The UFC hosted an athlete retreat in Las Vegas last weekend, which more than half of its active roster chose to attend.
It was a unique event, at a unique time in the sport's history. Last year, longtime UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta sold the promotion for more than $4 billion to the entertainment agency WME-IMG. New ownership has been relatively silent since the purchase.
In addition to a tour of the UFC's new headquarters, the retreat included seminars led by representatives of some of the UFC's business partners. That included Reebok, the UFC's exclusive apparel provider through 2020.
Since it was signed in 2014, the Reebok deal has been a source of discontent for some fighters, as it drastically changed the flow of sponsorship dollars in the sport.
During one of the most discussed moments of the retreat, UFC fighter Kajan Johnson interrupted a Reebok seminar to confront its representative. UFC officials attempted to calm Johnson down, according to those familiar with the incident and the seminar was eventually dismissed early.
Longtime UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon attended the weekend retreat and shared his thoughts on a wide range of topics with ESPN.com.
ESPN.com: What were your general thoughts on the retreat? And what did you hope to get out of it going in?
Lauzon: I thought it was good. The speakers were good. The information was good. The performance institute the UFC built takes things to a whole new level. And it's free. The physical therapy stuff is free, food is free, shakes are free. They have a full cage on the top level with four cameras built in to review your sparring. I have every sparring session I've ever done in the last eight years, but it can be a pain to find someone to record it.
I'm really interested to have all the testing done they're capable of. I'm sure that when I deadlift, I do favor one leg over the other and that could lead to injury. There's a lot of stuff I can probably tweak. Obviously, it'd be ideal to have this all the time but even if I do it in Vegas any time I'm here, get a workout in, and see how I'm changing over time -- I'll get into that routine.
ESPN.com: What were your thoughts on what happened at the Reebok seminar?
Lauzon: I think I came into this retreat knowing more than the average fighter about the Reebok deal. I've been to their headquarters and I've had hours of conversation. I understand everyone wants more money. Kajan Johnson brought it up and he was sticking up for the fighters, but I think he went about it all wrong. He interrupted them, told them to shut up, called them liars -- that's not the way you go about that stuff.
I asked them later what happened afterwards and I'm thinking, 'Dude, you're gonna get fired.' And he said, 'No, they asked me to write down the issues I had and they would call me.' And to me, that's what you want to do. I think he could have accomplished that without making a scene. It did lead to a productive meeting with the UFC.
ESPN.com: What was productive about it? And what is the general level of unrest for fighters with that deal?
Lauzon: I feel like every time a fighter talks s--- about Reebok, they are shooting themselves in the foot. The UFC, right now, as far as I'm concerned, is toxic for any clothing sponsor because they've given $70 million for six years and I'm sure they haven't seen a good return on that. It's going to be difficult to begin with because the clothing is expensive -- but you also have people not wanting to buy it because 'Reebok is screwing the fighters.' That's what people are saying and that's not even the case.
Right now, if I'm Reebok, I wouldn't want to renew that agreement whatsoever. And if you're Nike or Under Armour, you see fighters unhappy with Reebok, you're gonna stay away, too. At that point, you're running into a situation where it's basically the UFC brand and nothing else and we, as fighters, get zero. Everybody should be pro-Reebok.
I understand some guys lost money, but posting angrily on Twitter is not going to change the fact the UFC signed this deal. That's not changing. I'm sympathetic to everyone involved. The UFC is not thrilled about the fighters being unhappy. I know Reebok is not thrilled. We're all kind of stuck in this together and we've got to make the best out of it. The best thing to do is be proactive and positive about Reebok.
ESPN.com: Based on how many fights you have with the UFC, you make $20,000 per fight now. How does that differ from before the Reebok deal.
Lauzon: For the eight fights I had prior to the deal, which is what I had data for, I was averaging $24,000 per fight. Some people look at that and say, 'So, you lost $4,000 per fight.' No, because I had to pay an agent to chase down sponsor deals before. And sponsor deals often come down to last minute -- week of the fight. Shorts, shirt, banner, all get printed and sent overnight. You're probably losing $500 or $600 just for having those printed last minute.
Then you have to pay 20 percent to someone to track these down, collect money. You've got to hope sponsors pay. You're going with sponsors who are saying, 'Are you going to do this and that and social media' and if one tiny detail doesn't take place, it's, "Oh, we're cutting [your pay] in half.' It's like, 'I wore your shirt on TV, did everything I was supposed to, but because there was this one photo where I was in a different shirt that was taken three days before, you cut my sponsor money in half.'
And you're not going to sue someone over a few thousand dollars. There's this whole nasty side of sponsors that you don't have to deal with. To me, I'll give up $1,000 per fight on that every single time, to not deal with that crap.
ESPN.com: So, it worked for your situation, but there are many other examples of fighters complaining about losing money. What do you make of that?
Lauzon: I think people are either flat out lying or definitely being disingenuous about [how much they made before Reebok]. Or they may have had a good sponsorship deal because they were doing other things. Maybe a podcast or something. It wasn't 100 percent you're getting that for fighting in a logo. Or it's something like your friend gave you $20,000 because they thought it'd be cool. Situations where sponsors know they're not going to make any money, but it's going to be cool to see their logo on TV.
You can't compare the Reebok deal to your friend just giving you money. I definitely feel a lot of people are being disingenuous. They want to say, 'F--- Reebok,' so they're willing to blow up their numbers or tweak them.
ESPN.com: In your opinion, what is the status of mixed martial artists either unionizing or forming some kind of association to collectively bargain?
Lauzon: There's definitely some unrest in the group and, of course, everyone wants to make more money. I don't think a union is realistic. You had a couple people bring it up. [UFC bantamweight] Leslie Smith brought it up a couple times and asked Kobe Bryant [a speaker] if the NBA's player association helped players and he said, 'Absolutely.' It was good, but I think everyone's got different needs. You're not going to get all these different people to hop in the same association.
My needs are different from a fighter just joining the UFC. You've got someone coming in who's young and says, 'I only care about getting paid.' And then you've got me, who is saying, 'I want insurance and long-term retirement.' It's just going to be hard to [have] everyone on the same page, I feel.
ESPN.com: Did you have any interaction with WME-IMG CEO Ari Emanuel during the retreat?
Lauzon: He was there a bunch. He talked to us a little bit on the first night. I saw him twice in escalators going to dinner. He knew who I was. He said, 'Hey, Joe.' So, I get the feeling they are fans. He was very cordial and you get the feeling he knows what's going on. He didn't just buy this organization knowing nothing about it. He's a fan and that's encouraging.
I think it will be a little bit more business-oriented than it was under Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta. I think bonuses were a little easier to give out after fights. I think it's more financial guys now who say, 'Oh, we can afford to do this, but not this.' It's more by the numbers now. That's the way it goes, though. It's business. They spend $4 billion on this and they've got to recoup that.