Fairtex – Spirit of Innovation
Just under twenty years ago when I first became interested in mixed martial arts I travelled the country with a small team going to early UK events such as Ultimate Combat, Cage Warriors (2!) and Extreme Brawl. For those of you who don’t remember this period it will be hard to convey how rare and new Mixed Martial Arts was in the UK. Between MMA practitioners Video copies of the UFC and Pride events were distributed in a manner almost like XXX movies between teenagers, names such as Pat Miletich, Sakuraba, Frank Shamrock, Vitor Belfort and Rickson Gracie were shaping up the be the MMA legends of tomorrow and for those in the “know” MMA was the new religion.
One of the things that set MMA apart from other combat sports both at the time and now to some degree was the fashion industry that came with it in a similar way to that of other extreme sports. Some of the fighters wore tee shirts, hoodies and beanies from Brazilian Vale Tudo brands such as Hunter, HDB, Vitamins and Minerals and the original
Brazilian Badboy bought in the main on the internet directly from Brazil. This really did set MMA apart from boxing or other combat sports, it wasn’t just a sport it was a sub culture just like skateboarding or surfing.
At that time there wasn’t much specific MMA equipment available; if you wanted a rashguard or pair of board shorts it was common place to wear surf brands such as Quiksilver or if you were really cool a Brazilian surf brand like Cyclone! The odd pair of Tapout shorts made it to the UK but they were rare. Across the pond the UFC had only recently formalised their use of the now famous 4oz Ouano MMA gloves (Ouano’s gloves were originally designed & made by an American BJJ gi manufacturer and enthusiast John Ouano who was introduced to UFC president Dana White by UFC referee John McCarthy) but the scene was now set for the birth of an industry, The MMA equipment Industry.
A year or so later whilst training in a Muay Thai gym in Newcastle one of the lads brought in a black and white pair of Fairtex competition gloves. As a brand of course Fairtex were well known in Muay Thai clubs but this was MMA, a new frontier.
The Fairtex NHB glove quickly became the industry standard across the scene due to its construction quality and stylish design certainly out stripping the UFC endorsed Ouano glove which were extremely rare in the UK, MMA shows all over the world made the Fairtex glove
their official competition glove and the Fairtex name soon became synonymous thereafter with MMA fighters across the world, a quick delve into the history of the company and it becomes less surprising that this is the case.
Believe it or not the name “Fairtex” was registered as a trade mark in 1958 and during the 1970’s was the biggest brand in Thailand supplying branded T shirts to Thai department stores. It was not until 1975 that Fairtex started its involvement with Muay Thai by its founder Philip Wong setting up its first Muay Thai Camp as a social enterprise to help disadvantaged Thai youngsters steer themselves away from drug abuse and self destruction however Fairtex didn’t actually become involved in producing Muay Thai Equipment until the early 1990’s.
In 1993 after opening its first USA Muay Thai camp in Arizona Fairtex started to design Muay Thai equipment due to the lack of quality training equipment available for the sport and safety concerns expressed about the Muay Thai sport as a whole in the USA, subsequently Fairtex became Fairtex Gear Inc. The company used its already skilled workforce and its founder Philip Wong’s extensive knowledge and indeed love of the sport to start designing innovative and quality equipment for use in the Muay Thai sport. It was six years later when Fairtex entered the sport of Mixed Martial Arts by endorsing one of its true legends and innovators Pat Miletich whose camp produced MMA legends such as Jeremy Horn & Matt Hughes.
It has to be said that Fairtex is a rarity in the fact that their business developed into what we know it as today as result of them already being involved in the actual sport rather than seeing a market opportunity and basing their business on it moving from being essentially a general fashion brand to becoming one of the world’s most innovative combat sports equipment brands. How many of today’s MMA brands can boast 25 years of experience in a sport before they actually started producing equipment for it? Since 1975 Fairtex has been actively involved in the training (with several Muay Thai/MMA camps world camps worldwide) management and promotion of Muay Thai fighters, Boxers and MMA athletes. However unknown to many Fairtex didn’t start making actual Martial Arts Training Gear until 1993!
So to bring this back to present day where do Fairtex stand as so many new MMA brands rise from the growing popularity of the sport? Well the FGV12 “Ultimate Combat” glove, the updated version of the aforementioned NHB glove is still pretty much the standard in MMA competition gloves, copied by most the other MMA brands but amid the fanfares and claims from many of those companies they cannot boast the sheer pedigree of the Fairtex glove. This is pretty much borne out by it being the glove of nearly every major MMA event in the world other than the UFC; Strikeforce, WEC, EliteXC, IFL, Bodog to name but a few. In 2008 MMA fans from around the world voted this the world’s best MMA glove in a popular magazine poll.
Brands such as Hayabusa
and Venum have risen seemingly out of no where to emerge as “leading” MMA brands by some very smart marketing and sponsorship of both the UFC and of some top MMA athletes however I was interested to note that during the Ultimate Fighter shows where almost all the equipment and clothing is “UFC” or “Tapout” branded that the only non associated brand to regularly make it into the Ultimate fighter gym is indeed Fairtex!
To add to this case history Fairtex also brought out the first popular 6oz MMA sparring glove and like the FGV12 was widely copied by every other glove manufacturer however again it would be fair to say no one has really ever equalled it in terms of its build quality, construction and worldwide popularity. Construction quality is beginning to become more and more of an issue as the rise of MMA means more and more companies are entering the market. Many of today’s MMA gloves are not 100% leather (even if they may appear to be) and as any producer of leather goods will tell you there are many different grades of leather so the “100%” tag can be very misleading, the main advantage of good quality leather is long term durability, I have pairs of both MMA & Boxing gloves that I have used daily for nearly ten years which compared to many of today’s weaker, cheaply made imitations is a lifetime. Thai companies on the whole produce excellent leather based goods generally due to the fact they have such extensive experience of it whilst most the other newer MMA manufacturers produce their actual equipment in China or Pakistan. I wrote on a recent blog post about Muay Thai equipment that if you are buying boxing gloves or Thai pads then generally speaking I’d buy Thai (with the odd exception such as REVGEAR) made ones simply because they have the experience in producing this style of equipment and have an understanding of its intended purpose. Muay Thai Kick Pads are a great example of this as they are extensively used in MMA training as most of the strikes in Muay Thai are also applicable in MMA. Some of the MMA brands are now producing these pads however you can really tell the difference in build and design quality of the Thai made brands, however good the marketing is!
Taking the extensive knowledge of combat sports built over a long period of time and putting this into the design and build of your products, injecting a skilled, knowledgeable alongside access to quality materials inevitably makes a huge difference to the finished article; comparing the Fairtex MMA shin pads to many of its rival brands on close inspection really will show this up (try it!!) In short pedigree counts; I always like to make an analogy with the car manufacturer Skoda on this point. In the 90’s Skoda were seen as a lousy cheap car; jokes like “what do you call a skoda at the top of a hill?” Answer “a miracle” were common place. Then Volkswagen bought Skoda. Prior to this Skoda had factories and engineers what they didn’t have was genuine expertise and pedigree. VW brought this in abundance to the Skoda design and production techniques and now the Skoda is seen rightly as a quality motor car.
All in all then shall we pose the question are Fairtex still the best in MMA?
Well I can’t say that as a statement as there are a notable few other genuinely good manufacturers producing quality equipment out there but there are few with as much genuine knowledge, experience and pedigree within the sport as Fairtex.
At Fightstorepro we pretty much narrowed the field to Thai based Fairtex, American brand Revgear
and a few individual product entries from Canadian Hayabusa. What sets these brands apart is quality over price concerns, real product development, genuine
endorsement by many top fighters (who could use anything they want but choose to use these brands for the benefits it gives to their training rather than their bank balance) innovation in their product lines over time and thier long term commitment to the sport as opposed to the brand wagon jumping seen by many boxing, fashion and sports brands who simply saw an opportunity. When Fashion brands start making equipment you know they're in trouble!
Witht the recent deal with top UK promotion Cagewarriors Fairtex remain a solid figure in Mixed Martial Arts and although often thought of as a Thai brand they made MMA Gear from day 1 of their equipment production in 1993, as the strap line says “BE INSPIRED”