Jesse Katz, owner and founder of Roots of Fight was kind enough to talk with me regarding his company. Comparing them to other MMA apparel companies is virtually impossible, due to the company’s unique direction. This is definitely a fresh idea Roots of Fight is presenting.
The approach they take towards fans and the individual disciplines is making people realize that what they are doing is not just about economics, but more to showcase that history is the foundation for everything.
Where did “Roots of Fight” originate?
We own another company that works with other major sports leagues, teams and athletes and tells their histories through art, film and apparel. We work with The NHL, Major League Soccer, The Olympics and a number of other organizations, brands and Icons. We were already a company telling histories and felt there was an opportunity to extend this same treatment into the arena of Martial Arts. I have been a fight fan my whole life and as a fan of the UFC I had often felt that there were no companies in the space treating the history behind MMA with any seriousness. We felt that we could do just this in an original manner.
It felt like MMA was being labeled only as a “new sport”, but in reality it was the evolution or culmination of a number of Arts that had a rich and global history. From our vantage point, these were rarely if ever spoken about. Everything in MMA is moving very fast and we wanted to slow down and really examine properly where it all came from.
We decided to start from the beginning with Gung Fu in China and trace the evolution through Japan (Karate, Judo and Jujitsu) and then follow it through to Brasil and the Gracie family and so on for all of the individual disciplines. Martial arts are not just about fighting in the countries where they began. They are part of the cultural fabric of each of the nations with huge majorities of their populations practicing these arts as philosophy and way of life. These origins and roots deserve proper treatment and respect so we took it upon ourselves to start telling these histories and introduce the past to contemporary MMA fans who are the benefactors of these beginnings.
How did the relationship with the UFC develop and how have they helped you reach a wider audience in the MMA world?
Well, The UFC is the MMA World. They are synonymous with the sport of MMA. We have been meeting with the UFC for almost 2 years trying to figure out a way to work together. Over that time we have been fortunate enough to build great relationships with a number of both current UFC fighters and Champions of the sport’s past. Since our entire brand is built on the history of combat sports, the UFC and ROF agreed that a great in-point would be to tell the history of the UFC. It fit with the UFC’s branding and our unique form of storytelling. This is how the “Roots of Fight UFC Legend Series” was born.
Randy Couture, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin were among the fighters that we had already worked with and interviewed. When the UFC gave us the green light we already had a good idea of what we wanted to do. Bonnar vs Griffin was such an iconic and important fight in the UFC’s history that we knew that was the starting point. The next in the series is Couture vs Belfort – UFC 15 – featuring Big John, Kenny Florian and Randy. We are really excited about this short doc. It is a little bit longer and more involved than our previous short films and provides us an opportunity to stretch our legs a bit and dive a little deeper. Should be releasing in a few weeks.
The response from the first installment of this project has been amazing. We just did a contest with MMAmania.com and the support, comments, sharing and views along with the sales of merchandise have been exciting. The participation and support from the UFC as well as MMA Fans has been overwhelming and very encouraging.
How much free reign and/or help did the UFC give you with this collaborative series?
They have been incredibly gracious, helpful and could not have been more supportive. We are very fortunate. They have pushed out some of our pieces through social media – shared our posts via Facebook and retweeted on twitter – and recently they have increased their support and embedded Bonnar vs Griffin on UFC.com. We are looking forward to growing this collaboration into a Co-Brand with the UFC and hopefully expanding this relationship in the coming months.
You mention other sports, are combat sports and MMA going to remain a focus?
For sure! Our parent company is aptly named “Roots of Sport” and we are definitely interested in expanding into other histories but, Roots of Fight is where we started and intend to see it through. In fact, we only recently launched ROF earlier this year. We have big plans and a ton of work/fun ahead of us. We intend to develop Roots of Fight as a brand slowly and fully for years to come. This is a passion of ours…this is our baby.
After developing shirts for so many Icons and fighters what have some of the responses been when first showing them? Have you had to make many changes?
Across the board, truthfully, we have had virtually 100% support from everyone. Some took longer than others to allow us to work with their brand and create artwork for them but once we had begun we universally were given amazing access and then had few if any change requests to film, art or apparel. We don’t cut any corners and do our best not to give them any reason for changes. Each group from Ali to Bruce Lee to Tyson to the Gracies have let us do our thing. We feel incredibly grateful that these Icons have entrusted us with their legacies. In most cases each organization has often opened doors, introduced us to others, given us unfettered access to archives and been incredibly generous with their time.
We are a different breed. We are almost an anti-brand as we solely focus on the history and stories of those we are working with. If we are making a short film and/or capsule clothing collection on the Gracies…then it is all about that story, not about us. This makes us and our relationships with our partners very unique…we are more like brand custodians that shine the light on them rather than ourselves. Also, being a lifestyle media and apparel company really separates us from others in the space. We haven’t seen any companies in any field let alone combat sports, doing anything similar to what we have created.
You can check out more at www.rootsoffight.com Follow them on Twitter @rootsoffight and Like them Facebook. They are also doing a global campaign with Movember where they brought along Ali, Bruce Lee, Lyoto Machida and the Gracies (as well as Snoop Dogg, Evel Knievel and NHL enforcer George Parros) in a very cool short film series and Ltd edition apparel collection to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health.
This year’s initiative is called “Movember and Sons” and appropriately is about the passing down of history/heritage from generation to generation. Should be an incredible fit for this list of heavyweight names from the combat sports world. Register at movember.com and join the Lancaster Ltd/Roots of Fight team.