Fedor Tapout Shirt Nixed

June 26, 2010

Pedro Carassco of BJPenn.com is reporting that Tapout has nixed a potential signature t-shirt deal with Fedor Emelianenko for his fight against Fabricio Werdum allegedly because the UFC threatened the popular MMA clothing line with a lifetime ban from its Octagon if it went through with the deal.

Initially, Fedor Emelianenko, the number one heavyweight fighter in the world, secured a deal to sport the always growing and ever popular “TapOut” clothing line at this weekend’s Strikeforce events.

However, during my time here in San Jose, while spending time with very legitimate sources close to the situation, I was advised that certain parties within the UFC halted TapOuts participation in the event and threatened a UFC lifetime ban, if Emelianenko came out wearing their line.

Payout Perspective:

I want to emphasize that this is still just an allegation. If there’s only one thing you ever learn about the MMA business it’s this: nothing is ever completely as it seems.

However, with that said, I’m inclined to think these allegations are somewhat true based on what we’ve seen from the UFC in previous situations. If you recall, the UFC banned long-time BJ Penn supporter, RVCA, from the octagon last year when it sponsored Fedor against Brett Rogers. RVCA later dropped Fedor and was allowed to return to the octagon.

Thus, it wouldn’t surprise me if the UFC gave Tapout some sort of warning (nor does it surprise me that BJ Penn’s website is the one breaking the story…).

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Why does this make sense for the UFC? I suppose the rationale is two-fold:

1.) Tapout, the world’s premier MMA clothing company, would add credibility to Fedor and Strikeforce through the t-shirt deal.

This is significant when you consider the larger context of the decision. The heavyweight division has always been very important to combat sports, and it bothers the UFC that they do not have the undisputed best heavyweight in the world. The Tapout deal would lend further credibility to Fedor and Strikeforce – although it’s unclear how much – at a time when the UFC is preparing to showcase its own best heavyweights in Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin next week.

Moreover, it’s been widely speculated that a potential Strikeforce PPV hinges on this fight. Here we enter territory where Strikeforce could actually be considered a direct competitor to the UFC.

2.) If Fedor doesn’t want to play ball and make his money in the UFC, then the UFC will make it hard for Fedor to play ball and make his money elsewhere.

This isn’t a move designed to bring Fedor back to the bargaining table. It’s a demonstration of the same “with us or against us” mentality that the company has always demonstrated in its business practices. If Fedor doesn’t want to play ball with the UFC – which assuredly drives Dana and Lorenzo crazy – then the UFC is going to do everything in its power to ensure Fedor cannot associate with anything closely related to the UFC, in order to benefit for himself.

I’m not sure I agree with the logic, but I can see the UFC’s side of the argument. I can also try to put myself in Dana White’s shoes as he’s assuredly endured some frustration in dealing with the numerous talking heads and flip-flopping position of M-1 Global and Fedor Emelianenko.

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There are obviously multiple other perspectives, here.

  • The Fedor/Strikeforce contingent is likely angry, because it misses out on sponsorship money, the credibility it would add to the brand, and marketing channels that Tapout has at its disposal.
  • Tapout is disappointed, because the t-shirt would have sold well amongst the hardcore crowd. I’m sure, depending on what actually happened (i.e., the nature of the UFC coercion), the company might also feel one half obligated and the other half betrayed. Tapout has stuck with the UFC through thick and thin, but it’s also been a mutually beneficial partnership: Tapout has built its brand largely on the back of the UFC, but has also helped to support the UFC and its fighters in the leaner years.
  • The fighters will probably see this as a UFC power move that’s taking money away from one of their own. I can almost guarantee that the decision hasn’t earned the UFC any extra good will amongst the ranks, which is potentially a dangerous long-term consequence of this move.
  • The fans are likely to see this entire thing from the perspective of Fedor and Strikeforce. In general, the MMA fan base has traditionally been very pro-fighter and pro-competition. It’s understandable, but sometimes the sentiment, while good intentioned, is misguided and uninformed (e.g., the reaction to disclosed payout releases or the entire fighter pay discussion as a whole).

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What are the long-term consequences of this decision? The UFC may have done more harm than good with this decision:

1.) The absence of the Tapout shirt may deprive Fedor of some money and Strikeforce of some additional publicity, but it’s not going to thwart them from staging a PPV in the Fall (if Fedor wins).

Moreover, the additional press given to both parties as a result of the UFC’s alleged pressure might outweigh whatever press Fedor and Strikeforce might have received from Tapout anyway. The theory here being that fans would have seen Fedor in a Tapout shirt and thought, “oh that’s cool (but not out of the ordinary for an MMA fighter to wear Tapout)” and that would have been the end of it. A few t-shirts sold, some money made, and everyone moves on. Not so…

2.) The UFC’s apparent involvement isn’t going to thrill the fighters. If you’re a fighter, you understand the sacrifices that other fighters need to make in order to earn a living in the sport. When somebody interferes with a fighter’s ability to earn a living, the natural reaction is one of disdain and resentment – regardless of whether the fighter is in your organization or not. Sometimes its a rational reaction, sometimes its not, but it’s a reaction the UFC may feel the brunt of in the future.

11 Responses to “Fedor Tapout Shirt Nixed”

  1. Dave on June 26th, 2010 10:52 AM

    Well the UFC has supported Tapout for years now. Tapout losing viability will be the major blow that kills the company. Thus it was necessary to nixed the Fedor shirt.

  2. Antonio on June 26th, 2010 4:39 PM

    i think this was a good decision on tapout’s part. they might get all pissy that the ufc is trying to control them. but when you look at this profit-wise, fedor will fight 3-4 times a year max, who knows if he’ll fight next year (with retirement talks happening), whereas the ufc puts on 15-20 shows including ppv, ufn’s and tuf finale’s. tapout definitely made the correct decision.

  3. mmaguru on June 26th, 2010 10:11 PM

    Turns out to be a really really good decision. Fedor’s loss puts a lot of things in perspective.

  4. Matt C. on June 27th, 2010 7:46 AM

    Does the fact that Fedor is part owner of M-1 the MMA promotion factor in to this? Tapout is the official T-shirt sponsor of the UFC right? So with that would come some kind of promotional exclusivity. Fedor is M-1 in image and as an owner so would that alone prevented Tapout contractually from sponsoring him?

  5. Diego on June 27th, 2010 2:29 PM

    The UFC did the wrong thing, Tapout did the right thing. There’s really no need for that kind of thing in the sport. It does not help the UFC in any way and it hurts a fighter. No one likes a bully and the more Dana acts like one the bigger the backlash when it eventually comes. It’s unfortunate.

    As for Fedor losing, I can’t decide if it’s good or bad. If he blew by Werdum as he seemed to be doing in the first exchange his win would have been written off as Fedor crushing another can (even though Werdum is the reigning ADCC champion and has improved his standup dramatically in the past few years). By losing it actually makes Fedor’s next fight more interesting for me. A rematch might be PPV worthy.

  6. mmaguru on June 27th, 2010 6:41 PM

    The business impacts of Fedor’s loss is really very interesting. For example, is Strikeforce better off now that Fedor doesn’t have the same leverage on them that he did prior to this fight? Does Fedor/M1 have the same leverage?

    Coker needs to seriously consider putting Werdum against Overeem in a title fight. A lot of smoke around the UFC having all the top HWs after last night, but I disagree. Both Werdum and Overeem sit in the 5-6 guys. A fight between the two adds more legitimacy to the stable. Coker must be ecstatic that one of his guys beat the undisputed #1 HW in the world.

    After Carwin knocks out Lesnar, the HW landscape will get even more blurred. For the first time in a decade, not one guy can stake claim to the top position (my opinion anyway).

    I don’t think a rematch would generate lucrative $$$, well at least not yet. Where I could see it working is in the following scenario:
    1 – The Reem fights Werdum and wins
    2 – Fedor rematches with Werdum and wins
    3 – Fedor fights The Reem

  7. Diego on June 28th, 2010 5:34 AM

    guru,

    I agree it’s interesting for SF’s business. Dana tweeted “:D” or something like that (I don’t follow his tweets but I heard it on Beatdown) I assume because he’s happy the #1 guy whom he didn’t have signed has now been beaten. But what would have been best for the UFC would have been Fedor beating Werdum, then beating Overeem finishing his SF contract and then going to the UFC. The Don King mentality of “I came with the Champ and I’m leaving with the Champ” is apropos here. It’s Werdum who did the “impossible”, and he still works for SF. Yes, he lost to JDS, so now the UFC has the man who beat the man who beat the man – for what that is worth.

    What I’m really hoping for is that this re-ignites Fedor’s competitive spirit. I want to see him fight more than twice a year and if he feels he has something to prove we may get to see him fight more frequently. I can’t imagine he has many years left if the sport and I want to see him as much as possible before he retires.

  8. mmaguru on June 28th, 2010 9:10 AM

    Diego, very well put.

    There are 2 fighters I would like to see fight more – Fedor and GSP.

  9. jv on June 28th, 2010 12:36 PM

    >The fighters will probably see this as a UFC power move that’s taking money away >from one of their own. I can almost guarantee that the decision hasn’t earned the >UFC any extra good will amongst the ranks, which is potentially a dangerous >long-term consequence of this move.

    I thought the UFC took control over every ones sponsorships a year ago so they could take a piece of the action and have more control the fighters. Seems that would have upset the fighters a lot more.

  10. Brain Smasher on June 28th, 2010 11:22 PM

    I have long heard the UFC owns part of Tapout. Around the time it was rumored you could see the relationship start working together more often. Tapout became a presence and their got their reality show no doubt using UFC connections.

    I have no problem with the UFC decision to play hard ball with Fedor. Fedor has decided he dont need the UFC. Well part of the UFC is its partnerships and the attention they bring to the sport. Why let Fedor use your own partners to pave his path away from you?

  11. Bill Hardiek on July 5th, 2010 9:52 AM

    This is an interesting topic. Tapout and Zuffa have a long standing relationship, not only is there a Tapout presence in the UFC’s Octagon, but, in the WEC and on TUF. The TUF house and fighters a riddled with Tapout gear, plus, the UFC training center has Tapout plastered all over it. So, to offer Fedor an endorsement would be a slap in the face to Zuffa. The amount of t-shirts Fedor would sell with Tapout is considerably less then the number of t-shirts WEC, UFC anf TUF sell for Tapout. Is this a power play by Zuffa? Yes, no doubt about it. But, if Zuffa has as much invested in Tapout as noted above, then they have earned the right to piss in Fedor’s Kool-Aid. The fighters will complain about the deal, but, if Zuffa allows their brands to start losing traction to Strikeforce, then the fighters are gonna lose twice. The sponsors are going to hang with the big dog, UFC/WEC/TUF are the big dog. A little bit of big picture perspective will squash any ill will in the locker room.

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