Dana White not loving UFC/WWE crossover talk

Could we see a whole new era of MMA & pro-wrestling crossover work? Not if Dana White can help it.

By: Zane Simon | 2 weeks ago
Dana White not loving UFC/WWE crossover talk
Dana White at UFC Kansas City. - Matt Davies IMAGO/ZUMA WIRE

The merger between the world’s largest MMA promotion and the world’s largest pro-wrestling promotion is officially underway. The UFC & WWE made their partnership official this week, uniting under the newly created TKO brand for the company’s debut on Wall Street.

The move has created some minor shakeups among top brass for both sports-entertainment properties, with Vince McMahon taking an executive role on the TKO board, working under the direction of Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel. The deal has also led to some speculation as to what kind of branding partnerships fans might expect from the WWE & UFC going forward.

The most obvious so far has been the potential for the WWE & UFC to hold back-to-back events in the same locations, increasing site fees in cities looking to attract more visitors and increase local commerce. Other ideas, however, have had fans a little worried.

UFC & WWE execs excited for crossover potential

On both the UFC and the WWE side of this new merger, executives have been talking up the potential for not just co-planning events, but the possibility of creating more crossover business opportunities for fans and fighters. In a recent interview with ESPN, WWE president Nick Kahn made it clear, for the most part, that UFC fighters are going to stay in the UFC and WWE talent would keep working the ring. But he also teased the idea that more former UFC fighters could see a future in pro-wrestling as a result.

“UFC fighters are going to stay focused on the UFC and WWE superstars obviously do something different in our ring,” Khan explained. “… But you also see in the UFC people with big personalities who, once their UFC run is done, once the UFC and the fighter says, ‘Hey, maybe now’s the time to call it a day,’ could those people have a longer life at WWE, an extended life with TKO? We think so.”

It may not be nearly as cut and dried a path as more typical athletic careers, but even still, pro-wrestlers tend to get their start in the industry in their teens and twenties, often training for years before making their debut. There are people who have had their start much later, obviously, but it’s hardly the typical path to success in the squared circle. Hell, even Ronda Rousey was only 29 when she retired from the UFC (and had been doing some basic pro-wrestling training with her teammates for years prior). Expecting fighters in their mid-to-late 30s to cross over with any regularity seems pretty far fetched.

On the UFC side of things, executives may not be extolling the potential for their athletes to jump ship. But UFC vice president Lawrence Epstein raised a few eyebrows recently with his hopes for the fan communities, namely that every UFC fan could become a WWE fan and vice-versa.

“Where we want to get is where every UFC fan is a WWE fan and every WWE fan is a UFC fan,” Epstein told ESPN.

Dana White doesn’t buy it

So what gives? Are UFC & WWE brass really sold on plumbing the crossover appeal of their respective industries. Are we going to see a whole new era of CM Punks, Brock Lesnars, and Ronda Rouseys? Dana White didn’t offer any revelations on that possibility, but he didn’t mince words when asked about Epstein’s hopes for fans.

“Lawrence, I love ya,” White told reporters at a Contender Series press conference. “One of the dumbest statements of all time. Yeah, I don’t know why he said that. I don’t even know what to say to that. ‘No,’ there’s no—there’s some crossover. Some people like WWE, some people like UFC, some people like both.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a day where we turn every UFC fan into a WWE fan, or every WWE fan—what’s beautiful about the synergy between these two fan-bases is that they are very, completely opposite. There’s very little crossover. Again, maybe he was misquoted? I hope that’s the case, ‘cuz I could not disagree with him more.”

Honestly, between Epstein and Khan, Esptein’s idea may be much closer to the truth. White may not want to hear it, but there’s always been a lot of crossover between MMA & pro wrestling in terms of audience interest. Back in the proto MMA days, there were even lots of crossover events. Many early promoters got found their way to MMA trying to create more realistic pro-wrestling events to separate their product from their competitors.

White has even taken advantage of that crossover appeal, bringing in talents like CM Punk, purely as an attraction geared toward the pro-wrestling fanbase. It may not be the kind of show he wants to put on, but it seems a lot more likely that the UFC could find more common promotional ground with the WWE than it does that yesterday’s UFC stars will find a second life in pro-wrestling.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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