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Don't lose your shirt! UFC fighter uniforms may not be as beneficial as advertised

Fighter uniforms could be a game changer, for better or for worse...

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White unofficially announced during a luncheon at ZUFFA headquarters that the promotion was working on a "uniform" for all fighters who step foot inside the Octagon.

The deal had been rumored for some time and most within the industry weren't surprised.

Further details were unveiled by Bleacher Report's Jeremy Botter, who by speaking to anonymous sources, confirmed that said uniforms would be made by a prominent sports apparel company and would include a shirt, shorts, and hat.

Fighters would have the opportunity to pursue an additional 2-3 sponsors for placement.

On the surface, the thought process appears to be extremely beneficial to fighters who struggle to find sponsorships for fights. Mac Danzig's trunks for his UFC on FOX 9 bout against Joe Lauzon read the words "Not For Sale," a reference to his struggles dealing with MMA sponsors.

It would also prevent a case such as Cody McKenzie's, who entered the Octagon for his UFC on FOX 9 fight wearing off-the-rack basketball shorts with the price tag still attached and peeking out midway through the first round. White claimed to be "embarrassed" by McKenzie's appearance.

At the media luncheon, White explained that the uniform is meant to help fighters deal with an rapidly shrinking sponsorship market.

"It's not as big as everybody makes it out to be. Those are the guys that are making tons of money anyway, and they make big money on sponsorship. The lower level guys? They're not making a bunch from sponsorship. We just saw the thing go down with Mac Danzig. He said, 'I'm done. I don't want to deal with this anymore.'

Do you know how many fighters call me and say they don't want to deal with sponsorships anymore? What can you do? It's not as plentiful as everybody makes it out to be."

While White's reasoning may appear to be altruistic at face value, a big reason for sponsorship money drying up is the UFC's own "sponsorship tax," in which a company must pay ZUFFA for the right to sponsor a fighter inside the cage.

The rumored $100,000 yearly fee is subtracted from marketing budgets that would otherwise be given directly to fighters.

Yes, the argument could be made that the tax also protects fighters from sponsors who may not have the financial backing to actually pay on a contracted agreement, but in a sport where athletes cover the considerably high training costs themselves, every little bit helps.

Former UFC Middleweight title contender Nate Quarry hit the Underground Forum to offer his first hand experience of the UFC's handling of the sponsorship tax. Quarry retired in 2010 with a 7-3 record inside the Octagon. He also had a public spat with an approved sponsor, The Fight Mafia, who refused to pay on their contracted agreement.

When I signed with the UFC this is what I was told "We can't pay you much but you can have any sponsors you want."
Then: We need to approve your sponsors.
Then: You can't have any conflicting sponsors.
Then: You can't thank your sponsors after fights.
Then: We are not approving any sponsors that we don't like their product.
Then: Your sponsors have to pay us a fee of $50,000 for the pleasure to sponsor you.
Then: Your sponsors have to pay us a fee of $100,000 for the pleasure to sponsor you.

If a sponsor has a budget of 10k to sponsor a fighter, they are then out. If there are 5 shorts companies in the UFC you can only go to them for a sponsorship. If they have spent their budget or don't want to support an up and coming fighter they give you shorts instead of money. If you're fighting for $6,000 to show and fighting 3 times a year, even $500 makes a big difference. When there is no competition they don't have to pay you. I lost And1 as a sponsor when the UFC enacted the tax.

Already, some fighters have begun to speak out about the plans for a uniform. One of those fighters is Felice Herrig, who is a cast member of the upcoming 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

Herrig protects her image and has created a brand for herself and sponsors that make her one of the few truly recognizable women in mixed martial arts (MMA). From her weigh in outfits to her appearance on fight night, everything is planned to optimize her brand.

Herrig took to instagram to voice her complaints.

"I design and custom make all my weigh in and fight outfits so for me this is a very big deal and a very big part of my brand and image.

A lot of fighters like myself get paid more money from sponsors and a lot is based on marketability and mother style I bring to weigh ins and also the fights. Taking that away takes a lot away from what they are trying to do as far as getting people hooked to WMMA.

It's called business and regardless of what some people might think there is a lot more to a fighters business than just the act of them playing their sport."

While Herrig has been the most vocal, in speaking with my own contacts within the industry, most share the same sentiment. These include sponsors, fighters, and managers who have all echoed that the uniform could do more harm than good.

As the uniform is being made by a major apparel company, it is unlikely that a competitor's logo makes it onto the fighters' shorts or t-shirt.

This is where things get dicey.

What exactly is the definition of a competitor? Will this company view Hayabusa or Venum as a competitor? Or will it only be other major companies? And in regards to placement of logos, most sponsor contracts have terms dictating which areas of shorts and shirts are available, with the butt being the most sought after placement.

One sponsor, who chose to remain anonymous, told me that "it changes the landscape and we don't know how until there are more specifics. It could be a very positive thing. Everybody will have to adjust in some way, from sponsors to fighters to managers. The details will be important. We'll see how it plays out."

That sponsor is correct. Until there are more details made available, it's all speculation at this point.

But one thing is certain. This is a pivotal time for the UFC, who have long sought to be accepted as a major sport. While the uniform could benefit the athlete monetarily, it will mostly serve as a way for the UFC to be viewed on the same level as the NFL and NBA, where uniforms are the norm.

In today's day and age, perception is key.

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