Previously, if you wanted to get your hands on – for example – a piece of authentic hand tape from a past UFC fight or a swatch of the world famous Octagon, you would either need some seriously high-level UFC clearance or to be a ninja. Both are about equally as rare these days.
Fear not, however. For those of us not named Dana White or Lorenzo or Frank Fertitta, The Topps Trading Card Company has you covered.
The iconic trading card manufacturer recently released its latest line of UFC trading cards on Feb. 2 with its “UFC Knockout Series.” It is the fifth UFC release for The Topps Trading Card Company but the first high-end product of the brand. Each pack has a suggested retail price of $20 and contains five cards, once of which is guaranteed to have a “hit,” meaning one of the cards will be either a memorabilia card or an autograph card.
UFC Brand Manager Jeremy Fullerton, who also co-hosts Rear Naked Choke Radio with Joe Rizzo on the MMA DieHards Radio Network, spent some time with MMA DieHards recently to discuss this new and exciting product that should certainly appeal to MMA fans and collectors alike.
The Topps Trading Card Company, which is celebrating its Diamond Anniversary (60 years) in 2011, has a mutually exclusive deal with the UFC that has allowed it to bring forth an unprecedented intimacy regarding collectibles. The newest feature of the product is the “Ground and Pound” card. A card of lightweight star Clay Guida, for example, has a piece of his hand tape and a piece of the Octagon from his June 2009 fight with Diego Sanchez. Autograph cards are exactly as they sound, while memorabilia cards include a piece of a fighter’s shorts, walkout shirt, or the aforementioned hand tape or Octagon mat.
“Having this relationship with the UFC has been incredible,” Fullerton said. “They’ve been very helpful and open to us getting more access than anybody else could.”
Part of that access has Fullerton and Topps heading to Las Vegas for the beginning of each season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show. Starting with season nine, Fullerton and his crew would get photos of each contestant and coaches, print the cards overnight and have the fighters sign them for inclusion into the next series of cards. The current “Knockout Series” will feature TUF 12 alumni, including season champion Jonathan Brookins, runner-up Michael Johnson and season favorites Cody McKenzie, Nam Phan and Alex Caceres.
The “Ground and Pound” and TUF cards are just some of the ways Topps is trying to uniquely market the UFC brand of trading cards. There really aren’t straight comparisons between mixed martial arts and traditional sports cards from football, baseball and basketball. The “rookie card,” for example, is a staple of any standard set and usually a prized possession for collectors. With its UFC cards, Topps uses its “UFC Debut” cards as its rookie cards.
“Every card in the first product had the designation of being a debut card,” Fullerton explained. “Each release after that takes the new guys that come into the promotion and we’ll have a picture from their first fight for their first card. Some examples in the ‘Knockout Series’ are Travis Browne and Renzo Gracie.
“We’re trying to make it unique to the the UFC.”
The Topps Trading Card Company has been in business since 1938, so anyone that has collected cards at some point in their life has owned plenty of Topps cards. Still, collectors of traditional sports cards are just getting turned onto the UFC cards while fight fans are now starting to come back to an old hobby. The UFC releases have injected new life into trading cards for both parties, and both Topps and the UFC are benefiting.
“This is all still really new,” Fullerton said. “To this day we’ll go out to a fan expo or we’ll be doing radio interviews and there are always new people that may have heard about Topps and collecting baseball and football cards, but don’t know about the UFC product. We’re still getting new fans after five releases.
“It’s a huge benefit for both Topps and the UFC. We have our core group of collectors that are loyal to our brand and will buy a box of the UFC cards to see what they’re all about, and maybe the UFC gets some new fans out of that. In turn, MMA fans that used to collect cards are getting back into it and we are starting to regain some collectors.”
It’s a win-win situation for the fans, Topps and the UFC. The fighters, however, may be the ones that love it the most.
“It’s great to see first-hand, both at ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ shoots and also at our office, fighters opening up their cards and being really excited,” Fullerton said. “That’s really exciting for us, too.
“We had Matt Serra in and he said he never thought he’d be on a trading card. He was like, ‘I’ve made it.’ For a lot of those guys in their minds being on a trading card really legitimizes them.”
With Topps being the well-known brand that it is, the UFC and its fighters can only benefit from the relationship. Fullerton, a big MMA fan who took the reins of the UFC card brand from the beginning, is more than happy to contribute in any form to the growth of the sport.
“Topps has been an established name in sports collectibles for 60 years and I’m sure it helps legitimize the UFC and the sport of MMA just as it does for them to be involved with a big video game company like THQ or Jakks with their actions figures,” Fullerton said. “It shows how much the sport is growing.”
For more information on The Topps Trading Card Company and its “UFC Knockout Series,” go to www.TOPPS.com, visit the TOPPS Facebook page or follow Topps Cards on Twitter.