Full Contact Fighter’s Joel Gold on Company’s Success, UFC Ban, Dana White, And Search For The Right Business Partner
By FCF Staff
In advance of Full Contact Fighter’s upcoming 20th Anniversary we’ve decided to publish a series of interviews with founder Joel Gold, who was one of the more influential people behind the growth of mixed-martial arts. In the first interview (which you can read by heading here) Gold reflected on the early days of MMA, and his decision to start Full Contact Fighter’s clothing line and publication. In the latest interview posted below, Gold discusses the success of Full Contact Fighter, the UFC’s decision to ban FCF, his relationship with Dana White, and the company’s future.
It has been said Full Contact Fighter clothing was like the Nike of the MMA world for many years. How did you become so big so fast?
JG: Yes that is definitely true. We grew the brand by grass roots and treated our customers how we would like to be treated. Knowing and sponsoring all of the fighters was a major factor to growing the brand. Most fighters wanted to wear Full Contact Fighter even if they had a deal with another brand. We were made in the USA and people loved that. It definitely cost more to produce, but our quality was far superior than most of the other brands that were out there. Many people including the fighters also knew what we were doing for the sport, not just with our clothing, but also our publication and website so they wanted to show their support. The logo and the name was, and still is, the coolest looking in the world of clothing. These days we may not be the Nike anymore but I’d like to think we are the Adidas of the MMA world, which to me is a lot cooler.
What happened with FCF over the years? There was a time that you were sponsoring a majority of the fighters, correct?
JG: Yes, we sponsored many fighters before and after they became champions. It became difficult though after the UFC (owners) acquired a deal with Tapout. It was said they got 37% of Tapout. I remember talking to Lorenzo Fertitta about it at a UFC event and he said he liked my brand better, but they (Tapout) were better at marketing. I assumed he meant because they dress up in costumes and such. So I knew change was coming and it sure did. Little by little they took over the fighters as they had more money and owned the show. They (UFC) also started making you pay an exorbitant fee if you wanted a fighter to wear your clothes. Eventually they ended up banning my company from the UFC, and I was no longer granted press passes to cover the show for the publication or website.
Is it legal to own a show and have fighters wear the clothes?
JG: I’m not sure, but if the Muhammad Ali Act was in MMA, that may be something that might have prevented that. The Muhammad Ali Act is something that is picking up steam very, very fast and will greatly benefit the fighters and fans. This is something that can, and will change the landscape and the UFC…they sold at a good time.
The Fertittas are very smart business men. They are killers that slaughter all in their path in the business sense. You do it until somebody stops you. I was more upset that this was a promotion that I fought side-by-side with for many years before the Fertittas purchased it, and even after trying to build the sport in different states and countries. You have to remember at most press conferences for the UFC not a lot of mainstream media came, and they didn’t know the fighters or the questions to ask. The promotion would turn to me to ask the questions. I was the one who would ask the questions to the fighters so the greenhorn reporters would have some comments to report other than it is human cock fighting. I would also educate them on the promotion and the sport as a whole. It was like losing a big part of my family when I was banned.
Why were you banned?
JG: That is a good question. I think you have to look back at the relationship and how we worked for the same common goal from early on. Back when SEG (Bob Meyrowitz) owned the UFC, very few states would allow the fights. I had a publication, website, and a television show that were fighting for acceptance for our young sport. I also was fighting for the rights of the fighters and was vocal about it. That would piss SEG off sometimes and I heard about it often. But if you knew me, you knew how I hated injustice and would call you out on it. I’m very proud that I was responsible for getting fighters title shots they deserved even after they were over looked by mangers or the promotion and they went on to win UFC titles!
When the Fertittas purchased the UFC I was the first person to fly to Vegas and interview them. I knew they had money to spend on the future of the UFC as Meyrowitz was running on fumes. We all hit it off well and Dana White would become my contact and friend. He was like somebody I grew up with back in Queens NY and we would bust each other’s chops. He liked to call me Vinny because of my NY/Joe Pesci accent.
SEG was a sponsor of the Full Contact Fighter TV show and when Fertittas took over; we sat with Lorenzo and he wanted to stay on as a sponsor. This went well and we had very good ratings. I remember after one of the seasons ended I asked Dana White if he was on board for next season. Securing a sponsor is critical for production that is why you make sure you have that set in advance. He assured me several times he was, even saying to me “Vinny you are talking to me, we are in I promise you! Stop worrying! You have my word!”
Well was Dana White’s word good?
JG: So a man’s word is not always a deal even if the intentions are good. You learn lessons in life, and I learned many. I know Dana was not looking to screw me at that time…I think his bosses put the nix on the TV sponsorship maybe to head in a different direction. He never called me to tell me himself. He had UFC matchmaker Joe Silva call and tell me. I like to think he truly felt bad…he gave his word. That means something to guys like me..and him at the time. We could not secure a sponsor in time and could not continue the show.
But why were you banned from the UFC? Do you think because they wanted you out of the way because you were the biggest clothing brand in the sport?
JG: I got conflicting reasons. But with them making money off of Tapout that is very possible. Finally I got a call from Dana White telling me I was banned because I gave too many covers to their rival Pride in our publication. I don’t think this is the real reason because it simply wasn’t true. The call was pleasant but sad all the same. As all the fighting that I did side-by-side for the sport and the promotion for well over a decade with some great people was now over.
Where did you go after the ban? Did you continue making clothes?
JG: I still make FCF clothing and also did private label for other brands. The news site (FCFIGHTER.com) has always stayed running, but is a separate company from the clothing. I went through a divorce and after years of 7 days a week with little to no sleep for almost 15 years I was burnt out. Remember most people have a job of just publishing or clothing; I was a publication, clothing company with our own manufacturing, website, and TV show. I came from nothing and built something so unique and beautiful and was a major part of developing a great sport.
How do you bring FCF back into the mainstream of MMA again?
JG: Well first off you have to understand MMA is a culture…a lifestyle that Full Contact Fighter helped build of hardcore fans, who buy the clothes. Most fans train in some type of stand-up or ground art these days. There are many fighting promotion shows on TV today and FCF crosses over into any realm really. We have celebrities, professional boxers, wrestlers, football players, hockey players, musicians, FBI and Armed Forces all buying and wearing our clothes for years.
The real question though is who we partner with at this time. The reality is I am sitting on a goldmine, but I need the right partners with help getting the gold beneath the property I own. I think a company that is already in manufacturing and has lines in stores would be a good fit for us. I also want someone who is as passionate about it as I am. I would also love to have the fans have an opportunity to be a part of the company as well. Not sure how to do that, but that would be great!
I never started FCF for the money…it was a passion. I lived it 24/7. The sport was unfairly treated and as I said before I hate injustice. I’m sure I lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of being banned – but now it is time to reboot. But, by being smarter and with the right partners we can make it a billion dollar company as it surely has the potential to be.
I want to thank the greatest fans for supporting us throughout the years. Please stop by our store and pick up a shirt or hat and thank you again!