Image via LyraMag
There’s a pattern to the way that most famous relationships fall apart. Someone shows up somewhere without someone else, or stops wearing their ring. People start speculating about what’s wrong and when the official breakup announcement will finally drop. The people in the relationship and those around them make a bunch of noncommittal statements on the matter. More speculation. Then, finally, someone officially confirms that it’s all over. People speculate/mourn/experience great schadenfreude.
This is almost exactly how the destruction of the monetary love affair between Nike and Jon “Bones” Jones went down.
In April of this year, Jones fought at UFC 172 without a visible swoosh anywhere on his gear. This was the first time that the champ hadn’t visibly displayed Nike’s iconic logo since inking what was supposed to be a multi-year international endorsement deal with the company in the summer of 2012. Fans and pundits started speculating about the cause of this sartorial statement: The looming prospect of a UFC uniform was making Nike nervous, and they wanted out before they could no longer clothe Jones during competition! Nike refused to pay that UFC’s $100,000 sponsorship tax!
Then Dana White obliquely commented on the situation:
“I honestly don’t know the answer to that,” White told reporters who questioned the swoosh’s absence during the fight. “Did Jon have Nike on [against Teixeira]? Then I guess not. Then it must be a no.”
He went on to laugh at the notion that a giant corporation like Nike would refuse to pay a sponsorship tax.
Earlier this week, Jones finally confirmed the split via a tweet:
And a video on Instagram (which he has since taken down):
Jones blames the loss of his six-figure deal with Nike on his brawl with Daniel Cormier at the UFC 178 media day in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. A surprising number of commenters on every story on the subject and Reddit seem convinced that The Brawl was just an easy excuse to drop an athlete who maybe wasn’t making them as much money as they expected.
I’m one of the people who suspect that this had a lot more to do with the disturbing and seriously fucking unnecessary material of Jones’ post-brawl interviews with Cormier, like the UFC 178 fan Q&A and the infamous “Hey pussy, are you still there?” exchange. Sponsoring someone who tries to reenact a segment of Piper’s Pit in the lobby of the MGM Grand doesn’t look great for Nike, but plenty of high profile pro athletes have done dumb things in public before and maintained their sponsorship deals. In a world where major sports leagues and corporations are finally starting to address domestic violence though, Jones’ behavior could be seen as a liability. In the past few weeks, Nike has terminated their deals with Ray Rice and Oscar Pistorius and suspended their contract with Adrian Peterson. In light of that stance, they can’t exactly keep a guy who says things like “I’m going to make you my wife. You’re going to be Mrs. Jones for the night” and “I will literally kill you” on the payroll.
And with that speculation out of the way, it’s time to mourn. Not for Jones. The UFC’s answer to Anakin Skywalker made his own bed here and, like any spurned partner, he’s publicly doing just fine without them, anyway. But we can be sad for MMA in general. While fighters like Anderson Silva and Yoshihiro Akiyama have had regional deals with Nike for years, Jones’ contract was the sport’s first global sponsorship from the company. That deal was a symbol of MMA’s growing audience and burgeoning mainstream acceptance. To see it terminated under these circumstances is a loss for MMA as a whole.
It’s also a loss for the athletic clothing market, because Jones’ signature line was actually kind of impressive. There were some misfires among the bunch, like the garishly gold-foiled “Bones Owns” t-shirt that looked like a boorish attempt to crawl back to the skulls-and-chains-and-shiny-things MMA shirt esthetic that Nike had so beautifully eschewed with most of its other Jones-branded shirts. But, for the most part, it was one of the best MMA-related lines out there. Let’s take a moment to pour one out for some of its highlights:
Nike Pro Combat Hypercool 2.0 Power Compression Shorts
These shorts are technically part of the Jones line, but not officially branded as such, so they’ll probably survive the split, but I’d still like to take a moment to give them props. With all due respect to Georges St. Pierre and his Under Armour deal, Nike had the best MMA-sponsored compression wear on the market. While I find that both offer similar levels of compression, Nike’s current fabrics feel way better against the skin.
Free Trainer 5.0 ‘Team Jones’
Jones was joking when he mourned his shoe in his Instagram video, but I’m serious: The Team Jones shoe was a tiny spark of marketing genius. When they signed Jones, Nike, a brand that makes most of its sales through shoes, found themselves in the unique position of designing a line of gear for an athlete who competes barefoot. Instead of accepting defeat, Nike went ahead and made a Jones shoe, anyway, and focused all of the marketing around the product on the pre-fight training that Jones could do in those attractive new cross-trainers.
UFC 159 Walkout Shirt
This shirt is the perfect compromise between the early days of MMA shirt design and Nike’s more minimalist esthetic. The lines are crisp, the shirt is uncluttered, but there are still plenty of bones involved. This was the design that made me believe in Nike as an MMA brand contender.
The “Bones Knows” T-Shirt
This is easily the best t-shirt in the “Knows” line since the original.
The original “Bo Knows” campaign, which ran in 1989 and 1990, made sense because Bo Jackson was a multi-sport athlete, and the things he knew were actually concrete sports that he competed in, a la “Bo Knows Baseball” and “Bo Knows Football.” Since 1990, the “Knows” shirts have become increasingly abstract and sometimes just downright silly:
But at least “Bones Knows” is a pun of sorts on “Bo Knows,” which makes it a clever slogan that references a genuine moment in sports culture, as opposed to something Tom Cruise might say when he’s breaking up with someone.
I have this theory about Jones’ Nike shorts that I pretend is a joke but I actually genuinely believe: They were specifically designed to move with him in a way that makes his lower body offense look more obvious and impressive to judges that might not be entirely educated in MMA just yet. I mean, every kick he threw in those high-slit shorts, whether it connected or not, made him look like a real life superhero, or like the perfect embodiment of the movement-celebrating logo that proudly adorned his ass.
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