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Diamond in the cup: How one lifestyle brand, in a nutshell, is changing the game of MMA

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

"I respect every fighter in this building," former EliteXC promoter Gary Shaw told me back in 2008. "Because you gotta have a set of balls to step into that cage and compete."

Figuratively speaking, of course.

But those mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who do wear the family jewels to each and every contest, historically, have competed with that little gray cloud hanging over their heads (no, the other heads).

I'm talking about the nut shot.

A painful punt to the pills (like this one) can change the outcome of a fight. Not just for the recipient, who is likely to lose a little pep in his step, but for the deliverer, as well, who may no longer be willing to throw inside low kicks for fear of losing a point.

Thanks to Diamond MMA, those days are over.

I had a chance to speak with CEO Craig Diamond about his next-generation cup, and how it succeeds where most groin protectors fail. But before we get started, you should probably check out this insane low-blow video featuring UFC veteran Erik Koch, where the revolutionary Diamond MMA gear is put to the test.

I probably winced at least three times.

It's all about that shift. Or in this case, the lack thereof.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): I'm always interested to hear how companies like yours got started. Was it some epic nut shot that got somebody at Diamond MMA to say, "Hey, we gotta do something here?" Gonzaga vs. Tuchscherer comes to mind...

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): Not really. Actually, kind of about the time The Ultimate Fighter came back on season one, I was watching and I was like, "This is what I used to watch in college!" I've got the tapes like everybody else. I got into it. Being an entrepreneurial guy, I wanted to create a lifestyle brand. I noticed that the only thing these guys were wearing were clothing companies like Tapout, or very aggressive skulls and flames and snakes and I wasn't into that style, but I wanted to create a brand that could represent the sport.

Like Major League Baseball or just more of a classic style, so I started designing t-shirts and that led to designing fight shorts and as I was testing the fight shorts out in some of the top gyms around the country like AKA, Roufusport, with guys like Gilbert Melendez, they started saying, "Hey, what we really need is good cups. All that's out there are these big heavy Thai cups that you have to tie up or you have to use cheap baseball cups that are at the big box stores."

So we put everything on hold and started designing a cup that could solve the problem with these athletes because they're getting kicked in the groin and they have to take a time out because they're not wearing adequate protection. So we hit the drawing board and I recruited these top level designers that also trained and we started Frankenstein'ing this groin protection system from the good things we heard about what they're using and that's kind of how the system was born, in a quick nutshell. No pun intended.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): So here's the obvious question: When a guy gets kicked in the nuts in the middle of a fight and goes fetal -- and he's wearing a cup -- why is he in so much pain? What's happening there?

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): The answer is most cups don't stay in place and keep all your family jewels inside. So the cup shifts and moves, especially after sweating in the third or whatever round of the fight. If you get kicked and the cup is not in place, the cup's gonna definitely do some damage and you're in trouble. It's 1) the cups aren't supported properly and 2) the cups themselves aren't the right shape and aren't designed to take that kind of impact. That's the problem we solved. We wanted to create a product where a fighter got kicked and could keep fighting and we improved that and there's many occasions where fighters have been kicked in the groin while wearing our cup and waved the ref off and said, "Hey, let's keep fighting. I'm wearing Diamond." I remember Dustin Poirier did that in one of his past fights. He was able to just keep going and keep the action going.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): So why can't a fighter just pick up a baseball cup? Give me the difference between the Diamond cup and Brand X. Like maybe I go to Sports Authority and I buy some generic cup off the rack. What's the difference?

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): The difference is gonna be that we created an all-in-one system. The Diamond compression jock and cup system... the compression shorts come with the built in four strap jock, and those four straps look like a climbing harness. That's what's gonna attach to the cup pocket and cup and keep it completely in place from shifting or moving in the extreme movements from MMA, to baseball, to anything. That's the first part of it. Our cup is designed specifically to take these high impact and kicks. 1) It's lined with a dampening material and 2) it's shaped the right way, so your twig and berries are gonna stay inside the cup and stay there.

So with all that, why is that different than the cups you can buy at the big box stores and the baseball cups? They're just a very minimal cheap plastic that tends to break or cave in. The size of the cup actually irritates and rubs against groin tendons which makes it uncomfortable if you don't ever get hit down there and then there's nothing really keeping the cup in place. You have the jock that's seen little-to-no innovation in the last 100 years or a compression short with a big, loose pocket that tends to just float around and not stay place. We've kind of combined everything in one and figured out how to lock the cup in place so your family jewels aren't vulnerable to anything.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): When you first set out to make the Diamond cup, were you surprised that no one else had embarked on a similar mission, especially considering the long, painful history of nut shots in MMA?

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): I guess I wasn't really that surprised. It's a fairly new sport if you compare it to Major League Baseball or the NFL. There just wasn't anything available. Some companies tried to create something, but I think we just nailed it. As the sport grows and we learn, there's gonna be all sorts of inventions and designs and problems that are going to happen. I think the technology and equipment are changing in this sport with the growth of the athlete and what they need, just like in any sport. If you go back to the days of the NBA when everyone was wearing Converse All-Stars and there were no Jordans or Nike, and now we're on the scene and we're trying to deliver that kind of product.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Your website is loaded with current UFC fighter testimonials. Do you currently sponsor any of them?

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): No. It's funny, we set out in the very beginning to never sponsor anybody, so we've never sponsored a fighter. Since the early t-shirt days I think I did one photo shoot with Spencer Fisher. All of our money and time and resources are invested into designing the product and R&D to create it. We figured if we can make this product solve the problem for these guys, then they're gonna pay us and they're gonna want to wear it for us.

So we have guys from Johny Hendricks to Anthony Pettis to T.J. Dillashaw. Currently over 50 percent of the UFC fighters are protecting with us through no formal sponsorship. That's how different the product is. When you put it on, you feel the difference and you don't wear anything else.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Great, so how do I get one?

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): We're sold at online retailers like MMA Warehouse and you can buy us on Amazon. We're also sold at several gyms across the U.S. and the world. The one thing about us is our sport is international, so we're sending orders everywhere you can think of. It's been crazy. You can also buy directly through our site at DiamondMMA.com. So yeah, pretty much all over.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): I'm sure the finished product was a collaborative effort.

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): Definitely. We recruited our designer and partner Alex Coriano, who actually trains and was at the fight camp for Gilbert Melendez for his last fight and we just did a video spotlight on him (video here). He's an award-winning designer for IDO. They're a global design firm and he really helped design the cup and he's pretty much the co-founder and he's got a great story. He walked onto Purdue and eventually became captain of the team.

And actually Jon Fitch, when he moved out to California, was sleeping on my partner's couch for the first couple months when he was an up-and-coming fighter, so he's been around. So yeah, we're just a bunch of athletes and designers that all love the sport and train ourselves. I'm a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. All the members of our team participate in one form or another of martial arts and athletics and we just want to make great stuff.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Who do you train under?

Craig Diamond (DiamondMMA.com): There's an affiliate in Chicago. I guess they're affiliated with Robert Satoshi and Mark Vives New Breed Jiu-Jitsu. It's just a great school and a great bunch of guys. I've been training there for a while. I wrestled my senior year of high school and then I played college baseball my whole life, where we had a lot more uncomfortable cups and hockey and football, too. Jiu-jitsu, that's the best sport of them all. I'm really enjoying that and it's always great to bring my new prototypes to the gym and test them with my training partners. We have some products specifically for jiu-jitsu that are coming out that will be game changers, I think, so we're excited to roll that stuff out as well.

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For more on Diamond MMA, be sure to check out their official website here and fans can save 15% when ordering by using the promo code MANIA.