By: Rebecca Paredes
What do mouthguards and fighter apparel have in common? If you’re talking about Shurfit Mouthguards and Down2Scrap, they’re part of a larger push to outfit the most passionate athletes in combat sports.
JR Vera is the founder of Down2Scrap clothing and the co-founder of Shurfit Mouthguards. Down2Scrap gears itself “towards the toughest and most aggressive players in MMA, boxing, etc.” Shurfit shares a similar audience. In fact, Shurfit mouthguards have been worn by UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford — some of the toughest names in fighting.
Fight Connection spoke with JR about sponsorship, combat sports, and why the company sponsors almost 1,700 athletes around the world.
Why Sponsor Fighters?
“I come from a fighting background,” Vera said. “But my mom didn’t have the funds or money to keep me in boxing and karate, so I had to deal with certain people offering their time or gear in order to continue with it.”
That generosity and love of combat sports fueled Vera’s fire as a young athlete, and it also informed Vera how to move forward when he was ready to sponsor athletes.. “I figured I had to prove myself if other people saw something in me,” he said. “If you’re down to scrap, then you’re eligible to be sponsored by me.”
Vera’s approach to sponsorship seems remarkably open, but it’s part of his desire to give fighters the same support he received when he was just starting out in combat sports. “Your record doesn’t matter, or how long you’ve been in the game. If you’re willing to go for it and struggle for it, then you’re going to get sponsored by this brand,” Vera said.
“To me, it’s important that fighters receive support from a brand because it’s what keeps them going. It’s what kept me going when I was young.”
Vera’s perspective on sponsorship is also a measure of professionalism. He recognized that “there are a lot of fighters that don’t have the funds for a mouthguard. Same goes with shorts, walk-out shirts.” But if a fighter doesn’t have “the look,” Vera believes, “people will pretty much breeze right by them.”
Sponsorship, then, isn’t just about giving a fighter gear or funds — it’s about helping them look professional. After all, an athlete’s apparel is how they present themselves to not just their opponents, but also their audience. Sponsorship is like the suit and tie of combat sports: it says you mean business.
Sponsorship As An Industry
“There are clothing lines out there who are focused on 20 or 30 fighters, and that’s all they do,” Vera said. “That’s fine for them, but in the past five years now, we’ve come close to 1,700 sponsored fighters. That includes MMA, boxing, horse racing, bikers, a little bit of everything.”
That number stands in stark contrast to the UFC, which signed an exclusive deal in 2014 that make Reebok its official apparel provider — a move which stripped UFC-signed fighters of their ability to wear their sponsored gear in the cage.
On that deal, Vera said, “I do understand that UFC has grown to a certain level and there needs to be some sort of representation.” Vera compared the Reebok deal to other professional sports like soccer, citing the LA Galaxy, which has an exclusive apparel deal with Adidas. At the same time, though, Vera states that he wasn’t for the decision — but he understands “the concept of where they want to go as an organization.”
“You can’t really fight the decision unless all the fighters decide to unionize and get together. But every single fighter has different management. If there were three top managements that controlled 80 percent of the fighters in the UFC, then there would have been somebody to speak on behalf of the fighters,” Vera said. “But there were probably 300 managers for 600 fighters, and it wasn’t enough for them to speak. So the UFC decided, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’”
Believing In Fight Connection
Shurfit and Down2Scrap are featured sponsors on Fight Connection, a professional community to help fighters find sponsors. All Fight Connection athletes are sponsored by Shurfit and Down2Scrap, a decision Vera made because “I believe in the vision of Fight Connection.”
Vera shared, “There are fighters out there that are in need. We’re here for those fighters, and we’re here to make sure they’re taken care of by either Down2Scrap or Shurfit. I just hope to have more brands like mine join Fight Connection so fighters have something to choose from.”
In the meantime, Down2Scrap and Shurfit continue to carry out Vera’s vision of supporting anyone who needs it — whether they have a professional record under their belt or they’re just starting out in their career. After all, support is what kept Vera going — and it’s what continues to motivate fighters today.