TORONTO - David Makdessi knew all about the fight game from his younger brother, UFC lightweight John (The Bull) Makdessi.
But the 34-year-old Montreal native wanted his clothing line to be more than skulls and snakes. He wanted it to reflect the fact that you don't have to step into a cage or ring to be fighting for something.
Hence the concept behind Fear the Fighter, whose slogan is "Strength, Courage, Honour."
"We all have our battles every day to overcome," explained David Makdessi, who is the company's president and sole owner.
On the company website (www.fearthefighter.com/), visitors are encouraged to share their story.
Leyla Makdessi, sister to David and John, details her struggle to have a baby. Chris Galinsky, an amateur fighter who is a father to six, talks of his challenge to train and work two jobs. Logan Reeve tells the story of his 11.5-year effort to earn his black belt. And Leslie Rials, a 43-year-old grandmother, shares how she took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu some 15 months ago and now teaches a BJJ class for women.
"I pride myself in training and fighting hard but still being feminine (the beautiful art of BJJ) and showing everyone it's NEVER too late to start!" writes Rials.
"Never give up on your dreams," adds Reeve.
Leyla Makdessi cites her brothers "who have shown me that anything is possible."
John, 27, has been a major influence. David has watched him train, cut weight, win and lose both as a kickboxer and mixed martial arts fighter.
"It's not easy," David said. "People think they just walk into the ring and fight. Most of the people don't know the background leading up to the fight ... Even after the fight. They just continue, just continue training and getting themselves better. They don't stop. It's hard to be a fighter."
Paying the bills isn't easy either.
David's preference is one-year deals — which usually cover three bouts — with his athletes, rather than using them as human billboards for just one fight.
That gives the fighters some security while ensuring Fear the Fighter can make a lasting impression, rather than be replaced by a rival at the next fight.
"It's not just sponsoring a fighter," said John. "We're trying to build a team, build a family. My brother's doing a great job with Fear the Fighter."
David proved that FTF is more than a business when he opted to pay his sponsored fighters from the UFC 151 card after it was cancelled.
John is already reaping the rewards of the FTF brotherhood. In advance of his fight Saturday night with veteran Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout of London, Ont., he has gone to New York to train with former UFC lightweight champion Frankie (The Answer) Edgar, an FTF teammate, and Brazilian world jiu-jitsu champion Marcelo Garcia.
Fear the Fighter has been around for just a little over six months with seven to eight employees in addition to the design team. But David, with his brother as inspiration, says he has had the vision since 2007.
"It's crazy how life is," said John, whose pro MMA record is 9-2 including 2-2 in the UFC. "Because maybe five, six years ago it was just a thought in our head."
Today it is growing around the globe, but it's still a company in its infancy.
"We're at the point of building the business," said David. "It's not easy to break through, especially the MMA market and the UFC market. It costs a lot of money to be where we are now. Eventually it pays off."
The UFC gets its cut. The company pays a licensing fee to the MMA juggernaut, which in turn allows its fighters to showcase the gear.
David has accomplished a lot in a short time.
UFC 149 in July was the first UFC show that saw a glimpse of the Fear the Fighter gear. The line got a boost the next month when Edgar wore a FTF shirt in Denver in the main event of UFC 150.
And it was everywhere at the Sept. 29 UFC card in Nottingham, England, where nine or 10 fighters wore the brand.
"The goal was to bring it to the Europe market," said David.
Expect a heavy presence on this weekend's UFC 154 card in Montreal. Those wearing Fear the Fighter will include Canadians Mark Bocek, Anthony (Pato) Carvalho, Patrick (The Predator) Cote, Mark (The Machine) Hominick and John Makdessi, as well as Chad Griggs, Constantinos Philippou and co-main event fighter Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann.
"We're going to try and do what we did for Nottingham and more," said David.
He has no background in clothing, saying he relies on "taste" and public feedback. He calls himself an entrepreneur whose businesses range from construction to daycares.
He is actively involved in design, with his artists taking it "to the next level."
"I knew it was time for a new brand to step in because everybody was getting fed up with the regular skulls and all that images."
There are no "scary shirts." David envisions anyone wearing it and is even working on a kids' line.
Other fighters who wear the brand include Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy, Jake Shields, Joe Lauzon, Louis Gaudinot, Max Holloway, Tom Watson, Stefan (Skyscraper) Struve and Stipe Miocic.
"I don't go after fighters," said David. "Especially if they have contracts with other brands. I didn't like to do that even though maybe other brands would approach fighters. ... They come to us."
One plus is each fighter gets a signature shirt, rather than a generic one.
"It's different when you just slap something on a shirt and just have the name brand on you. A fighter feels more complete and more accomplished when he sees he has his own signature shirt. It says something."
It is as if each fighter has his own crest.
The signature shirts are FTF's best-sellers. Fans "like to represent their best fighters and that's what we want to do."
He also looks to go beyond shirts. Hardy, for example, made a video with FTF help that details his MMA philosophy.
"Usually the fighters market the brand and we're trying to do the opposite, which is the brand will be so big that the fighters will be marketed by the brand," said David.
"Basically they become FTF family," he added.
Such personalized services makes for a lot of work.
"If it was easy, I guess everybody would be doing it," David said dryly.
"It's 24-7. I'm dealing with different time zones ... You have to be up and ready and answer people back. You just have to be on the ball and be prepared."
But despite the hours he's enjoying the ride.
"It's nice when you wake up and you enjoy what you're doing," he said.
FTF already has dipped into the ranks of lacrosse and is sponsoring an NLL exhibition game in December at Montreal's Bell Centre. It is also looking at hockey.
"That's what I like about the name. The name represents a lot of sports, a lot of people. It's not only MMA," said David.
The clothing line is available through the company website, MMAWarehouse.com and regional retail stores.