Shortly after his victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 187, middleweight champion Chris Weidman told all of his critics that they had one last chance to join the team, unwilling to waste another second to convince naysayers of his standing amongst MMA’s elite.
Six months later, Reebok has officially joined the team, signing the 185-pound king to an exclusive sponsorship just two months before his latest title defense, a highly anticipated middleweight clash against Luke Rockhold at UFC 194. The deal was announced Monday on The MMA Hour, as Weidman and Reebok Combat Training Senior Business Unit Director Michael Lunardelli both sported shirts that read “Join The Team.” Shirts can be purchased online for $30.
Weidman was also surprised with a pair of custom-designed shoes, branded in the likeness of the United States flag that Weidman carries to and from the cage. Those bad boys (not to be confused with Weidman’s former apparel sponsor Bad Boy) can be purchased for a nice sum of $110.
It’s obviously an exciting day to be Chris Weidman.
Only that many on the outside were a bit confused as to why Weidman — one of the UFC’s most dominant champions — wasn’t signed earlier. He’d already defeated some of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, and yet only Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor, Paige VanZant and few others were wearing Reebok in the pre-Reebok era.
Had they been able to, Reebok would have signed him earlier, they said.
“We literally wrote down [the] roster we wanted, our top roster. First day we came into this thing and [Weidman] was at the top of the list,” Lunardelli said. “We had Ronda [Rousey] on there, we had Conor [McGregor] on there, we had Anthony [Pettis] on there, all those guys. [Weidman] was on the list, but he had another deal, we had to wait.
“We’ve been patiently waiting.”
For obvious reasons, being a UFC fighter sponsored by Reebok while the promotion in its entirety is sponsored by the same brand can be a confusing conversation to have. Every fighter walks into the cage wearing the same Reebok-branded shorts, bearing what unique markings shorts can offer in surnames and slight color variations. Weidman’s shorts, obviously, will be one of 10 (11 if you count interim champions like McGregor), fighters sporting the black and gold titleholder shorts. Still, aside from the special treatment, what makes Weidman any different from the other rostered fighters in the UFC?
Lunardelli answered that very question Monday (kind of). He said on The MMA Hour:
“We obviously have a UFC deal, with the entire organization and we signed that back in December. All 580 or so fighters, they’re wearing fight kits and they’re coming out with Reebok gear. We’ve got that covered. This is, we go out and we sign a few fighters to activate on the Reebok brand, our combat training business particularly.”
Weidman now joins Rousey, McGregor, VanZant, Anthony Pettis, Johny Hendricks, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and seven others as part of the Reebok team.
The sports apparel company was first announced as the UFC’s exclusive partner last December — six months before all fighters would be required to shed themselves of all personal sponsors for any official promotional appearances. Just like that, fighters all across the board saw their income dwindle as Reebok sponsorship payouts became a thing. Fighters like former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub said he went from making six figures in sponsor money to $10,000 under the new Reebok deal.
But Schaub was only one of many to voice concerns over the new pact. Names like Tim Kennedy, Jacob “Stitch” Duran and Joe Rogan were also concerned over what effect the move could have on the biggest promotion in the sport of MMA.
Now, as months of criticism have wore on, Lunardelli says the company seeing a shifting of the tide. The media, the fans and fighters are all starting to understand the bigger picture, the Reebok representative said.
Weidman takes his Reebok sponsorship into the cage on Dec. 12 at UFC 194, facing former Strikeforce middleweight champion and top contender Rockhold, who just so happens to have a sponsorship of his own from Reebok parent company Adidas.
Weidman vs. Rockhold, west coast vs. east coast, UFC vs. Strikeforce, Reebok vs. Adidas; take your pick, all of these matchups are pretty enticing.