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UFC sold to WME-IMG for $4 billion

Back in 2001, Dana White convinced his childhood friend Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother Frank Fertitta III to shell out $2 million to buy the still underground and truly struggling mixed martial arts promotion, Ultimate Fighting Championship. On Monday, July 11, 2016, it the Fertitta’s and the parent company they created, Zuffa LLC, sold UFC to promotion company WME-IMG for $4 billion.

Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother Frank's ownership of UFC saved the struggling MMA promotion and brought it to tremendous heights.

Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother Frank’s ownership of UFC saved the struggling MMA promotion and brought it to tremendous heights.

Zuffa saved UFC from an almost certain demise as at the time of the purchase there was very limited exposure and the sports was actually banned and called illegal in several states around the country. There were almost no ways to make money other than to convince people to buy Pay Per Views to watch this outlaw sport that has almost no coverage or way to attract new fans. For a period of time, shows could only be seen by satellite dish and it wasn’t offered by cable providers.

When Zuffa stepped in that $2 million was only a small investment compared to what they had to spend to fight to get the sport sanctioned in other states, to fight to get it back on cable pay-per-view, to increase marketing and selling fights on DVDs so fans who might be interested could pu out a smaller amount of money to see if they liked what they were watching before committing to a larger live PPV payment every time they had fights.

It was slow, but UFC was saved. Their deal with Fox Sports Net and The Best Damn Sports Show Period put UFC on television, though only I small doses, it was visibility. Then, in 2005 the idea came up to create a reality TV show in which six fighters would be competing for a contract in a show called The Ultimate Fighter. UFC was on Spike TV every week and attracted a hug audience. That was the true breakout point for the UFC. People could actually see what this sport was for free, regularly and convince their friends to tune in the next week.

Now we are where we are now with UFC being showed pretty much weekly either on Fox or Fox Sports 1, with highlights shows all over local cable channels and monthly PPVs and stars appearing in major media events and movies and crossing over into the mainstream. They bought up competition like Pride, Strikeforce and WEC to ensure their status as the king of MMA promotion, but also loaded up on talent while doing it.

Still, the UFC is only generating $600 million in revenue per year. But the $4 billion given up to purchase it was not without a plan to make up that money.

Not much is expected to change with the UFC. White will still be the President and the face of the company as well as a part owner. Don’t expect any massive overhaul to a growing product that people are growing to love.

This sale was about expansion in Asia. Other than Japan and South Korea, Asia has is an untapped market, in particular China has been. The Fertitta’s may have grew UFC to a great level, but it became global without the two most populous countries in the world (China and India) with pretty much zero exposure in Africa. Expansion there would take time, but eventually you’d start seeing gyms pop up and fighters from those countries coming to the UFC.

Also, a better TV deal to get off the struggling FS1 and away from a program like FS2 that isn’t even offered by most cable providers, and onto something more stable would be highly beneficial to the UFC. Considering WME is a wide-spread promotion company with connections in every medium imaginable, they could possibly be looking to get UFC on a most stable network, like TBS, where they partnered with Turner Broadcasting to televise e-sports, or ABC, where their Miss Universe pageants are.

Either way, it was amazing what two Casino operators could do to grow UFC over 16 years. Now having a true promotion company running it, when they say UFC could be taken to the next level, it doesn’t just seem like random jibberish.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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