Dan Henderson secured a sponsorship with Metal Mulisha just in time for his split decision victory over Rich Franklin this past January and has appeared in multiple print advertisements for the company since. There’s a good chance the 185-pounder is walking the streets of Temecula, Calif. sporting one of the company’s logo, which features a skull in a military helmet that bears the letters “MM.”
Though only recently endorsed by Metal Mulisha, the fighter always had strong ties to them. “One of the owners, Brian Deegan, started training at my gym and he’s a great guy,” Henderson says. “I like a lot of their clothing as well, so it’s turned into a pretty good sponsorship.”
“Hendo” is also quick to point out that while clothing lines such as Affliction and Ecko Unlimited have entered the fight market within the past four years, Metal Mulisha has virtually been around from the jump. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but they were sponsoring guys ten years ago. They didn’t make the best choices with who they sponsored, but they were still trying to support the sport and everyone involved in it back then,” the middleweight says. “Since then, they’ve definitely have acquired more of a grasp on who they should be sponsoring and some of the better guys who have a better reputation.”
The Metal Mulisha never really cared about sponsoring top fighters though. They just wanted to help out their friends and have their back. After all, owners Deegan and Larry “Link” Linkogle know what it’s like working for companies that couldn’t care less about their athletes.
In the 90’s, “Link” was a rising superstar in the world of motocross. Although he secured sponsorships, the corporations didn’t treat him too kindly – according to “Link”,” he usually got bum equipment and wasn’t fairly compensated. In 1996, “Link” had enough.
“You know what,” he thought to himself, “Fuck this scene. Fuck the system. Fuck all these guys we’re making money for who don’t even wanna help us out at all. When you ask them for something, they throw fingers in the air like ‘Fuck you’.”
“Link” retaliated by bulldozing his supercross track and creating the first ever freestyle motocross track in its place. Also, in 1996, the FMX pioneer got the idea for Metal Mulisha while on a road trip with his buddy, pro surfer Nathan Fletcher. “We ran with the theme of it’s nothing now, but someday it’ll be something,” “Link” recalls. “So we wrote it (Metal Mulisha) in marker on our bikes and spray painted it on cars and [did] stencils, and that whole deal.”
Metal Mulisha took shape in 1998 when Deegan partnered up with “Link”. The two tattooed riders shared the same anti-corporate ideology and built their brand to reflect that. Then freestyle motocross exploded in ‘99 and the extreme sport became part of the X Games. At the forefront with their gear was Metal Mulisha.
“The whole attitude and image was just the perfect timing,” “Link” explains. “[We were] catapulted with the growth of freestyle motocross because there weren’t many companies that could relate with that type of lifestyle, so what better company to follow than people who are actually doing it?”
Since then, the rebel brand has gained a presence in retail stores like Pac Sun and continues to flourish thanks in part to their incredible moto team, which includes Beau Manley, Colin Morrison, Derek Garland and Jeremy Lusk, who was killed on Feb. 10, 2009 from injuries suffered in San Jose, Costa Rica.
While most of Metal Mulisha’s focus has been in FMX, they’ve also dabbled in MMA. When Deegan and “Link” set-up shop in Temecula back in ‘98, they built a ring in their warehouse so buddies like Phil Ensminger had a place to train. In fact, “Link” admits Ensminger “was the one who basically got us all into it and basically the driving force behind Metal Mulisha Bare Knuckle. If it wasn’t for that bro right there, I know myself, and I know for a fact my partner, wouldn’t be involved in fighting.”
As the sport continued to evolve, Metal Mulisha was becoming more profitable and it allowed the anti-corporate clothing line to help out other mixed martial artists. In addition to Henderson, the company sponsors Jake Shields, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Dominic Cruz, Erik Apple and Jason MacDonald.
While they are in major retail chains and malls across America, “Link” credits his friends, the riders and the fighters for the success of Metal Mulisha. “It’s not just a company. It’s like a real family. Everyone works together,” he says. “The freaking heart of Metal Mulisha is not just a click-in-your-time-card deal. [If it wasn’t for the] artists, riders, fighters, [and] everyone going out and doing their all, then the company would completely crumble.”
Read more about Metal Mulisha and other extreme lifestyle brands crossing over into MMA in the August issue of FIGHT! Magazine.