When MMA started gaining momentum, especially when The Ultimate Fighter became a hit with fans, there came with it a sponsor boom that lasted for about 3 years. Most fighters refer to it as the golden era, where they could make equal to or more than their contracted fight purse.
Unfortunately, a variety of factors would cause those seemingly endless wells of sponsor money to run dry. The economic downturn from 2008, the introduction of huge sponsor taxes by the UFC and the huge roster of fighters vying for the limited funds left has seen many complaints and lamentations.
Now there is a very realistic possibility that UFC fighters will be wearing uniforms very soon, thus limiting their earning capacity even more on the sponsor front. It would seem that the ability of earning money beyond a fight purse is becoming more and more elusive.
Enter UFC heavyweight star, Soa Palelei. Soa has a veritable laundry list of sponsors that he makes a very lucrative income from, in the most important time of all, the "off season" when he doesn't have a fight on the immediate horizon. How does he do it when so many others complain there aren't any opportunities? One word; hustling.
Bloody Elbow recently caught up with The Hulk who gave tips on how to be a sponsor's dream. He also discussed his first tattoo, motivation and why he'll never fight Mark Hunt. Here's what he had to say:
When people say, ‘Oh yeah, I love it. This is what I love doing, and I would do it for free...' Hell no they wouldn't. They're full of shit, because you're getting punched in the face, risking your health and well-being. What if you end up in the hospital? How are you going to pay your bills?
This is a career, a job. You get some sponsors in there, which is a big help. The more fights you win, the more money you get, both from the UFC and your sponsors. You go from eating bread and water to lobster and things like that. I just laugh every time I see a fighter say they do this for the love of it. I think that's bullshit, you know? This is the hurt game, and we don't do it for free.
I got the first one when I was 15 and it was the old school style with the wooden chisel and mallet. It hurt so bad, [laughs] I was like ‘Oh damn!' I think my dad paid the guy a bottle of rum and a pack of cigarettes to do the tattoo. It was like a rite of passage for me. If you move or cry, it's like you're not a man [loud burst of laughter], I didn't move an inch. You just bite your tongue and get through it.
I'm very proud of my Samoan heritage, and I love my tattoos. It's like when the Rock got his, it was because he was proud of his Samoan heritage. I want people to know that I'm representing the whole Polynesian community with these.
Mark Hunt is like my brother. I don't mind fighting anyone at all in the UFC, except him. Mark is another thing altogether. Besides, that guy can hit, and if he hits you, especially with the 4 ounce gloves, you're gonna get knocked out. Even Junior dos Santos commented on how he'd never been hit that hard before. We're training partners, and we're like family. It would be the only fight they could offer me that I wouldn't take. Fighting Mark would make for an extremely expensive dentist bill. I've got gold teeth and I don't want him knocking those out [laughs].
Sponsorship for the Motivated Fighter
Social media is the most important thing. I do work with Dodge, and lots of other big companies that support me. I've got my own work boots that have been released worldwide, I've got jewelers making me jewelry for when I weigh in. You get out of it what you put into it. I make more from my sponsorships than I do from my purses.
Getting sponsors is the hardest thing. What I make sure I do is tweet it, Facebook it, blog it, rep them in interviews, wear the clothing, twice weekly video blogs with full advertisements, space on my website...we push it hard so the sponsors get the maximum exposure for their money.
On top of social media, I do inspirational blogs and training videos as well. This isn't just for people in the fight community, either. Regular people with 9-5 jobs can see that with hard work, getting in shape can be achieved. I try to make sure I get out a positive, inspirational message, because I can remember my first fight in the UFC against Eddie Sanchez, and after that was one of the lowest points in my life. I just sat on the couch for about 6 months eating cheesecake, KFC and McDonald's.
I finally snapped myself out of it when I realized that I didn't want people to know and remember me from that UFC 79 fight. I want people to know that I pushed it and got back into the UFC. Now, my whole concept in life is hustling. I hustle to stay in shape. I hustle to do good work for my sponsors. I hustle to get more sponsors. If you don't hustle, you don't eat. I'm on a 10 fight winning streak because of that hustle. The one thing I took from 2007 is humility. You've got to remain humble because you never know when somebody will hand you your ass [laughs].
You can follow Soa via his Twitter account, @SoaTheHulk