Earlier today Jon Jones announced that he was being sponsored by the UFC during UFC 145. As many of you know he was with K-Swiss/Form Athletics, but Form died so it seems that he became a "free agent." According to Front Row Brian it is a pretty major deal for the young fighter. Jon Jones is getting paid "up to" $1 million and he has an instant op out clause if Nike, Reebok, Adidas, or Under Armor come knocking. Jon Jones isn't the only fighter that the UFC is sponsoring, Alistair Overeem and Frank Mir are also supposed to wear UFC apparel at UFC 146. I understand why the UFC is doing this(to sell t-shirts), but it's a huge conflict of interest.
In any major sport it is clear that they want certain teams/players to be successful. The NBA wants Kobe vs. LeBron in the Finals, MLB wants the Yankees/Red Sox in the World Series, and the PGA wants Tiger Woods to be dominant again and so on. These are all businesses so it would make sense for them to want certain people/teams to be featured. In the UFC this is no different since it is clear that the UFC has been pushing Jon Jones for several years now.
Sponsoring Jon Jones and Alistair Overeem is crossing the line. I understand that there is nothing nefarious with this, but it will set off people who are prone to conspiracies. Companies sponsor fighters that they want to win and this sponsorship presents a conflict of interests. If one of the guys they're sponsoring ends up winning a controversial decision then it could harm the legitimacy of the promotion.
I wouldn't have a problem with them sponsoring lower tier fighters, prelim guys, because there is no marketing muscle behind them and they can help out guys who are struggling to get sponsors. I've seen some of the debuting guys wear UFC trunks and I assumed they were sponsored and that is fine. Sponsoring guys in the main event is not a smart move at all. It blatantly says that the UFC wants a certain guy to win. It would be akin to David Stern admitting that he want wanted the Bulls to get the #1 pick when Derrick Rose was coming out of college. Some people will see that as him making it happen if things go the way that he wanted regardless of how honest the process was.