What's one of the more interesting aspects of Saturday's long-awaited fight between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans? The fact that Jones will go into the cage with the UFC itself as his sole sponsor.
Make no mistake about it: This is a landmark deal, for the promotion and for Jones. Never before has the UFC actually sponsored one of its own fighters. Never before has it invested so much financially in a fighter, at least beyond the standard contract and pay-per-view bonuses it doles out.
It's a tricky subject. The UFC is obviously promoting Jones as one of its biggest superstars, and now it's associating its brand even more deeply with the light heavyweight champ.
How does this news make Evans feel? He's going into the cage for the biggest fight of his career, and his opponent is carrying the UFC's brand. And it isn't simply paying Jones to wear the UFC logo on his shorts—it's created an entire clothing line, from fight shorts to track suits to hats. Jones will be covered head to toe in UFC gear for the entire fight week.
I have no idea how Evans views the entire situation, but doesn't it seem just a little bit disrespectful?
For Jones, it's the perfect situation. He explained his reasoning behind seeking the deal in a recent conference call:
I’ve had a goal of being sponsored by Nike for many, many years. 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.
I'm a big fan of fighters who prefer to keep their image clean. When Jones was sponsored by the now-defunct Form Athletics, he went into the cage with one logo on his shorts: Form Athletics and nothing else. That's a big departure from your typical fighter, who often displays anywhere between six and 10 different logos on his shorts.
This isn't the last time the UFC will sponsor one of its own fighters. I think this is just the first of many future stars the UFC will throw its weight behind. You'll see more and more fighters going this route as long as the UFC makes it financially viable for them to drop their current sponsors.
Kudos to Jones and his manager Malki Kawa for venturing into entirely new territory with this deal. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the ethical side of the deal, but it's safe to say that it adds yet another interesting aspect to one of the brightest young stars in the sport.
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