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UFC's Owners Buy WWE, Plan To Combine Them And Rule Both Real And Simulated Fighting

Professional wrestler and former UFC fighter Brock Lesnar, a large muscular white man, holds a professional wrestling hold in a WWE ring on the Undertaker, another white pro wrestler. Lesnar holds onto the man's arm while standing in the corner on the middle rope of the ring. A man in a black and white striped referee shirt stands nearby WWE SummerSlam video signs are seen in the background, along with a crowd of spectators.
Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker battle it out at WWE SummerSlam 2015 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on Aug. 23, 2015 in New York City.
(JP Yim
Getty Images)
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Pro wrestling giant WWE and mixed martial arts promotion UFC won’t be fighting each other anymore — they’re being brought together in a new company. That new company will be controlled by Hollywood mega-agency Endeavor, which announced the deal on Monday.

Once the deal closes (which is expected in the second half of the year), Endeavor will have a 51% controlling interest, while WWE shareholders retain 49% interest. That new company — controlling the industry leaders in both real and simulated fighting — will be valued at more than $21 billion, according to Endeavor, with WWE valued at $9.3 billion and UFC valued at $12.1 billion.

The announcement began to leak out Sunday, with CNBC first reporting the news. It happened just before the second night of WWE’s biggest event of the year, WrestleMania, which was held this past Saturday and Sunday at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium. WWE’s stay in the area extends through Monday night with their flagship TV show Raw live from the Arena.

The new company’s leadership — and scandals

The deal keeps spots for both WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and UFC President Dana White, despite recent controversy involving each of them. For McMahon, it was the public revelation last year of multiple hush money payments he made to different women and a subsequent investigation. McMahon retired from WWE in the wake of those payments becoming public knowledge, but he returned as chairman of the company's board earlier this year as the company pursued a sale.

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Still, the company would have been sold even without that shakeup, McMahon told CNBC in an interview taped Sunday and released Monday. He also acknowledged the scandal when asked about how it may affect his legacy.

“Let me just say, I’ve made mistakes, obviously — both personally and professionally — through my 50-year career. I’ve owned up to every single one of them, and then, moved on,” McMahon said.

He reportedly paid WWE back for the hush money payments last month. He’s also taken an increased role in the company’s creative direction since returning, but he told CNBC that he won’t be as “in the weeds” as he’s been in the past.

White’s recent scandal was being caught on video slapping his wife on New Year’s Eve. It was hard to imagine worse timing, coming shortly before the launch of White’s new fighting promotion Power Slap, where competitors slap each other as hard as possible — and an accompanying reality TV show.

The new company’s executives include Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel as CEO, McMahon as executive board chairman, and Mark Shapiro serving as president and COO of both Endeavor and the new company. White will continue as UFC president, while Nick Khan will shift from CEO of WWE to a continued role as company president.

But while Vince McMahon maintains his position, the deal means that for the first time WWE will no longer be a family-controlled operation. Vince’s grandfather Jess McMahon promoted wrestling, as did Vince’s father. But Vince McMahon is the one who took wrestling national, radically changing what had previously been a regional business driven by different territories. His daughter Stephanie was previously an executive for the company and his son-in-law Paul Levesque (better known as pro wrestler Triple H) is currently its chief content officer.

It remains to be seen how Levesque or any other McMahon family members will be involved under the new company’s regime.

Endeavor beat out Saudis, NBCUniversal

Speculation had been high that NBCUniversal could buy WWE as it went up for sale. That’s because they already have a deal together worth billions that includes most the rights to most WWE content, which is available through its Peacock streaming service — a purchase could have paid for itself in the television rights fees NBCUniversal would save. But NBCUniversal never publicly expressed interest in the acquisition and the entertainment industry’s shift toward cost-cutting made that move less likely. Now Peacock may not maintain the coveted rights deal going forward. There's also speculation that WWE could return its major shows to pay-per-view, make a deal with ESPN+ similar to the one UFC currently has, or both.

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WWE has also been in business with Saudi Arabia, holding regular large shows in the country despite controversy around its regime. The nation’s government-owned investment fund was the other largest buyer reported to be interested in acquiring WWE, which McMahon acknowledged in the CNBC interview. Endeavor previously divested itself of its own involvement with the Saudi investment fund back in 2019, so the future of the new company’s business with the Saudi government — particularly after the current long-term contract expires — remains to be seen.

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