“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”
Leon Megginson said that. You would be forgiven for not knowing who he is. But who Megginson is isn’t really important, as his quote about adaptability. Since the introduction of UFC’s uniform policy with Reebok last year, it has gone over like a lead balloon.
Besides spelling errors on uniforms and the fact most fighters take a substantial pay cut because they can no longer have their own sponsors, fighters are fined if they violate the terms of the uniform policy (even though no one besides presumably UFC President Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta know what those terms are).
A trio of fighters dealt with exactly that recently. UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz were each fined for violating UFC’s Reebok uniform policy leading up to and during the most recent UFC on Fox card last month. Cerrone had a patch stitched on to his shorts that honors his grandmother, while Diaz wore jeans to his weigh-in and dos Anjos wore a shirt of a non-Reebok sponsor during the weigh-ins for that card.
When I first read about Cerrone’s violation, I responded thusly:
The Reebok deal sucks for fighters. And I understand Cerrone wanting to honor family. But rules are rules, sadly. https://t.co/jpvHMeWYhp
— Chris (@mmamaryland) January 7, 2016
But upon further review, I was mistaken. Especially as it relates to Cerrone’s violation. For UFC to reduce Cerrone’s pay as a way to fine him for the violation is nit picky at best, and heartless at best. He wears that patch to honor his grandmother, who has a terminal illness. You’re telling me UFC couldn’t make an exception for him? It’s pathetic. For those who say the UFC would have to allow exceptions for other fighters, I have an easy response to that: Many other fighters aren’t the draw “Cowboy” is. Sorry.
I pretty much had the same reaction as everyone else when the Reebok deal was first announced: I was not a fan. I am especially skeptical of the new pay scale fighters have to deal with, sans outside sponsors (seriously, give it a look sometime. It’s ludicrous). I find the uniforms themselves rather bland with the white with black trim, or black with white trim (seriously, what’s the difference?), and some gold thrown in for UFC’s champions.
But this is where UFC should give themselves some wiggle room. Why not allow fighters to customize their uniforms while still prominently displaying the Reebok logo?
Imagine featherweight champion Conor McGregor coming to the Octagon in a uniform that shows his pride in his native country of Ireland. Imagine one of UFC’s Brazilian fighters wearing Reebok shorts sporting the green, blue and yellow colors of their home country. Or Michael Bisping wearing a Reebok shirt to the Octagon with the good ol’ Union Jack on it.
Plus, creating customized fighter uniforms might help Reebok sell a few more to the public. According to multiple reports, the current uniforms aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes. Plus, in addition to spelling errors such as uniforms for one “Giblert” Melendez, Reebok also offered UFC apparel with some pretty egregious geographical errors.
It’s safe to say the Reebok deal did not start out as well as UFC hoped, and doesn’t look to get better anytime soon. Fining fighters for minor violations and adhering to a bland, unimaginative uniform style isn’t likely to win any new followers.
However, it’s highly unlikely the uniform policy is going away anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean UFC can’t display some flexibility and make their fighters feel less like employees at a burger joint (and FYI, but UFC fighters aren’t salaried employees). If they choose to keep the status quo? Then the UFC won’t go anywhere. But it will appear increasingly out-of-touch.