty arguments with rival promotions and banning clothing companies because of failed business ventures, it’s time that Zuffa concentrates on the most important thing at hand - the happiness and financial well-being of their fighters.