Very few professional MMA fighters make professional-athlete money—at least not the kind of mansions-and-Maybachs cash we've come to expect our professional athletes to stack. The sport still resides on the edges of the mainstream, and paychecks are determined largely by unpredictable performance, so fighters are forced to make ends meet through endorsement deals, covering what little clothing they wear into the cage with logos. Perhaps the most famous of these logos is that of extreme-sports lifestyle brand Bad Boy, which got its start in MMA back during the sport's rough-and-tumble infancy, when legendary tough guys like Rickson Gracie and Wailid Ismail were splitting their time between introducing regulations and legitimacy to no-holds-barred fighting and getting into completely unregulated, illegitimate fights on the street. We spoke to Bad Boy CEO Robin Offner to find out how a company specializing in clothing for skaters and surfers got involved with an outlaw sport and ended up sponsoring UFC superstars like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Wanderlei Silva.
Fightland: How did Bad Boy get involved in the early, lawless-frontier days of MMA?
Robin Offner: We got into MMA in the early 90s. At the time we were just really an extreme sports lifestyle brand—surfing, skating. We were sponsoring these underground edgy sports, and we had this guy licensing our product in Brazil named Marco Merhej. He’s the one who got us into MMA and jiu-jitsu. And his first sponsorship was Rickson Gracie in ‘92 or ‘93.
While the Bad Boy brand existed, it emanated from Marco’s personality, who’s still a licensee—he’s been one for 20 years now. He was some extreme sports guy in Brazil and was cutting it as a tight surfer and he was doing jiu-jitsu, and he knew Rickson Gracie so he started getting these fighters to wear Bad Boy.
What was his story—he was just a guy down there that you happened to do business with?
Back then, he was a reasonably young guy, 30 years old, and he started getting into the clothing business. He saw the Bad Boy brand, so he flew up to the United States and asked for a license. We weren’t a licensing company back then, we were just a vertical manufacturing company. But we thought, “OK, why not? What do we have to lose? We’re not doing anything in Brazil.” So we gave him a license to sell Bad Boy and we told him to bring this stuff down from the warehouse, and the brand just took off. And he was just going around grassroots giving it to all the extreme people. He had property on a beach right outside of São Paulo called Maresias. This was one of the hotter areas for surfing and he just started giving products to people, throwing parties, giving it to the special force police officers, surfers, fighters, everybody that he could see. And he was just doing it himself.
Wait, he was giving it to the special forces guys as well?
Yeah, it was very common for the police officers to come by his offices in São Paolo and pick up some stuff. So we made their boots for a while.
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