UFC 181 Preview: ‘Renaissance Man’ vs ‘Reebok Man’
UFC 181 has thrown-up some interesting side issues with the announcement of Reebok and the UFC partnering together in a sponsorship deal estimated to be worth 70 million dollars over 6 years. Reebok poster-boy Johny Hendricks will attempt to defend his welterweight belt for the fist time on Dec. 6th, with the added weight of the controversy surrounding the uniform deal. His opponent Robbie Lawler could cap a remarkable career renaissance with a win over Hendricks, in a rematch from UFC 171.
In 2013 Robbie Lawler returned to the UFC, turning a corner in a career that started in 2001 and there was genuine anticipation at what his second run in the UFC could bring. Now at 24-10-1 Lawlor’s recent career resurgence (5-1) led Ariel Heliwani, amongst others, to refer him as the ‘Renaissance Man’ of MMA. In the post fight interview at UFC 167, after defeating rising star Rory MacDonald, Lawler was definitive
I knock people out…I am coming for the title, its what I have been training my whole life for.
It’s a journey from ‘Ruthless’ upstart who has learnt the necessary mental and physical tools to be on the cusp of capping a vintage career at UFC 181. Still only 32, Robbie is a man who plys his trade as a pugilist/anti-wresler and he seems pretty far from the 20 year old who made his UFC debut at UFC 37. He was immediately identified as a prospect and entertaining brawler. The former Miletich fighter has improved vastly rounding out his game and his boxing is rated amongst the best in the UFC. At welterweight he has not been manhandled by wrestling based game-plans, though Hendricks is set to test his anti-wrestling credentials this Saturday.
Their first encounter in 2013 was significant for a number of reasons. It was a milestone of the post-GSP era, for the vacant welterweight title. A desperate Hendricks aggrivated a bicep injury in the first round and both sat in the pocket and traded significant strikes in a see-sawing 5 round war. Both men landed over 150 significant strikes, attesting to the close and brutal nature of the Fight of the Night bout. In the descisive 5th round Hendricks landed multiple strikes and took Robbie down, stealing the victory that had eluded him at UFC 167 against GSP.
Hendricks is healed after a force lay-off due to surgery to fix the bicep injury and is set to utilise a more wrestling based game-plan. The two time NCAA Division 1 champion has found success with mixing up takedowns and strikes enroute to a 16-2 record. Hendricks has more ways to win the fight undoubtedly, either by knockout or decision, he should be able trouble Lawler with the threat of the takedown, but the pressure on the champ will be at a new level and Lawler may be the more hungry fighter.
The Reebok deal with the UFC is another factor that increases the pressure on the champ, as the first athlete sponsored by Reebok, Hendricks will be representing the future of UFC apparel for the next 6 years. A deal with Reebok was announced on Dec. 2nd, with some details, however the attempt by Lorenzo and Co to clean up the image by having a uniform approach definitely has alienated some in the MMA business.
The far reaching effects include no more in Octagon sponsorship deals, removal of fight banners and sponsorship money paid to fighters for wearing the required Reebok product, with some imput into design and national colors etc. Its a massive change from the deals currently in place and fighters will transition in July 2015. Hendricks might as well be ‘Reebok Man’ because the pressure is on as a brand representive to perform. Alongside Anthoy Pettis, who also has been seen sporting the Reebok brand.
Hendricks first defeat of Lawler was no doubt helpful in solidifying the relationship between the UFC and Reebok, having a champion on their books may have been the encouragement they needed to enact this sponsorship deal that is seen as part of the mission to save Reebok according to Forbes Magazine
For some time it has appeared that Reebok was a dying brand inching closer and closer to its eventual demise. Similarly, after a couple of very rough rounds on Saturday night, it looked like Hendricks was headed to defeat. However, before the 5th round came to a close, Hendricks was back in control and able to turn around what minutes prior had seemed to be a sure victory for Lawler. Reebok is trying to make a comparable move — come back from near obscurity through a major branding overall and partnering with the right people. The Hendricks/Reebok partnership seems to be working quite well in the early stages of the project.
For ‘Reebok Man’ vs ‘Renaissance Man’ tune into UFC 181 PPV, co-headlined by a lightweight title fight between champion Anthony Pettis and challenger Gilbert Melendez.