When the UFC was sold for a historic $4 billion to WME-IMG in August, the world took a collective gasp.
The exhale was mainly for the whopping price tag for a business that was once labeled “human-cockfighting” by Congressional legislators in the nineties. To have made it from sideshow pay-per-view oddity to the biggest sale of a sports franchise in history is nothing short of monumental.
However, as we all know in business, with more paper comes more drama and the pipeline of chicanery has started to flow from the Nevada desert and onto the headlines.
First, there was a massive purge of longtime UFC employees that began on October 18th, where 60-80 staffers were let go, including Executive Vice President and General Manager for Operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Tom Wright, Chief Content Officer, Marshall Zelaznik, Chief Global Branding Officer and Head of International Business Development, Garry Cook, among a few.
In addition, longtime UFC matchmaker, Joe Silva, widely thought to be responsible for the best matchups and talent acquisitions in MMA, left on his own deciding to retire.
Lawrence Epstein, the UFC’s COO and former employee of boxing promotion powerhouse Top Rank, spoke to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports about the sale last week.
Epstein addressed the layoffs as the reality of a merger with a huge company, like when WME acquires a smaller one such as the UFC. There were job redundancies and the personnel changes were made to reduce those and best take advantage of the strengths of each company’s staff.
“I really need to emphasize that the personnel changes had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the performance of those individuals who are no longer with us,” Epstein said. “What we essentially did when the deal closed is we laid out all the assets and the areas of expertise we added to the company and overlaid it to what we had.”
However, many have been more than perturbed about the UFC’s recent promotional moves. With the latest firings and integration into the WME system, we are beginning to see a precursor to some rocky roads ahead.
Recently, current interim featherweight champion Jose Aldo requested his leave after it was revealed that current featherweight champion Conor McGregor would be fighting Eddie Alvarez at the historic UFC 205 for the lightweight belt.
Aldo, who has wanted to unify the belts or see McGregor stripped so he can rebuild his championship career, has been frustrated with the emphasis on capitulating to McGregor’s desires. Recently his coach, Andre Pederneiras, said that after realizing the UFC would not let him go, Aldo will be begrudgingly awaiting the unifier in 2017.
Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre recently said during an interview with MMAFighting that he’s been negotiating his return to the UFC since February 2016. They still haven’t been able to work out an agreement over compensation.
St. Pierre reportedly wants $10 million for his return. As one of the biggest draws in UFC history, he's deserving of it. But the UFC is standing firm on their latest offer.
He has since declared himself a free agent while the UFC maintains that he's still under the contract he signed before retiring. Also, with GSP being an Under Armour sponsored athlete and the UFC firm into an athlete wide Reebok deal, the paltry earnings he would receive as a general roster sponsored fighter versus his marquee Under Armour deal would be substantial.
Other promoters like Bellator are starting to smell the blood in the water.
As the saga continues, we can only watch this nascent sport continue to grow up and deal with the fits and starts of any developing entity.
The question that remains is who will be left when the UFC is finally all grown up?