Today, a press release was issued by WME | IMG announcing the acquisition of UFC for $4.2 billion, the world’s premier professional mixed martial arts (MMA) organization.
Details of the sale were published in a New York Times article released late last night with the accuracy of the report confirmed by UFC President Dana White to Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” said WME | IMG Co-CEOs Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell. “It’s been exciting to watch the organization’s incredible growth over the last decade under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers, Dana White and their dedicated team. We’re now committed to pursuing new opportunities for UFC and its talented athletes to ensure the sport’s continued growth and success on a global scale.”
(WME/IMG Co-CEO, Ari Emanuel, Photo Credit: askmen.com)
Upon closing, Lorenzo Fertitta will step down from day-to-day operations, but Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta will both retain a passive minority interest in the organization. The Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment, which purchased 10 percent of the UFC in 2010, will also keep its share for now.
“No other sport compares to UFC,” remarked Dana White, UFC’s President who will continue in that role. “Our goal has always been to put on the biggest and the best fights for our fans, and to make this the biggest sport in the world. I’m looking forward to working with WME | IMG to continue to take this sport to the next level.”
In 2001, White and the Fertitta brothers purchased the company for $2 million from Semaphore Entertainment Group. They formed the holding company, Zuffa, LLC, which means, “fight” in Italian.
Each Fertitta had 45 percent with White retaining 10 percent. In 2010, the Fertitta brothers sold 9 percent and White 1 percent to bring on Flash Entertainment.
(Dana White, Randy Couture and Lorenzo Fertitta during the early UFC years, Photo Credit: Mike McNeil/Sherdog)
During the pre-Zuffa days, the organization had no weight classes and was considered a pay-per-view oddity described by Senator John McCain as “human cockfighting.”
Childhood friend Dana White famously convinced the Station Casino owning Fertitta’s to buy the organization, which he saw as needing stringent rules and State Athletic Commission regulation to gain mainstream acceptance.
(Lorenzo Fertitta, Photo Credit: Zuffa, LLC)
Lorenzo Fertitta, who had been a Commissioner of the Nevada State Athletic Commission from 1996 to 2000, relinquished his Presidency of Station Casinos in 2008 to become the Chairman and CEO of the UFC.
“We’re confident that the new ownership team of WME | IMG, with whom we’ve built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC’s global growth," said Lorenzo J. Fertitta, Chairman and CEO, UFC. "Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organization and its athletes.”
The team went on a hiring spree netting notables like former Nevada State Athletic Commission Director Marc Ratner who lobbied every State Athletic Commission head until the sport was legalized in all States.
Recently, the ban on MMA was lifted by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the last and most valuable sporting State of New York with the UFC planning to hold its first event in Madison Square Garden in November 2016.
The turnaround story of the UFC is epic as Zuffa, LLC reportedly lost $40 million dollars until its self-funded reality series The Ultimate Fighter blew up on then new Spike TV. The momentum of that season’s finale feature slugfest between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar created a viral buzz that put the UFC firmly on the map.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the WME/IMG group also included private equity firms Silver Lake and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and an investment company owned by Dell Computers founder Michael Dell.
WME/IMG is not expected to play an active role in running the company.
Ari Emanuel, the brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and inspiration for the character Ari Gold from the defunct HBO series “Entourage,” is close with the Fertitta brothers and has represented the UFC in the past. Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey is represented by WME.
The sale is expected to close before UFC 202 on Aug. 20.
Our sources say that the Fertitta brothers are interested in bringing an NFL team to Las Vegas in their lifetime and with the NHL now firmly planted in the desert a major football franchise might not be far behind. Recently, Jerry Jones has lobbied for an NFL franchise to come to Las Vegas and Mayor Carolyn Goodman is also reportedly an advocate of a plan to bring the Oakland Raiders to the desert.