Very few professional MMA fighters make professional-athlete money, at least not the kind of mansions-and-Maybachs money we've come to expect our professional athletes to make. The sport still resides on the edges of the mainstream, and paychecks are determined largely by unpredictable performance, so fighters are forced to make ends meet through endorsement deals, covering what little clothing they wear into the cage with logos, ranging from the heights of Nike to the less-than-heights of Condom Depot. Perhaps the most famous of these logos is that of extreme-sports lifestyle brand Bad Boy, which got its start in MMA back during the sport's rough-and-tumble infancy, when legendary tough guys like Rickson Gracie and Wailid Ismail were splitting their time between introducing regulations and legitimacy to no-holds-barred fighting and getting into completely unregulated, illegitimate fights on the street. We spoke to Bad Boy CEO Robin Offner to find out how a company specializing in clothing for skaters and surfers got involved with an outlaw sport and ended up sponsoring UFC superstars like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Wanderlei Silva.
Fightland: How did Bad Boy get involved in the early, lawless-frontier days of MMA?
Robin Offner: We got into MMA in the early 90s. At the time we were just really an extreme sports lifestyle brand -- surfing, skating – we were sponsoring these underground edgy sports, and we had this guy licensing our product in Brazil named Marco Merhej and he’s the one who got us into MMA and jiu-jitsu. And his first sponsorship was Rickson Gracie in ‘92 or ‘93.
You know, while the Bad Boy brand existed, it emanated from Marco’s personality, who’s still a licensee -- he’s been one for 20 years now -- this was some extreme sports guy in Brazil and was cutting it as a tight surfer and other types of extreme sports and he was doing jiu-jitsu, and he knew Rickson Gracie so he started getting these fighters to wear Bad Boy.
What was his story — he was just a guy down there that you happened to do business with?
Back then, he was a reasonably young guy, 30 years old, and he started getting into the clothing business and he saw the Bad Boy brand, so he flew up to the United States and asked for a license. We weren’t a licensing company back then; we were just a vertical manufacturing company. But we thought, “Okay, why not? What do we have to lose? We’re not doing anything in Brazil.” So we gave him a license to sell Bad Boy and we told him to bring this stuff down from the warehouse, and the brand just took off. And he was just going around grassroots giving it to all the extreme people. He had property on a beach right outside of São Paulo called Maresias. This was one of the hotter areas for surfing and he just started giving products to people, throwing parties, giving it to the special force police officers, surfers, fighters, everybody that he could see. And he was just doing it himself.
Wait, he was giving it to the special forces guys as well?
Yeah, it was very common for the police officers to come by his offices in São Paolo and pick up some stuff. So we made their boots for a while.
Really? The guys that would raid the favelas?
It seems like such a different thing than what would go on here, that you would have police officers go around, especially a special forces SWAT team, going around in extreme brands. Is it something about Brazil, or is it something about you guys? How did that happen?
It really began with a combination of the brand being a cool extreme sports brand and the relationship between Marco and the police and the athletes. It was very much an organic lifestyle and community. And it’s always been that way. There were the fighters and the police officers; it wasn’t just that they wanted products -- they were part of the Bad Boy community in Brazil.
So they would storm a drug dealer’s house and they’d be wearing branded uniforms?
No, they weren’t wearing branded stuff. What we made for a while were the boots, where they’d come and they’d get the equipment. It wasn’t like they would go into the favelas and be Bad Boy branded.
So you might’ve made the products but there was no logo on the products.
No, it had a Bad Boy logo on it but it wasn’t heavily branded. It wasn’t a branded exercise.
It was just a community?
It was just a community.
One of our sponsored fighters is Paulo Thiago, who, in addition to being an MMA fighter, is in the Brazilian special forces. One of the reasons why he’s with us is because it’s such a good fit. And his manager is Wallid Ismail. He was a fighter, one of our fighters, and he really was instrumental in the transition between MMA being a brawling sport to an organized sport. He’s been at Bad Boy forever.
Wallid is fascinating. He was a thug; he was just a guy who was going around getting in street fights, in the rioting types of street fights, the middle-of-the-mall type of stuff. He was very tight with Bad Boy and then as it became more organized, he became an organized fighter and now he’s a business guy. He owns Jungle Fight, which is a big league in Brazil that grows a lot of the fighters who go on to be in the UFC, so he’s really a business man now. He really epitomized the transformation of the street fight sports into an organized actual business.
Bad Boy was very involved in organizing the tournaments and making it more legitimate. Whereas it was just a bunch of fun in favelas before, it became an organized disciplined sport, and in order to do that you needed infrastructure. And Bad Boy provided that infrastructure for a lot of the athletes. We’d sponsor tournaments, we’d give them direction, some of them we’d give money to. They had to become legitimate. Wallid credits Bad Boy for legitimizing the sport itself.
Is it true that the eyes in your logo are Glenn Danzig’s eyes?
That's just a rumor?
It’s a rumor I haven’t even heard.
Really? That’s funny because that’s the first thing someone asked me when I said I’d be talking to you was “You’ve gotta ask them if those are Danzig’s eyes!”
No, that’s totally not true.
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