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August 27, 2014

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No. 10: A different brand of entertainment

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Justin M. Bowen

Joe Rogan interviews Rashad Evans during UFC 98 official weigh-ins at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The former light heavyweight champ is sporting a Silver Star T-shirt, while Rogan is wearing MMA’s top brand Tapout. The two apparel companies not only represent two key sellers in the sport, but an entire attitude of the mixed martial arts lifestyle.

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UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre poses with his special Commemorative UFC 100 T-shirt.

Sun Expanded Coverage

Editor's Note: The Ultimate Fighting Championship is celebrating its 100th show on July 11 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. In the days leading up to this historic night, the Las Vegas Sun is presenting a Top 10 list of key personalities and points that have helped propel the sport into the forefront of the world's fighting conscience.

It used to be mixed martial arts apparel was sold out of the back of cars.

But oh how the times have changed.

"We owe a deep debt of gratitude to all the guys at (UFC parent company) Zuffa for being able to piggyback off their success," said Dan Caldwell, co-founder of the Tapout clothing brand that started selling T-shirts in parking lots.

"In a way, the two companies kind of grew up together."

MMA-inspired clothing had been going on long before the documented success of brands such as Affliction and Tapout, but it has been the growth of the UFC and its fighters that has transformed it into the enormous business it is today.

Like other extreme activities, MMA offers a unique opportunity to apparel companies because it is considered as much a lifestyle as it is a sport.

Nearly anyone associated with the UFC will acknowledge that these days clothing is as much of a statement of who you are as it is just something to throw on in the morning.

"What Affliction did with their clothing line really broke ground as far as they saw that people actually look up to these fighters and whatever they wear people will wear," said former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.

"Tapout is one of the most popular brands and it's got to the point where it represents something. Clothing lines represent more than just a T-shirt. It represents being tough."

Currently, few clothing line stands to benefit more from the growth of the UFC than the Irvine, Calif.-based company Silver Star. The company was originally founded as a jewelry company in 1993, but evolved into corporate clothing as it became more involved with MMA and other extreme sports.

Although it's been associated with MMA for years, Silver Star received its biggest opportunity when Affliction was banned from the UFC in 2008 after the organization caught wind that the clothing brand was setting up its own MMA competition.

"It opened huge doors for us, they were the premium brand in the Octagon and we were sitting in a sweet spot," said Silver Star founder Luke Burrett. "MMA guys are all about their bodies; they want to look good. Affliction proved what they could do within two years, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me."

Silver Star has since signed contracts to sponsor the likes of Evans, welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, middleweight champ Anderson Silva and Clay Guida.

Although its hardly the first to utilize the "walkout T-shirt" fighters wear as they enter the Octagon, Silver Star has pushed the concept of involving fighters in the actual designing process of apparel unlike ever before.

"I try to be pretty involved, Silver Star does a really good job of keeping me informed," Evans said. "The line does a good job of implementing my personality to the clothes. They figure out what you like and don't like. I don't like naked girls or guns, nothing like that on there. They get an ideal feel to what your personal style is."

You might say that Burrett's vision for Silver Star began at an early age. Now 39, Burrett developed a love for tattoos early in life. He received his first when he was 18 that he had to hide from his father, who was a minister.

According to Burrett, his love for tattoos gradually gave him the idea to incorporate tattoo designs into clothing. The social acceptance for tattoos over time has helped his product grow.

"Once I saw that the public started accepting tattoos I saw that window of opportunity," Burrett said. "Back in the day you were a dirt bag, rip-off, con-man if you had tattoos. I was one of the first to really start putting the tattoo thing into apparel."

As more companies get involved with UFC fighters, it's impossible to tell what the future holds for entrance T-shirts or other MMA apparel.

But it's probably safe to say that the cash-only sales out of sellers' trunks are over.

"It's an amazing opportunity to have an influence on a product," Evans said. "It's not just something you have to wear because your sponsor is paying for it."

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