UFC sold for $4 billion.
That is the headline that has dominated the MMA world since the deal Monday that saw the talent agency WME-IMG take over the company.
And for stakeholders of the business, that is a far better headline than “UFC hit by doping scandal” or “Connor McGregor misses mandatory press conference”.
UFC 200 was suppose to be an enormous event that was going to propel the sport into the mainstream. Superstar McGregor was suppose to get a shot at redemption against Nate Diaz, Daniel Cormier was set to defend the Light Heavyweight Belt, and Miesha Tate was primed to solidify her spot as the dominate woman in the sport and a worthy foe for when Ronda Rousey returns.
Instead we got McGregor failing to promote his fight, while seemingly running his mouth promoting a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather that will never happen. This cost him his card; a self inflicted wound for the UFC, but one they needed to take in order to create a precedent.
Optimists could argue that the self-policing displayed by the UFC in the McGregor incident is ultimately a positive, but where was this accountability when the United States Anti-Doping Agency needed to step in and remove Jon Jones from his title fight against Cormier? The USADA has been recognized by the UFC as official anti-doping program for their fighters, but to be blindsided by this news just days before the fight was to be held shows a deep-seated doping epidemic.
Lastly, as fans eagerly await for the return of Rousey, the biggest name in the sport announced in April that she would not be ready to fight her old rival Miesha Tate at UFC 200. The consolation for the MMA organization would be for Tate to defend her title, something that no woman has been able to do since Holly Holm dethroned Rousey at UFC 193.
Instead of UFC having one historic fight after another, we got Cormier fighting an ill-prepared Anderson Silva rocking a dad-bod in a non-title fight, Tate getting knocked out in the first round by Amanda Nunes proving that without Rousey the women’s division is a revolving door of short-lived champions, and the cheap thrill of Brock Lesnar triumphantly returning to the octagon, essentially being rented from the WWE, only to be hit with an after-the-fact drug scandal.
Despite all this, president Dana White and founders Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta were able to ink a deal that sold the UFC for $4 billion, the most expensive transaction for a sports organization in history.
This was a mistake. The Fertitta brothers purchased the UFC for $2 million back in 2000; quite the return on investment in 16 years. But for WME-IMG and their partners, $4 billion is just too much to put into the purchase of an MMA league that is plagued with question marks.
The biggest one of them all? Not the drugs and unmanageable stars, but the inherent dangers of the sport.
The UFC is one bad night away from being done. Knock on wood, but if a fighter was to ever die in the octagon, that would spell the end of the organization, and arguably the sport.
People are already up in arms over sport-related head trauma; you can only imagine what the fallout would be if a life-ending tragedy were to take place.
The UFC is no longer being run on borrowed time, that is to say that the initial investment has just been cashed in for a 2000% return, vastly surpassing expectations when purchased 16 years ago. The new owners now have a vested interest in their acquisition, and it will be interesting what changes they may take to protect it.
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Follow author: @MarkStaniusz