Ree­bok’s re­tool is im­proved look

Boston Herald - - SUNDAY MMA NOTEBOOK - By JACK ENCARNACAO — jen­car­nacao@boston­her­

Af­ter two years in business to­gether, the UFC and Ree­bok have learned some hard lessons, try­ing to fit the un­wieldy sport into the type of uni­form tem­plate com­mon in other sports.

Some fight­ers, ac­cus­tomed to hus­tling for their own spon­sors and pock­et­ing most of the pro­ceeds, bris­tled at the flat Ree­bok pay­outs based solely on UFC ten­ure and aired their griev­ances pub­licly. The ho­mo­ge­neous look of the UFC uni­forms also cut into fight­ers’ abil­ity to stand out in a business fu­eled by star power. Sev­eral UFC vet­er­ans jumped ship to Bel­la­tor MMA, cit­ing Bel­la­tor’s lack of spon­sor­ship re­stric­tions as a key rea­son.

Ree­bok is show­ing, how­ever, it hasn’t been de­terred, rolling out a re-imag­ined ap­parel line prior to UFC 215 ear­lier this month. The com­pany swapped out a soc­cer jersey look to one more wear­able and life­style-ori­ented, and is video conferencing with top fight­ers from its Can­ton head­quar­ters to col­lab­o­rate on cus­tom de­signs for walk­out gear.

“It has been a learn­ing process, and a lot of what we’ve done over the last two years is re­ally tried to in­grain our­selves in the cul­ture,” Matt Bilodeau, Ree­bok’s global lead for the UFC part­ner­ship, told the Her­ald.

Bilodeau said fight­ers wanted gear that had less of a sleek, ath­letic look, and could be worn ca­su­ally. Prior to the Ree­bok deal, MMA ap­parel was mostly char­ac­ter­ized by Tapout and Af­flic­tion shirts that could be worn any­where — and were aimed just as much at spec­ta­tors as those who train.

“We feel like this col­lec­tion has a lot more at­ti­tude, and the style re­ally is born from MMA cul­ture,” Bilodeau said.

Ini­tially, Ree­bok ini­tially aimed its UFC prod­ucts at work­out en­thu­si­asts who draw in­spi­ra­tion from MMA train­ing reg­i­mens, but they were of lim­ited ap­peal to the av­er­age UFC fan.

Ree­bok cre­ated its first line of sig­na­ture walk­out T-shirts for the UFC 215 head­lin­ers: Fly­weight cham­pion Demetri­ous John­son, his chal­lenger Ray Borg, women’s ban­tamweight cham­pion Amanda Nunes, and her chal­lenger Valentina Shevchenko. Go­ing for­ward, the “Legacy” gear will be cre­ated for payper-view main even­ters and both sides of ti­tle fights, with re­peat fight­ers in these cat­e­gories get­ting new de­signs each time they com­pete.

The new look was rolled out with some hoopla, but an­other vex­ing re­al­ity of MMA threw Ree­bok a curve­ball. Borg came down with an ill­ness on the eve of the fight and pulled out, so the John­son and Borg cus­tom gear never saw the light of day. The fight has been resched­uled for Oct. 7.

“Be­ing a part of (the sport) for the last two years, we kind of are ac­cus­tomed to the fact that that’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Bilodeau said of in­jury with­drawals. “Was it a lit­tle bit dis­ap­point­ing? Sure, but we know also that that fight’s go­ing to hap­pen again.”

The cus­tom gear is cre­ated af­ter video con­sults with fight­ers and re­search­ing their pas­sions as ex­pressed on so­cial me­dia, a more re­source-in­ten­sive process for Ree­bok. Fight­ers are quizzed about what they want to cel­e­brate on their gear — home city, fam­ily, coun­try, gym, etc. Tem­plates are then de­signed and se­lected by the fighter and Ree­bok.

Bilodeau said Nunes, who is nick­named “The Lioness” and re­tained her ti­tle at UFC 215, knew ex­actly what she wanted to rep­re­sent.

“She was very di­rect — she wanted a lioness, and that’s what we ended up de­vel­op­ing for her,” he said. “That’s kind of how it goes.”

There are re­port­edly four years left on the UFC/Ree­bok deal, and the com­pany is look­ing to make steady ad­just­ments un­til it fits seam­lessly into the UFC.

Lau­zon’s next in Novem­ber

UFC vet­eran and Bridge­wa­ter prod­uct Joe Lau­zon has his next oc­tagon as­sign­ment, fac­ing fel­low cor­ner­stone light­weight Clay Guida (33-17) on Nov. 11 in Vir­ginia.

“I think it’s a fight that a lot of peo­ple ex­pected would have hap­pened a long time ago,” the 33-year-old Lau­zon (2712) told the Her­ald. “We’ve both been in the divi­sion for such a long time. I’m ex­cited and I’m glad it’s fi­nally go­ing to hap­pen.”

While Lau­zon cedes “nei­ther one of us are re­ally spring chick­ens” — Guida is 35 — he ex­pects both will up­hold their rep­u­ta­tions as two of the most re­li­able ac­tion fight­ers in UFC his­tory.

“He’s got crazy car­dio. He’s push, push, push,” Lau­zon said. “To me, that’s an ex­cit­ing prob­lem to deal with. It kind of sucks do­ing car­dio, but when you know you definitely need it, it’s kind of eas­ier to get through it.”

Newell ready for an­other go

Nick Newell in­spired MMA fans by pulling off great feats in the cage despite be­ing born with no arm be­low his left el­bow. But in 2015, af­ter a bruis­ing de­feat to cur­rent top UFC light­weight con­tender Justin Gaethje and two sub­se­quent wins, Newell hung up the gloves, cit­ing mount­ing in­juries.

Now, the 31-year-old Con­necti­cut na­tive, who trained for years in Spring­field and cap­tained the wrestling team at West­ern New Eng­land, is feel­ing in­tact again and ready to re­turn. The Legacy Fight­ing Al­liance an­nounced last week it signed Newell and will host his re­turn fight on a date to be de­ter­mined.

“I don’t want to look back and won­der what could have been, or have any re­grets,” Newell told the Her­ald. “The main thing that led me to re­tire was my body. It took about two years, but it feels nor­mal again.”

Nag­ging back, neck and MCL in­juries ham­pered Newell’s camps such that he spent more time on re­hab than his skills. He’s since opened his own gym in West Haven and bought a house with his fi­ancee, whom he’ll marry in Novem­ber.

“Ev­ery­thing’s com­ing to­gether, so if I have ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol out­side, in my nor­mal life, I feel like that’s a good time to start do­ing stuff that I en­joy,” he said.

Newell was long bear­ish on his chances of get­ting a shot in the UFC, dis­cour­aged by the re­sponse of the com­pany and reg­u­la­tors to his try­ing out for the “Ul­ti­mate Fighter” show years ago. Inked with the LFA, which has been a pipe­line for UFC prospects and was the prov­ing ground for one of the UFC’s two cur­rent match­mak­ers, Newell’s tune is chang­ing.

“I feel like I be­long in the UFC, and I know that I’m go­ing to be in the UFC,” he said. “It’s just that they have to want me, and I’m not go­ing to sit here and beg. All I’m go­ing to do is just put peo­ple away and keep win­ning fights.”


READY TO WEAR: Amanda Nunes cel­e­brates her suc­cess­ful ti­tle de­fense at UFC 215 on Sept. 9 in her new Ree­bok gear.

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