Old School MMA - Where have the brands gone?
Old School MMAWith every kid on the block pretending to be a "Cage Fighter", Conor McGregor being on the Forbes list and high street chains selling "home use" MMA equipment to gym goers alongside once street cool brands to customers whose only six pack is in the fridge, its hard to believe that just under twenty years ago, here in the UK there were only a handful of MMA fighters and practitioners in the UK. The first ever UFC was in 1993, videos of early mixed martial arts events were still very much underground. Even as late as 2004 MMA guys would pass each other copied DVD's almost like teenage boys passing each other XXX movies. In the early 2000's live events in the UK were still relatively hard to find with the same 12 or so teams showing up to them all. I was in one of them. Mixed Martial Arts was a very new sport but it did have another new aspect, certainly new within combat sports which was its fashion aspect. Following on from the Extreme Sports phenomena which mixed sport, fashion and music into one definite sub culture, MMA picked up on this movement and loosely followed that path. Certainly cooler than Judo or Karate, slicker than boxing or wrestling and just sexier than kick boxing or Muay Thai, MMA managed to build its own distinct subculture and a just over decade later looks to now make it to the mainstream but perhaps lose some of its street cool. Back in 2001 - 2004 there were a few brands creeping into the early MMA events that brought colour and a feel to the dressing rooms and rules meetings. Names like Hunter, Gameness, Vitamins & minerals, HDB, Red Nose and Bad Boy adorned the hoodies, MMA shorts, Beanies and T shirts of the fighters and corner men in those early events. They trickled into the UK through the infant internet, think that search engine giant Google was only 3 years old in 2001!!! So where are they now? It's crazy to look at a typical web search result for say MMA Shorts.... See how many results come up and how many different brands are now involved, from genuine MMA brands such as Hayabusa or Venum through to sportswear brands such as Adidas that have jumped on the MMA band wagon or the multitude of white label brands which flood Ebay. Most of the old brands such as Tapout are almost all now reproductions of the originals although some have managed to retain their original cool, very few have managed to keep their genuine heritage. Maybe an example was Badboy, Originally a Brazilian Moto X copy of No Fear, Badboy had a meteoric rise in the UK in 2010 to 2015 but have all but disappeared since the collapse of their deal a couple of years ago. By the time of their peak, Badboy had lost all of the real raw street cool they once had as an underground Brazilian brand. With a flood of poor quality equipment and with any kid lifting weights wearing it perhaps it was better it faded out however it certainly left a mark on MMA History's books. For the other Brazilian brands; I have not seen Hunter for at least 12 years, Vitamins and Minerals seem to still be around in a somewhat rare capacity although mainly confined to what may well be licensed Tee shirts. I saw Red Nose in a sports shop in Rio De Janiero back in 2009 but there were many reproductions in Brazil too maybe trying to ignite former glory days. The BJJ brands such as Keiko Raca are still around but as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu split as a sport away from MMA certainly in the USA and Europe then the natural place for Keiko was alongside the more successful Koral and Atama. MMA has entered the mainstream and maybe the days of the street cool, old School MMA brands are now gone with the UFC covered in uniformity sponsored by Reebok, and the only place to get a true taste of the old days maybe Bellator or ONE FC but as the sport matures perhaps we'll see long-standing quality manufacturers such as Hayabusa, Revgear and Fairtex be held with the reverence in MMA that Adidas and Everlast have within boxing.
- Alex Wright