Without saying “told you so!” – if you thought the debate over the controversial uniform deal between the UFC and Reebok was going away any time soon, think again: after a disastrous unveiling that included multiple, sometimes comical, spelling errors (anyone want a Giblert Melendez jersey?) and uniforms that were completely uninspired and anything but unique and representative of the fighters sporting them, the situation went from bad to worse with the dismissal of the first UFC employee related to the spat: cutman Stitch Duran, a legend in the combat sports realm for his ability to work wonders between rounds on open wounds suffered by fighters.

A longtime stalwart of UFC fights, Duran spoke out — rather tamely — about the uniform deal days back to Bloody Elbow, noting that cutmen had apparently not been taken into consideration when the deal was done. Or, well, they had — but their financial considerations dismissed.

See, while they make up a small group, they are in the octagon during basically all fights, and previously, Duran had been able to wear his own sponsors on his vest. With the Reebok deal in place, he was no longer able to do so, yet received no compensation for the change. It was an issue he brought to the promotion a year earlier, when the deal was announced. The UFC, apparently, took a hardline stance: there would be no compensation for Duran or the other cutmen. He’d be sporting a generic vest, lose out on what was previously, for him, a monthly sponsorship, and like it or lump it.

When Duran aired his concerns to Bloody Elbow, he did so in a much more respectful way than Brendan Schaub, Jose Aldo, or many other UFC stars impacted by the Reebok deal. Yet Duran, while the best in the business, is not a public face of the company. If you’re not a hardcore combat sports fan, you probably don’t realize he’s there. Oh, casual fans might recognize his face if it were pointed out, but they’d probably struggle to explain what exactly his job function in the company was. So when his comments in the interview were latched onto by the large segment of the fanbase who feel that fighters are getting a raw deal with the Reebok partnership, the UFC reacted swiftly, harshly, and in petty fashion: they fired him. No more would the best in the business be working the corners at UFC events.

For Duran, he’ll have no problem finding work elsewhere, in promotions like the WSOF (where he already has bookings), pro boxing (where he worked anyway), and no doubt Bellator MMA (another win for them in this deal) and other promotions. The UFC’s loss — which is a bigger loss to its fighters — is the competition’s gain.

That’s just one example of how short-sighted the move is. Petty, you bet. Why not give the man a warning, when other employees, albeit fighters, have said far worse? Brendan Schaub claimed to be losing $100,000 a fight after all.

Yet it gets worse. Dana White’s handling of the backlash on Twitter became little more than a name-calling competition between a schoolyard bully and his detractors, and was a particular low even for a UFC President known for speaking off the cuff on social media. White essentially took to calling those complaining fat losers, which would seem rather ill-conceived since some of his own fighters have shown support for Duran.

Worse, the backlash hit Reebok hard enough for them to release a statement on the matter.

Nearly 500 people retweeted and commented on the post. Almost none were positive. Given the atrocious designs and botched roll out of the product, Reebok’s “focus on providing the best gear” for fighters and fans was only too easy to question.

At least, however, the apparel company did a better job at coping with the criticism of Duran’s dismissal than the UFC themselves. And while White, Lorenzo Fertitta, and the rest of the office are justified in finding fault with an employee taking this sort of beef public, it’s simply how things are done in the sports world. Apparently, while aspiring to be like the NFL, NHL, and their ilk, they missed the memo on that aspect of the business. Duran is, perhaps, the first celebrity cutman — he has a successful book, and is appearing in the upcoming Rocky spin-off Creed — within the fight world itself, which makes him perhaps the only cutman to have this sort of public outlet, but long have the contracted ranks of the fight world discussed the ups and downs of the business in public. Making Duran the example in this case was just silly on the UFC’s part. You can probably count on your hands the number of fighters who have had great things to say about Reebok so far, and most of those have been signed to direct contracts with the promotion, and aren’t left fighting for the scraps of the main deal. By cutting Duran, they may have won a small battle, but it’s another step closer to defeat in the overall war.

Still worse for the UFC is that this isn’t about to go away any time soon. We’re less than a month into the deal, and already, it feels like a sinking ship. One has to wonder what the bailout point is. Does Reebok have an out in this case? Does the UFC? Given the UFC’s handling of the Duran situation and White’s public tirade, could Reebok claim the deal is damaging to their image?

All that comes down to what’s in the agreement between the two, but to be frank, this has been anything but a happy relationship thus far. The deal didn’t even seem to get a honeymoon period. Fighters not consulted, cutmen not taken into consideration, simple research and due diligence on the roster/fighter names not done, simple proof-reading mistakes not caught when the official roll out happened… even the backdrop on the product launch featuring the new uniforms was misspelled: “flexibilty” instead of “flexibility.”

Reebok, of course, was quick to point out that many of the mistakes were online only, and that their merchandise was print-on-demand, apparently ignorant to the fact that this defense was damning: for a company that claimed fighter uniforms would have some sort of unique feel and tie to individual fighters, it was admitting that there was nothing unique or distinctive about their UFC line. It was paint by numbers on bad soccer jerseys.

It’s hard to say who has been hurt more thus far in the UFC’s uniform age: the promotion itself, or Reebok, who probably didn’t fully appreciate the business they were getting into. Yet the biggest losers of all continue to be the fighters, who have now lost not only money in some cases, but a great cut man, all because of the promotion acting in a reactive, short-sighted fashion rather than working to smooth over and work through the growing pains that come with a major shift in how the company is run.

The debate is far from over, but it may in fact be the firing of Stitch Duran that breaks the camel’s back in this case.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.