New York Daily News

UFC, bought for $2M in 2000, sold for 4 BILLION DOLLARS!!!


IN ONE of the biggest sports transactio­ns of all time, the Ultimate Fighting Championsh­ips has sold itself for $4 billion to William Morris Endeavor, the giant talent agency. The sale of the mixed martial arts franchise marks an astonishin­g windfall for Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the casino operators who bought the UFC in 2000 for just $2 million. Signals that such a transactio­n was in the works were visible in retrospect, according to Doug Merlino, author of the 2015 book “BEAST: The Blood, Struggle, and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts”. “There’s been this effort in the last few years to make it so much more respectabl­e,” says Merlino. “When it started in 1994 it was a kick boxer knocking the teeth out of a sumo wrestler.” Merlino points to several recent UFC initiative­s to “steer the ship more towards the mainstream,” including the funding of a scientific studies to research the impact of head injuries among fighters, as well the UFC’s establishm­ent of a serious anti-doping program, led by former federal criminal investigat­or Jeff Novitzky and partnering with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“Ronda Rousey and other female fighters, that was definitely a huge change in their public image,” says Merlino. “Before, it had a niche audience, and was a spectacle of extreme violence that I think young men wanted to see.”

The UFC’s new owner, William Morris Endeavor, is led in part by Ari Emanuel, best known as the inspiratio­n for the character of Ari Gold, the agent in the HBO series “Entourage.” WME purchased another large agency, IMG Worldwide, in a $2.2 billion deal that closed in 2013.

The Fertitta brothers will retain a “passive minority interest” in the UFC after the deal is formally closed, according to a press release. Dana White, who has been the public face of the business, will remain as UFC’s president.

Broadcasti­ng its events on pay-per-view to more than a billion households worldwide, the UFC is the leader in mixed martial arts fighting, which leaves participan­ts bloodied and often unconsciou­s. The sport, which first gained popularity in the 1990s, was likened to “human cockfighti­ng” early on.

When the Fertitta brothers bought the UFC in 2000 the sport was at a crossroads, with cable television networks under political pressure not to air the events, and state athletic commission­s refusing to sanction events. But the Fertitta brothers found a home for the UFC in Las Vegas, and a reality show about the fighters led to a new burst of popularity.

This past weekend, the UFC held its 200th event in Las Vegas, where the franchise is based. Fighter Jon Jones was excluded from the event after testing positive for a banned substance.

Merlino’s book explores the scrappy world of upstart fighters looking for a chance at UFC glory.

“You have all these gyms where guys and women walk in and start fighting,” says Merlino. “The pay scale for fighters, besides the well-known names, is quite low. The thing with William Morris that’s interestin­g is I bet we’re going to find more fighters being big personalit­ies in movies and whatnot.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States