Each professional MMA fighter usually has a sponsor to go with their fighting career, especially in the UFC. And there have been several UFC fighters sponsored by Nike over the years.
Fighters will take up many financial opportunities like sponsorships from brands to pay for their training and expensive necessities like expert coaches, physical therapists, equipment, and more.
It’s also just a great way to make a lot of money with the power of a big brand behind you to create new products aligned with their brand. Let’s look at who got themselves sponsored by Nike.
Short on time? Here’s the quick low-down:
Nike has sponsored several UFC fighters, including Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Caol Uno, Quinton Jackson, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Junior Dos Santos. These sponsorships usually included customized footwear and apparel. Jon Jones famously lost his Nike sponsorship because of bad publicity, including fighting at a press conference.
Some big-name UFC fighters sponsored by Nike have worn the swoosh in their custom fight gear and more. Keep on reading to learn about each fighter and their sponsorship deals.
Jon “Bones” Jones
In 2012, Jon Jones signed an exclusive global sponsorship deal with the sportswear giant Nike.
This deal became one of the most incredible sponsorship deals of its time in Mixed Martial Arts, mainly as Nike is not hasty to jump into an agreement with anyone. They have famously sponsored the most prominent names and legends of sports worldwide, including Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
Everything was set for Jones to be sporting Nike Swoosh’s as he walked out at UFC 151 for a headline UFC Heavyweight Championship bout against Dan Henderson. Sadly, this event never went ahead as Henderson pulled out due to injury, and Jones refused to fight the replacement offered as Chael Sonnen (though he would fight him later at UFC 159).
UFC 151 remains famously “the UFC event that never was” as it was never replaced or taken at a later date. Instead, UFC 152 was organized for Jon Jones to defend his Heavyweight title against Vitor Belfort.
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At both UFC 152 and UFC 159, Jones wore Nike-sponsored apparel in pre-fight training and his fight walkouts.
In that time, Nike released a Jones-branded sports shoe and the – what is now infamous – “Bones Knows” Nike shirt. Jones also appears in a Nike commercial for the first time alongside fellow sports legends LeBron James (NBA/Basketball) and Serena Williams (Tennis).
The “Bones Knows” t-shirt is now a scarce item as they were limited edition production at the time and no longer manufactured. They can sell for over $300 on eBay and other marketplaces like it! Add on top the situation surrounding the brand partnership ending, making it a hotly-desired item.
The partnership between Jon Jones and Nike was eventually terminated by the brand two years after it began.
The gossip goes that the sponsorship ended because of a fight between Jon and his rival Daniel Cormier at the UFC 178 press conference. A month later, the announcement comes from journalists that Nike has ended their contract.
Anderson “Spider” Silva
Anderson Silva was another fighter that had a deal with Nike between 2011-2012. While the deal wasn’t the same level as Jon Jones (a global partnership), Silva had a strong bond with Nike Brasil in a regional agreement with the brand.
The partnership was teased by Nike in 2011 with a harrowing face-off with the Spider himself. Nike is one of those brands that always tries to bring out the pure personality and stature of the sportspeople they work with, and this intelligent commercial was no exception.
During their partnership, the Spider walked out to multiple events – like UFC 134 and UFC 148 – wearing his Nike shirt and famous yellow-and-black tight combat shorts.
It’s common practice for fighters to wear their brand’s apparel during the walkout because, by the time they reach the octagon, there’s not so much clothing worn and more skin shown for the fight.
For Silva’s fight at UFC 148, he wore his personalized Nike Pro Combat Fight Shorts in his famous yellow, representing his identity and likely paying homage to his native Brasil.
Anderson Silva also got his very own “Silva Knows” Nike shirt – similar to Jon Jones’ version – as Nike started doubling down on expanding their roster of MMA fighter sponsorships.
Sadly, though, Nike pulled further away from sponsoring fighters entirely by 2014. It might be due to the amount of controversy in this sport, but I’m sure Anderson Silva was not one of them. The Spider is a legend because of his professionalism and displays of respect for the sport and his opponents.
These days, Spider is in brand partnerships with Adidas, swapping from one huge sportswear brand to another.
Kaoru “Caol” Uno
Kaoru Uno, best known as Caol Uno, is a Japanese mixed martial artist and wrestling champion considered by many as a pioneer of the early impact of the UFC and expanding its audiences. He competed with some of the best in the sport, like Jens Pulver and even B.J. Penn.
Caol Uno has continued competing even in 2021 at the Shooto promotion in Japan. This man has an eye and passion for fashion trends, and a brand partnership with Nike was only natural.
Again at the regional level, Caol had a notable sponsorship with Nike between 2008-2010 by creating his clothing line named Nike 10AC.
The sports collection included a variety of apparel and footwear, including tracksuits, raincoats, hoodies, beanies, t-shirts, and even unique versions of the Air Max and Air Zoom Nike shoe.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Rampage Jackson was another fighter on this list to reach T.V. commercial status with Nike. In 2010, he featured as an MMA fighter getting beat down but rising again to beat his opponent in Nike’s T.V. spot named “The Human Chain.”
Rampage’s partnership with Nike seemed to be short-lived as this commercial was the only involvement they had together.
At the time, Nike was investing way more into the mixed martial arts world. Like others on this list, the late noughties and early twenty-tens (2008-2014) saw Nike work with many of them during that timeframe but eventually leave the fight-world behind and continue sponsorships with different sportspeople.
Quinton’s career in the fight world spanned across many other promotions than UFC like Bellator and Pride. And since his appearance in a Nike commercial, he has only increased his T.V… and film work as a professional actor.
Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama
Yoshihiro Akiyama is another fighter on this list that won a regional sponsorship deal with Nike Japan.
Nicknamed “Sexyama” for his devilish good looks and lean physique, Akiyama earned his sponsorship with Nike after his successes in mixed martial arts competition led him to a UFC contract.
Yoshihiro was on fire at the time, with everything going right with the big brands. His stature even earned him a spot alongside some of the greatest sportspeople in the world, like Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho, in a short Nike commercial.
This ad went live in Japan and met a public outcry as Nike received many complaints about supporting the fighter.
The reason for this outcry was because just a few years earlier, Akiyama was shamed at the K-1 Hero’s Premium Dynamite in 2006 versus Kazushi Sakuraba. Before that main event, Akiyama had applied several bottles of oil to his entire body. During the fight, Sakuraba complained to the referee that Akiyama was slippery, and eventually, the match was declared a No Contest.
Despite all that, Sexyama had his very own shoe line with Nike during his sponsorship in Japan.
Yoshihiro is now a ONE Championship fighter and is a high-level Judoka and kickboxer.
Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos
Junior Dos Santos, also known as “Cigano,” is one of the greatest to enter the octagon.
And in 2012, during a 10-fight winning streak, the heavyweight earned a brand sponsorship with Nike leading up to his championship rematch against Cain Velasquez at UFC 155.
The deal brought forth Cigano’s own Nike shirts and sports shoes, often colored in strong blue and white, easily recognizable.
Like other fighters on this list, Nike began to pull away from sponsorship deals with many fighters by 2014 as the UFC’s official sportswear partner became Rebook for six years until Venum took over the mantle in 2021.
That deal between UFC and Reebok may have single-handedly destroyed the direct sponsorships between big names in the UFC and Nike. Big brands, especially in competition, don’t play so well together.
The partnership disallowed any other brand clothing during a UFC event (pre-fight locker room, walkout, and the match) that burned these bridges down.
When Reebok partnered with UFC as the official apparel partner, it simply did not allow for any others to be visibly promoted during an event. And that wasn’t attractive for Nike to continue sponsoring these athletes if they couldn’t get their brand some air time.
Sadly, it’s just one of those things, and the way sponsorships work. If you sign with them, then brands like Nike will want to see their talent wearing the brand on any public media.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.