The UFC continues to profit while its main assets, its athletes, are less and less favored by the new partnership policies.
It is not a matter of becoming nostalgic and remembering those days where each fighter wore his own shorts and walk-out t-shirts with their sponsors, it is the fact that athletes lose great income opportunities when, in order to compete at that level, the expenses are high.
A couple of weeks ago, the UFC and wrestling and movie superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson announced a new partnership. Fighters will now be required to wear Project Rock shoes and sandals during all fight week activities.
The irony of the matter is that, according to reports, the athletes will not receive any compensation for being part of this initiative. While The Rock praises the fighters and claims to admire them, his actions are not in their best interest.
After his latest win over Tony Ferguson by submission, the popular Nate Diaz was quick to voice his opinion on the UFC's new footwear. "These shoes f–king suck," Diaz said. "Look at these shoes. They made me put this shit on. F–k these shoes!"
While the octagon is filled with sponsors and the company generates more income, those who go in there to risk their physical integrity are the least economically favored.
It all started with Reebok
In 2015, the UFC made the determination to incorporate uniforms for each fighter, making it impossible for them to add their own sponsors.
As the organization closes multi-million dollar deals with brands like Modelo, it is obvious that they will not allow a fighter to wear the Bud Light or Corona logo on their shorts. Although the uniforms give a better image to the television product, at the end of the day, the company defends its interests. They are there to generate profits, just like any other company.
What should be clear is that a fighter has important expenses just to stay at the highest level: nutrition, staff, coaches, doctors, therapists, psychologists, gyms, not to mention the compensation received by his managers and trainers. The possibility of having sponsors gives the fighter the opportunity to generate more income to cover their expenses. On many occasions, the sponsorship income was much higher than the amount received for showing up to fight.
Reebok was left behind, and now the contract is held by Venum, but in the end, it's the same for the athletes.
This is why the situation will not change
The UFC knows its place in the sport, as most people don't even know the term MMA (mixed martial arts) exists, they call it the UFC.
Athletes dream of making it to the octagon and have already sacrificed a lot in their lives to be there, so they're not going to go up against a big monster where they know they have everything to lose.
The only hope for this to change is that other independent organizations, which do allow the use of sponsors, reach the same media level as the UFC, but that, in the next few years, is impossible.