New UFC owners WME/IMG promise commitment to growth; White, Fertitta comment on sale

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

Dana White (photo credit Gary Vazquez © USA Today Sports)

Zuffa is cashing out, and a big windfall is coming the way of Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta with the $4 billion sale of the UFC. The deal was officially announced in a press release early Monday morning, featuring comments from new owners WME/IMG, Dana White, and Lorenzo Fertitta.

Describing itself as “a global leader in entertainment and sports with a portfolio of more than 800 owned, operated and/or commercially represented events… which has a proven track record of building leading sports brands,” WME/IMG is promising to “focus on accelerating the sport’s popularity and presence around the world.” They’ll be joined by “strategic investors” Silver Lake Partners and KKR, and will receive additional equity financing from MSD Capital, L.P. and MSD Partners, L.P.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” read a statement attributed to 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.”

Lorenzo Fertitta, who has been a key cog in the day to day operations of the UFC, will be stepping down from that role after a transition period, though he and his brother will retain a small stake in the organization. However, he promises new ownership believes in the vision they set out to achieve with the organization, and will bring it to new heights.

“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,” Fertitta said. “Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organization and its athletes.”

Added Dana White, who will remain in his role as UFC President, “No other sport compares to UFC. 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.”

Penick’s Analysis: It’s a day that’s been expected for some time, but it’s now a reality. Zuffa’s massive return on investment is being pocketed almost exclusively by two men, something which many fans and fighters will see as an outrage. Some might be looking optimistically at new owners as being willing to address concerns on fighter pay across the board, but that’s not really how these types of things necessarily work out. It’s possible, sure, and negotiations will be interesting with fighters moving forward given the role Lorenzo Fertitta played, but I don’t know where things will go on that end. It may be beneficial for some, especially as there’s already an inherent conflict of interest with WME/IMG already representing several fighters, namely one Ronda Rousey, although they claim that will have no bearing on contract talks. Clearly there remains a lot of questions, but regardless of that the UFC, and the sport potentially, moves on under a new banner.

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