Ultimate Fighting Championship officials confirmed on Monday that the mixed martial arts brand had been sold to a group led by Ariel Emanuel’s WME-IMG talent agency.
The reported $4 billion sale price would make it the largest ownership deal in the history of professional sports.
The UFC’s chief wheeler-dealer, Dana White, also revealed that he would remain as president of the organisation.
Both he and the outgoing chairman, Lorenzo Fertitta, will retain a minority ownership in the company.
The pair had sought to quash speculation of a potential mega-money sale as recently as last week.
“We own the UFC. We did not sell the UFC,” White told US media.
But a deal worth $4b was thrashed out with Emanuel and company during what was a tumultuous weekend for the MMA fighting franchise.
UFC 200 – pegged as the biggest event in the brand’s history – appeared doomed from the get-go after Irish star Conor McGregor was axed over his refusal to fulfil media commitments.
The controversy climaxed last Wednesday with the dumping of interim light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, whose title fight with Daniel Cormier was scrapped after he tested positive for a banned substance.
Yet such drama has done little to hurt the pulling power of the UFC, which has gone from strength to strength since White and the Fertitta brothers took charge in 2001.
“No other sport compares to UFC,” White said in a press release on Monday.
“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.”
The news has brought about diverse speculation regarding the future of the UFC and its athletes.
Once a curiosity on the sporting landscape, MMA is now a global phenomenon that draws millions of viewers worldwide.
There are concerns that the switch in ownership could herald a rapid change of direction as the new bosses look to expand the brand’s audience and market share.
The UFC sought to head-off any unrest in the ranks with a press release to its fighters on Monday.
“From the moment Zuffa, LLC purchased UFC over 15 years ago, you, the athletes, have always been the central focus of the promotion,” the statement said.
“That will not change.
“WME-IMG, who has been involved with UFC for many years, is focused on the continued global expansion of mixed martial arts and committed to further promoting you on the global stage.”
McGregor was among several UFC fighters to laud White and his partners in the wake of the sale.
He tweeted: “I am honoured to have fought under the Fertitta regime! To have been mentored by these great people on this great business is a true honour!”
Others, however, hoped the changed of owners might lead to a renegotiation of the UFC’s revenue distribution agreement.
Jeremy Stephens said on Twitter: “Perfect time to change the revenue split to 46% / 54% split to be equal to the other major sports. #WeAllNeedToEat.”
Johnny Hollywood concurred: “1 single move that would change the sport for the best, literally overnight.. Match the revenue split to all major sports. (Close to 50/50).”
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