The Economics of MMA: Inside the Bad Boy Empire

Everyone knows the Tapout founders, Tom Atencio made a name for himself in the MMA community with Afflction and even Silver Star's Luke and Charis Burrett have a fan following. But few know much about the original MMA apparel company Bad Boy. I sat down with the Assistant Athletic Coordinator Troy Ponce de Leon to see what makes the company tick.

Jonathan Snowden: Tell me about the origins of the company. Because of the Rickson Gracie connection, everyone believes you guys are Brazilian?

Troy Ponce de Leon: Bad Boy was founded in the US in the mid 80’s as an alternative sport and lifestyle brand. There was a big focus on surf, skate, and alternative sports back then. In 1993 we sponsored Rickson Gracie’s national seminar tour in Brazil and he introduced us to Vale Tudo. So the lineage of the fight team traces back to Brazil. I think the reason the connection is so established because people see long time veterans like Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva fighting in our gear way back in the SEG days. The hardest of hardcore fans have tapes of Wallid Ismail and Fernando Yamasaki sporting our gear in old Vale Tudo and BJJ competitions. Because of our strong presence there, people think it’s where the company itself started.
Jonathan Snowden: How did the company get so involved in MMA? You would see the iconic Bad Boy logo in the rings of Pride and the UFC cage. Truly the first international MMA brand.

Troy Ponce de Leon: You're right, and we really pride ourselves on our history. We got involved with Vale Tudo before most other brands were even founded. Back then a lot of fighters and professional grapplers wore Brazilian swimwear that was basically just a speedo. We adapted what they were using into a functional, combat specific garment; the Vale Tudo short. Since we were the first to offer MMA performance apparel we became known as a symbol of dedication to fight. Everybody, from athletes to promoters, knew that Bad Boy eyes were the way to show your authenticity.
Jonathan Snowden:
You've described your approach as being more of a family than a company. How does that work with the fighters that rep your gear? Any examples of the tight bond between Bad Boy and the fighters?

Troy Ponce de Leon:  A lot of companies, and not just in MMA, will use phrases like "team" or "family" to build up an image, but it's really essential to how Bad Boy works. Our relationship with every one of our fighters is started as a friendship. We try to get to know each guy on a personal level before sponsorship is finalized and treat our relationships as family first and business second. We take athletes to football games, go to dinner together, stay at each other’s homes, and are always available to assist in any way… it really is a family. We even talk to the guys already wearing the brand about how they’d feel adding somebody new to the team, because we want everyone to feel comfortable working together. We end up with Demian Maia doing boxing work with Junior Dos Santos and polishing his jiujitsu with Xande Ribeiro. It’s a beneficial system for everybody.

One point to not overlook is that the Bad Boy family is more than just who we have under contract and wearing the brand. Miguel Torres has stayed at our CEO's house in Las Vegas while he was training at gyms in the area, and is a great friend of ours. Vitor Belfort has stayed there recently as well.
Jonathan Snowden: There still seems to be a strong connection between Bad Boy and Brazilian fighters. What attracts fighters to the brand and vice versa?

Troy Ponce de Leon: You know what; we do have a lot of Brazilian fighters on the team! We are always looking for top athletes who are good citizens, good fighters, and good representatives of the sport. People know our mold and want to partner with us because of what we stand for. We have a strong presence in Brazil so naturally a lot of Brazilians want to be part of the team.

Jonathan Snowden: How does the recent acquisition of Silver Star and Tapout change the game? Do you even consider yourself in competition with straight apparel companies? Or only with others that make ring ready performance gear?

Troy Ponce de Leon: We sell apparel, so of course we are in competition with other apparel brands. But we also occupy a very unique position in the market. Our history lies not just in MMA but several other alternative sports. Also, like you said, there aren’t many other brands make both apparel and high end performance equipment. Finally, Bad Boy has had a strong presence in the USA, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, and all over the world for decades. It's certainly interesting to see the acquisition of brands like Silverstar and Tapout, which just goes to show how much the market is continuing to expand, but it doesn’t change our gameplan.

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