Sponsorships in sports can be extremely lucrative. As basketball great Alonzo Mourning said straight into the camera "I dont work for the NBA I work for Nike." MMA is not there, yet, but sponsorships can equal a fighter's purse.
When parent company K-Swiss decided to close FORM Athletics in 2011, UFC Lightheavyweight champion Jon Jones was left without a sponsor. There was some surprise when his sponsor for the massive fight vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 145 was named - in an unprecedented move, it was the UFC itself providing Jones' corner shirts, weigh in shirts, and fight shorts:
No other fighter in the organization received such sponsorship. Jon explains that it is all part of grand plan
“I’ve had a goal of being sponsored by Nike for many, many years,” Jones stated during a recent conference call. “Part of our strategy to try and make that happen one day is not be a billboard – not be sponsored by TapouT one week, and Affliction one week, Muscle Pharm next week and all these random companies.
“I try to look for long-lasting relationships with companies. So, a part of my brand is to keep it clean. Less is more, in my opinion. So, once FORM Athletics went down, pretty much every company in the business was looking for an opportunity to work with me. I thought it was a real honor, it was awesome, but we came up with a strategy to keep it clean and be sponsored by the UFC itself.
“They put in the deal that if any mainstream companies come after this win [at UFC 145], that they’ll let me go.”
“I’m glad the UFC wanted to work with me, as well. I think they trust that I will never make them look bad. You never have to worry about me getting a DWI or doing something crazy. I think I’m a good company guy.
“The UFC asks me to do anything and I always do it. I never tell them ‘no.’ I think I’ve had to do more marketing than any other fighter because I say no to absolutely nothing. I don’t think most champs are like that.”
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In an appearance on The MMA Hour, Rashad Evans reflected on the sponsorship.
"I guess it is what it is," said Evans. "It seems they got their guy that they're going to get behind, I guess. I can't really say too much about that. I just got to go in there and do what I need to do."
"I can't really worry about who they favor or who they may like. It doesn't change anything. If they're sponsoring him, it may seem that way. But you know, honestly, it doesn't matter if they favor him or not. They have guys they want to get behind, so if they want to get behind him, that's on them. It doesn't bother me though."
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