The success of the UFC and the overall growth of mixed martial arts have created a blossoming MMA economy ripe for ingenious entrepreneurs to pounce upon like a hungry fighter finishing off a fallen opponent.
The most notable area of growth has been in the MMA apparel scene. The success of market leader TapouT has inspired a movement of combat clothiers.
In 2009 alone, clothing companies such as Tokyo Five, Red Arme and Jaco have joined the competitive field and added their clothing lines to the MMA fray. Among the newcomers, one company in particular has made quite a splash within the community, Hoelzer Reich.
Clearly distinguishing itself in a crowded marketplace, California-based Hoelzer is manufacturing “German-themed” apparel. A German theme in and of itself is innocuous, but the co-owners of Hoelzer, Jed Colvin and Jamie Vine, may have taken their concept a bit too far.
In a public relations nightmare, Hoelzer has come under fire for its prolific use of Nazi symbolism, including an iron cross, trooper helmet, biker-style letter bands and the crooked HR symbol that resembles both the infamous 88 swastika as well as an SS patch. Hoelzer’s clothing designs also incorporate peaked officer-style hats and patches and badges which are direct copies of those worn on German uniforms in WW2.
Hoelzer does sponsor several mainstream MMA stars, including Mac Danzig, Lyle Beerbohm, Donald Cerrone, and Joe Brammer. However, they also sponsor a fighter named Niko Puhakka who is a skinhead, along with a metal band named Westwall which allegedly is a skinhead group founded by a neo-Nazi member of the Nothern Hammerskins. Furthermore, it has been noted that Hoelzer clothing has been advertised on Stormfront, a white nationalist community.
Apparently, now realizing that not all publicity is good publicity, the co-owners of Hoelzer are in denial mode and contend that their clothing is based on nothing other than a “love for apparel and design and desire to create a bad ass line of apparel that represents our family heritage and interest in MMA.” They released a statement on their website that reads in part, “We do not have any political affiliations with any organizations, nor specific views of any controversial parties… Our interest in the Iron Cross and German history comes strictly from a historical and ancestral standpoint… For many years, we have collected German memorabilia dating back to the early 1800’s which has been passed through the family for generations. The Iron cross symbol and other German-inspired imagery used on our apparel dates back hundreds of years, and does not depict a certain time of German History.”
Thankfully, the powers that be are not convinced of Hoelzer’s well meaning intentions and following the Hoelzer sponsored ring walk of UFC newcomer Joe Brammer at The Ultimate Fighter 10: Finale, the controversial clothing brand is now persona non grata at the major MMA promotions.
Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC and WEC, has banned the company from sponsoring their professional athletes. WEC general manager, Reed Harris, shared his thoughts on the matter on MMAjunkie.com Radio. “I’ll tell you my personal opinion: I’m against any group that obviously portrays the white, Aryan stuff, or any of that stuff… I don’t know if that necessarily involves [Hoelzer]. I’ve been told that it may. If it does, I’m not going to support it. That’s my own opinion… If you look at our fighters, we are a diverse group. If you go to our office and look at who works there – I’ve worked for a lot of companies – it’s the most diverse group of people I’ve ever worked with, and it’s wonderful. I’m not sure how [Hoelzer sponsorships] are all going to play out, but I’ve started to kind of look into it myself. I’m not sure if it’s something that’s going to work in the WEC.”
Similarly, Strikeforce’s Director of Communications, Mike Afromowitz, provided the following statement to FanHouse, “We will not permit our fighters to wear this type of apparel in our cage… Strikeforce will not tolerate any offensive behavior at any location or at any time by its fighters.”
In the past, Zuffa has been accused of monopolistic tactics in the manner it governs the sponsorship of its fighters. Arguably, Zuffa’s bad acts in this regard include its $100,000 “sponsorship tax”, prolonged public quarrel with Affliction that led that clothier to temporarily embark on its own fight promotion, and the recent banning of Clinch Gear, due to company owner Dan “Hendo” Henderson’s prolonged negotiation with the UFC and eventual defection to chief rival Strikeforce.
However, in this case Zuffa got it right and must be commended for recognizing a wrong and acting immediately to remedy it. MMA fans are sophisticated individuals and no one was comfortable with the notion that our beloved sport would be utilized as a platform to invigorate and promote any type of neo-Nazi movement.