And1 is primarily a basketball company, best known for its moderately priced footwear and apparel as well as the high-energy mixtapes that functioned as guerilla marketing and launched the brand into national consciousness. The California company, however, recently decided to dip its kicks into the waters of MMA, signing popular UFC middleweight Nate Quarry to a multi-fight sponsorship deal.
Quarry will unveil his new sponsor during his UFC 91 matchup with Demian Maia on Nov. 15. And1 will be one of two primary sponsors for Quarry, with a logo on his fight shorts and octagon signage, along with Nuvasive, the medical company which developed the spinal fusion procedure that saved his fighting career.
"On paper it almost makes no sense whatsoever. I can't wear basketball shoes into the octagon," Quarry said with a laugh. "But And1 believes it's great exposure for their overall brand. They are big fans of the sport and the whole company is excited about it."
The deal came about partly because of Quarry's friendship with NBA player Steve Blake, an And1 athlete and guard for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Blake has an interest in jiu-jitsu and has trained with Quarry (also a Portland resident) during previous off-seasons. Recently, Quarry was telling Blake of his efforts to gain new sponsors. Later, Blake spoke with Rod Keller, And1's director of brand and sports marketing, about sending Quarry some gear, and Keller, a longtime martial arts practitioner himself, grew intrigued with the idea of signing a mixed martial artist to the brand.
Keller and Quarry met, and it was obvious to both it was a natural fit.
"First and foremost, Nate is a unique individual," Keller said. "From a personality standpoint, we choose to involve ourselves with quality people first. That's our position on things. That's the way we are. We're a small, tight group and that's the way we operate."
The “unique” tag certainly fits for Quarry, who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and didn’t participate in organized sports until he was 24 years old before breaking from his past and falling in love with MMA. Now 36 years old and with a young daughter, Quarry has a 10-2 professional record and has won both of his fights since returning from back surgery.
"Certainly, this is a basketball brand, but we have to be willing to throw traditional logic out the door and capitalize on opportunities,” Keller said. “More and more athletes like Steve Blake train with MMA training methods. It's a phenomenal workout. So is there a correlation to basketball? Yes. Is it logical? No."
Keller said it's not certain if And1 will move into the MMA apparel world, but added that the company does own multiple brands and could use the Quarry sponsorship as a platform to develop an MMA line if they decide on entering the market. He also noted that the company will likley sponsor more fighters in the future, taking it on a case-by-case basis. In addition to Blake and Quarry, the company counts Golden State Warriors’ star Monta Ellis, Houston Rockets’ guard Rafer Alston, and ex-NBA guard Carlos Arroyo (currently playing with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv) among its athletes.
Whether or not And1's foray into the MMA world lures any of the larger shoe companies like Nike and adidas into the U.S. market remains to be seen.
"When I think of Nike, I think of a couple guys with a waffle iron starting the company," Quarry said. "Back then, they decided they wanted to do something different. But now, the guys who did all that are stitting in boardrooms, comfortable and complacement. But you have these other upstarts, realizing, 'Hey this MMA thing, this UFC, we've got something here.' It's nice to see these companies getting excited about entering the MMA world, and it's cool to see the rewards they get out of it."
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Highlights: Burkman shocks Fitch
Josh Burkman shocks Jon Fitch with a first round submission. Burkman knew Fitch was out cold before the referee did.
• Click here to email MMA Fight Weekly