While the sale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship to William Morris Endeavor and International Management Group (WME-IMG) last summer was the largest ever for a professional sports franchise, the reported $4.2 billion figure could have been even larger.
“I was never in this for the money ever. When we bought this thing we bought it for $2 million and then we were upside down and everything else. For me it’s always taking it to the next level,” UFC President Dana White said in an interview on UFC Fight Pass. “When we were doing this deal, there were two groups that came in for more money than Ari. There was one for $5 billion.”
White did not name the other groups involved, but the decision was made to sell to WME-IMG in part because of the long-term vision of company CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.
“One of the million things that I respect about the Fertittas, they weren’t just going to let this thing go for the money,” White said. “They were gonna make sure it went to somebody who could actually take it and bring it to the next level.”
After the sale, Lorenzo Fertitta, who owned 40.5 percent of the UFC, stepped down from day-to-day operations while maintaining passive minority interest. Frank Fertitta III also relinquished his 40.5 percent share. White, meanwhile, sold his nine percent stake in the company for a reported $360 million while remaining in his role as UFC president.
“I’m in. I love this. I”m not going anywhere. I signed a five-year deal [to remain UFC president] because you have to sign a deal,” White said. “I’d have signed a 55-year deal. No matter what you sign, you’re either here because you want to be or you’re not. I said it a long time ago, this has the potential to be the biggest sport in the world. We have more potential now to reach more people so that the world can see the fights.”
Much of White’s optimism stems from the portfolio of WME-IMG. The agency represents artists in movies, music, television, theater, digital and publishing and has the potential to expand the Las Vegas-based promotion’s reach. According to White, it’s a far cry from when he and the Fertittas were just starting out in the fight business.
“If you look at what Lorenzo, Frank and I accomplished, when we had no production experience, no connections to Hollywood, television isn’t what we did, we’d never been in the pay-per-view business before and you look at what we did. Now, we’re with a guy who is the king of Hollywood and doing deals like this is what he does,” White said. “It’s just gonna be so much bigger for the sport, obviously for the brand and for the fighters.”
So far, it has largely been business as usual for the UFC, although there were many layoffs and resignations within the company not long after the sale was finalized. While White would get specific, he claims that there are big things in store for the future.
“Ari is one of these guys, he’s got huge balls, he is very smart and he has laid out a really great plan for the sport. The vision that Ari has for it right now I am on board and I love it,” White said.
“The level that we’re gonna take this thing to is gonna blow people away. We’re considered one of the most valuable sports franchises on earth. It’s gonna be so much bigger. We’re working on some cool s—t.”