In Defense of Uniforms in the Octagon

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro


The dialogue regarding uniforms in the UFC is heating up, and all I can think about is Dennis Hallman sporting that eyesore of a mankini at UFC 133.

Ever since the UFC’s alleged uniform mock-ups leaked earlier this year, there has been a contentious debate about fighting attire in mixed martial arts. But after witnessing Hallman’s tasteless wardrobe choice back in 2011, along with the logo “Dude Wipes” emblazoned on Tyron Woodley and Matt Brown’s rear ends, it has become clear that implementing uniforms inside the Octagon may not be such a bad thing.

Professional athletes have been donning matching threads for over 160 years, with the New York Knickerbockers (the early baseball team, not the basketball franchise pillaged by James Dolan for the last 15 years) credited as the first team to sport jerseys. And in the century and a half that has since passed, uniforms have become synonymous with sports and athletes, replica items offering fans increased opportunities to support their favorite players.

Remember those LeBron James jerseys everyone in Cleveland burned a few years ago? Now imagine your very own chance to burn some Jon Jones shorts and pick up a brand spanking new pair of Daniel Cormier spandex trunks.

Well, maybe leave the fires to the NBA fans, but the concept behind uniforms in the UFC brings the fight experience closer to MMA’s core audience, much like thousands of New York Yankees fans regularly sport the pinstripes at home games and Dallas Cowboys supporters rock the Lone Star emblem (for the record, I loathe both of these teams).

Dennis Hallman and his minimalist fighting trunks.

Obviously, there is a glaring difference between mixed martial arts and team sports like basketball, baseball, football, and hockey, where sides need to wear uniforms to differentiate from opponents. But consider how much easier it will be for first time MMA viewers to understand the action if they can see the name “Weidman” on Chris’ butt when he puts Vitor Belfort on his back in December, and spends an extended amount of time inside the closed guard.

Still, fighters and fans alike have voiced their concerns and apprehensions toward the new uniform proposal, preferring a system like professional golf and tennis, where athletes are allowed to choose their own outfits and sell the rights to sneakers, polo shirts, caps, shoes, and even watches to the highest bidder.

But can you imagine, even for a second, that the UFC wouldn’t have already considered this lucrative sponsorship angle when designing their unis? It’s not as if the new Octagon uniforms will be made by some low level clothing brand, or even an MMA apparel brand, as was done for years on The Ultimate Fighter.

It’s quite apparent that if the UFC ever implements a standard octagon dress code, those shorts will be made by Nike, or Reebok, or Under Armour, or some other major sports apparel company that can help mixed martial arts reach a larger audience with increased marketing opportunities, allowing for additional sponsorship deals for champions and coveted stars. And, certainly, that level of clothing manufacturer can design a variety of board shorts, spandex trunks, Thai shorts, and any number of models to account for fighters’ preferences, so we won’t be forced to watch Roy Nelson sporting Red Nose across his junk, or any one of the dozens of fighters now repping Dynamic Fastener.

There is also another angle to the whole uniform discussion that many people have yet to consider, and this relates directly to fans of Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, and Yushin Okami, high caliber fighters who were all cut by the UFC.

Imagine if fans had a voice in the promotion’s sign and cut policy? Imagine if you could talk with your wallet and purchase some Okami shorts? Would the promotion be as likely to cut an athlete who sells merchandise? Probably not. And in this respect, the Octagon dress code offers fans a direct channel to the promotional office, letting the company brass know whom they support, and whom they don’t.

Of course, critics of the proposed Octagon uniforms may not actually come from a martial arts background, where traditional dress has always been a part of jiu jitsu, judo, karate, and tae kwon do. Even capoeira has special pants and cords, and in the new dress code, the UFC could also implement some sort of ranking system that distinguishes high-level fighters from lesser competitors.

UFC first timers could be required to wear white trunks, and with each accumulated victory, they could earn a new color. Put title challengers in brown shorts, champions in black. And with each successful title defense, add a new stripe around the base of the left leg, although they eventually may have to invent a new color for Ronda Rousey by the time she’s finished.

This would be a clear way to distinguish if a fight features two competitors with equal experience. But I digress…

Uniforms in the UFC are still only rumored at this point, but with the topic gaining steam of late, the dress code seems to be inevitable. Many have thrown up a staunch dislike for the proposal, and to add an ironic twist into the discussion, the NBA is currently exploring ways to create space for corporate branding on its uniforms, much like English Premiere League soccer sells space on the front of its jerseys or UFC fighters slap patches on their shorts.

But don’t think that NBA players will soon have some gaudy, outlandish, or vibrantly colored sponsor logo across their chests. The league plans on implementing discreet and tasteful branding, something the UFC would also like to administer.

So next time you want to speak out against the proposed Octagon uniform policy, consider Dennis Hallman, envision his pale muscled body in a skimpy purple thong, and think of him throwing high kicks. Is that an image that will help to positively propel mixed martial arts into the mainstream? Probably not. In fact, that’s something no one ever wants to see, ever again, and UFC uniforms will spare millions of MMA fans around the world from similar travesties.


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