Tussle Fight Gear owner Slade Bittler said on Jan. 23 in an exclusive interview with Long Island MMA Examiner Eric Holden that he's excited for the future of his company as women's MMA continues to push further into the mainstream sports world.
In recent years, some of the top female fighters from around the globe have been spotted wearing Tussle Fight Gear apparel. Miesha Tate, Cris "Cyborg" Santos, Bec Hyatt and Paige VanZant are just some of the many who regularly sport Tussle gear in and out of the cage.
Bittler, who started the brand in 2009, is the man behind the scenes who makes the magic happen, and he generously took out a few minutes of his time to discuss what he's been working on lately with Tussle Fight Gear. Here's what he had to say:
Q. Tussle seems to have come a long way in a short amount of time. To me, I think a lot of MMA fans found out about the brand from Miesha Tate rocking the gear. Is there a certain moment you can pinpoint where you would say you really hit it big?
Bittler: Well, I don’t know how short of time is short, we got started back in mid 2009 and have been trying to make a run at it ever since. I believe you are right, that most people first learned about us from Miesha, as she was the first person I ever sponsored. We still work together a little, but Zuffa makes it impossible for me to sponsor their contracted fighters, so I am bummed that I can no longer work with Miesha in that respect, but she is still family, and always will be!
As far as hitting it big, I don’t think that has happened yet, but any time I get to watch somebody fight, and they are wearing something of mine, win or lose, I always smile, and it always makes me proud. To me I guess, each time this happens is a big, it moment for me. Hitting it big hasn’t happened yet, but I am still trying hard to make that happen.
Q. How do you select which fighters to sponsor? Is it more about marketability or fighting ability?
Bittler: That is a good question, and a tough one to answer. Marketability is a great thing, and some of these ladies really have it going on, but that is not the only thing I look for. I try to work with people that I feel are truly talented. That doesn’t mean I am looking for people who’s record is 9-0, that means I am looking for people that train, focus, and really give it their all. Heart is a huge part of this sport, and to me, if a fighter goes out there, and leaves everything in the cage, win or lose, that shows me that you worth looking into.
Last but not least, the way you conduct yourself shows me what kind of person you are. When I sponsor somebody, they become a representative of my company. You are showing the world that we work together, so make me proud, and I will promote you, and get your name and face out in front of people. If you act an ass, don’t even bother calling me. I have cut people for this, and discuss this very item with the people I do work with, so that everybody is on the same page. I want success for both the fighter, and me, and acting like an ass is not good for either!
Q. Is the growth of your brand tied in with the growth of Invicta FC at all?
Bittler: Invicta FC, has turned into an amazing promotion, and a great place to showcase the lady’s in the sport, from the ones that are making their pro debut, up to the lady’s that have been here since the very beginning. I am excited about Invicta and what the bring to the table for the ladies. Has it helped grow the brand, maybe a little.
Actually it is hard to track if sales were sparked by the promotion or it’s events, but I can track sales around the time of their shows, and see a spike in activity, so I would assume that can be related back to Invicta. When they signed Bec Hyatt, we had just started working together, and in the following weeks, it spurred a slew of sales going over to Australia, and that was pretty much directly related to both Bec, and also Alex Chambers, also from Australia, and now signed with Invicta. So, I guess the answer is yes, slightly, but in any case, I hope they continue doing what they are doing, I think Janet and Shannon are doing an amazing job.
Q. Is Tussle focused more on women's MMA products, or you focus just as much on fight gear for male fighters?
Bittler: Definitely focused on the women right now. We offer products for both, tee’s, hoodies, fight shorts, rash guards, sports bras, the whole nine yards. There are so many companies out there focused on the guys tee shirt market, I try not to get in there and compete to much, but still do offer guys items with new ones coming out all the time. There aren’t very many companies that make products that are specifically for lady’s, and we do.
Most companies, take guys items, and throw pink on them, and that doesn’t work for the ladies. Ladies have hips, hineys and boobs. That means guys stuff doesn’t fit them right or comfortably. I design our lady’s items with lady’s in mind. It’s a smaller niche market compared to the guys market for sure, but it is growing daily, and I intent to help it continue in that fashion.
Q. Is there anything about your gear that helps prevent wardrobe malfunctions?
Bittler: I know there have been issues with not only some of the girls on the Invicta cards, but others as well. Some of that can’t be helped, especially when the fight ends up in a clinch, or goes to the floor. You have two people trying to rip each others head, arms, and legs off, and sooner or later the clothing will be grabbed, pulled, kicked, or whatnot, and bam, you get more than you paid for. I think the fact that our lady’s specific items are designed by a woman, and made for a woman helps out quite a bit.
That means everything fits the way it should, but allows flexibility and movement. It also helps if the fighters are wearing stuff that is the right size for them. Some fights are last minute, or some fight outfits don’t get worked on until right before the fight with people working on sponsors and whatnot. That means last minute outfits, that may or may not fit the fighters the way they should for what they are about to be put through. Luckily we have never had an occurrence with anybody wearing our clothing having a wardrobe malfunction as of yet. Fingers crossed it will never happen!
Q. I see you sponsor Courtney Cardoza. Any particular reason why you decided to sponsor such a young fighter? Do you think you're going to be getting more into getting your gear on young amateurs like that, or it's more about focusing on the pro game?
Bittler: Why yes I do, and I am very proud of that little lady. Courtney is not only a sweetheart, but she is also probably one of the most dedicated people in the sport. That kid trains like six hours a day, eleventeen days a week and competes in tournaments all the time. Some times two a month, and actually she is competing, in two, this weekend!
She is a very talented young lady, and I can’t wait to see her progression over the the next few years! I think the youths that are just now being introduced to the sport will play a huge part in where this sport goes in the next 5 years. I also try not to focus on pro fighters only, because the amateurs are the backbone of the sport, without them, you wouldn’t have any future pros.
There are a lot of talented lady’s out there that are just now starting to become active, and these ammy’s are a new breed of fighter. They start younger, and train in all aspects of the sport from the start. I think you will find that the lady’s turning pro are very talented these days, and will only continue to get better moving forward.
Q. How did Tussle gear get started?
Bittler: I have been watching MMA as a fan for years, and was looking for a way to get involved in the sport, without getting my ass kicked on a daily basis, and this seemed like a good way to do that. I started the company back in mid 2009, and was sponsoring fighters immediately. About mid 2010, I started helping the girls I sponsor find fights, as the promotions would call me looking for ladies since I worked with a bunch of them.
This has slowly turned into a small management project for me, an now I work with a handful of talented ladies that I am very proud of. Not exactly where I saw the company going when I started it, but you have to be able to react, and roll with the punches, and so far, I think we are doing a great job!
Q. Who is your favorite fighter?
Bittler: I am a big fan of MMA, although with there being fights on Friday and Saturday night, as well as shows, tournaments and what not going on nonstop, I am kind of getting burned out on watching the fights, unless there are ladies involved, then I will go out of my way to watch them if I can, even if it is somebody I am not working with.
I always enjoy a good women's fight, and it helps me scout talent and see who I may or may not want to be working with in the future. Favorite fighters, I have a few, and each of them are for different reasons. If I name one, I will be killed for not naming them all. But, it all started with Miesha Tate, she is the reason I started working with the girls in the first place. Is she my favorite? Only her and I know that!
Q. How does the sponsorship process work? You pay fighters to wear your gear, or you just give them gear and hope they wear it?
Bittler: Each person is a different case, and I treat them as such. Most everybody I work with, gets clothing to fight or train in, and some clothing to kick around in. Some are paid to wear our gear, or put our logo on their outfit for a fight.
But to me, it’s more about promoting the people you work with. I can throw money at you, but to me working together to get somebody’s name and face out in front of more people, is more important to the fighter than a one shot payment. Promoting the fighters helps them get more fights. More fights mean more fans. More fans mean more fights with better pay and more sponsors. In the end, that is the goal for the fighter, more fights with better pay, more paying sponsors, and more supportive fans. This has to be a two way street, you help me grow as a company, and I will help you grow as an athlete.
Q. Where can MMA fans and fighters check you guys out to make purchases, etc?
Bittler: Tusslefightgear.com is the website, and there you can see some of the people I work with, pictures, stats, and whatnot, and also the store. My Facebook page, and the Tussle Fight Gear fan page are also good places to get up to date info, as well as see what might be new, or coming up in the near future. Then there is the rest of the media, Twitter and Instagram, and you can find me on both, under Tussle Fight Gear. I go in spurts on both, so sometimes I am crazy active, other times, nothing at all, it just depends on how busy I am and what I have going on at the time.