Two interesting things happened this week that prompted me to pen this Friday column. 

First, Endeavor announced Monday that it had purchased a controlling stake in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and planned to merge the company with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to create a $21 billion sports entertainment conglomerate. Endeavor CEO Aril Emanuel will lead the new company. Vince McMahon—fresh from a sexual misconduct investigation—will continue to serve as the executive chairman at WWE, while Dana White will remain in his role as UFC president. 

Then on Tuesday, Donald Trump surrendered himself at a New York courthouse before pleading not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records. The charges relate to his alleged role in hush money payments to two women during the 2016 election. It was also the first-ever criminal arraignment of a former U.S. President. 

While these two news items may seem unrelated, they paint a poignant picture of the divergent paths that Trump and his longtime friends are currently embarking on. 

Trump himself was a pro-wrestling and fight sports personage. His relationship with the WWE dates back to 1988 when he hosted the promotion’s WrestleMania IV showcase in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He also hosted the following year’s WrestleMania event and made several more appearances over the course of the next few years.   

Trump’s most memorable contribution in wrestling occurred in 2007 when he took part in a wrestling storyline with McMahon known as the “Battle of the Billionaires.” The stipulation entailed that either Trump or McMahon would have their head shaved if their competitor lost their match at WrestleMania 23. Trump won the match and ended up shaving McMahon’s head immediately following the match.

Trump was inducted into the wrestling company’s Hall of Fame’s during a ceremony at Madison Square Garden in 2013. He would go on to win the 2016 presidential elections just three years later, which only furthered his relationship with the McMahon family. In 2017, Vince’s wife Linda McMahon was chosen to head the Small Business Administration (SBA). The entire McMahon family was also pictured with Trump in the Oval Office in February 2017.

And as with Trump’s alliance with McMahon, there are deeper affinities that brought the unlikely career trajectory of the 45th president into alignment with the rise of mixed martial arts.

In 2001, Zuffa LLC, an American sports promotion company founded by Las Vegas casino tycoons Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, purchased the UFC. At the time, the mixed martial arts company was an ostracized company relegated to small venues in states like Mississippi and Alabama. Sen. John McCain referred to MMA as “human cockfighting,” a comment that had tarnished the UFC’s reputation and its ability to promote events across the country. Thirty-six states enacted laws banning “no holds barred” fighting, while the large cable pay-per-view platforms refused to air UFC events. But Trump did not care. He allowed the promotion to put on two consecutive events in 2001 at his Atlantic City casino.

These events are now the stuff of UFC marketing lore. Soon, the organization started hosting large-scale events in its home base of Las Vegas. When the UFC returned to Atlantic City in 2005, White credited the businessman for giving the promotion its “first shot.”

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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