UFC and WWE merge, Dana White no longer ‘UFC president’ on paper

UFC and WWE have officially merged to form TKO.

By: Anton Tabuena | 1 week ago

The two dominant forces in MMA and pro-wrestling have merged, with the UFC and WWE forming a new company called TKO.

The merger, which was announced back in April, was made official on Tuesday, with TKO officially opening at the New York Stock Exchange at a price of $102 per share.

TKO has a $21.4 billion valuation, with Endeavor owning 51% of the new company, and WWE’s previous shareholders holding the remaining 49%. This would mark the first time the McMahon family doesn’t have majority control over the WWE.

Executives from Endeavor, The Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the World Wrestling Entertainment rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate the merger.

“I always am (excited) regardless, but after this merger, we’re so much more powerful than we were yesterday,” Dana White told the media after the most recent Contender Series event.

“This just takes this whole thing to another level, so much bigger and so much more powerful. When you think about all the things I want to do before my time is up here, today made that a lot easier and a lot more doable.”

Dana White, Vince McMahon get new job titles

With TKO being formed, it also comes with new titles for the top executives of both companies.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel and Endeavor President & COO Mark Shapiro, will have similar roles as they’ll also be filling TKO’s CEO, and President & COO positions respectively.

Vince McMahon will now be TKO’s executive chairman of the board, with Nick Khan also holding a board seat and remaining as WWE President.

Dana White is technically no longer UFC President, and will now have “UFC CEO” as his official new job title after the merger.

“I don’t give a s—t about that kind of stuff. Even the CEO thing, it’s a lateral move for me,” White said about the change in job title. “I run everything that happens here. Everything that goes on here, I determine. So nothing has changed, it’s just three letters… I’m the CEO or President of the UFC now. But nothing changes. We’re just going to continue to kick ass like we do every single year.”

Officials said on the announcement that the two dominant entities in their fields will still largely run the same, with White still running the MMA operations and “Triple H” Paul Levesque still the head of creative for the pro-wrestling side.

UFC and WWE plan to host major events in the same location

While they said that there won’t be drastic changes on how the two entities would run, the new company has major plans to help each other make more money together.

The MMA world leader has pretty much been leaning more into their side of the business that has a government contractor type of model as of late, getting local governments and tourism industries from various states and countries to pay them generous site fees to host events in their jurisdiction.

UFC executive Lawrence Epstein told ESPN that they will continue this strategy with their new tag-team partner, as they’re now planning on making more money in site fees by combining it with the WWE’s drawing power. TKO now plans to offer package deals, hosting major events from both UFC and WWE in the in same city and on the same weekend.

TKO also plans to leverage these new connections on the ongoing TV and media rights deals for the WWE, and when the UFC’s ESPN deal expires in 2025.

UFC and WWE crossovers

Epstein told ESPN that their overall goal is to get to a place where “every UFC fan is a WWE fan and every WWE fan is a UFC fan.”

While there is some crossover between the two, that idea doesn’t seem to be very realistic for anyone who has followed both distinct fanbases. Either way, TKO seems intent on making it happen, with WWE’s Nick Khan already talking about crossovers.

“UFC fighters are going to stay focused on the UFC and WWE superstars obviously do something different in our ring,” Khan said. “…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.”

There’s a lot of skill and charisma involved in pro-wrestling, outside of just fight ability and athleticism that could limit the amount of MMA fighters that can thrive in that scenario. There have been a few crossovers in the past already though, with Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock, Shayna Baszler, Ronda Rousey and others getting varying levels of success and longevity in both organizations.

Wrestling: WWE Wrestlemania Night 2 Apr 2, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey (left) and Shayna Baszler during Wrestlemania Night 2 at SoFi Stadium. Inglewood SoFi Stadium CA USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xJoexCamporealex 20230402_jca_aa9_015
UFC vets Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler in the WWE. USA Today / IMAGO / Joe Camporeale

Layoffs soon?

When Endeavor, then known as WME-IMG, first purchased Zuffa, there were major restructuring in order to cut costs. From executives, to PR teams, international offices, and even those “lifetime” jobs promised to Hall of Famers, significant layoffs were done in 2016 after that acquisition.

Something similar is likely happen again after this merger, when jobs are deemed redundant, and when the brass again wants to increase profits by reducing expenses. WWE is likely to get the bulk of it here, but it’ll be interesting to see just how much of the UFC staff gets hit with these moves to shrink payroll.

WWE President Nick Khan also sent out a memo to his employees, alluding to the possible cuts and “uncertain times.” Here’s a snippet:

“A big thank you to all of you for the hard work and commitment that helped us achieve this milestone. As we now begin this transition, we will be in touch with more details. In the interim, we will be communicating with each of you regarding new policies and procedures. HR will also be available to answer any and all questions you may have.”

TKO and Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel spoke about these “savings” that they’ll get soon, which could reach around $200 million.

“I think we had a range of $50 to 100 (million), with regard to back office and costs. We’re on our way to kind of doing that. We did that with the UFC, we are on our way here (with WWE),” Emanuel told CNBC. “There’s also a lot of savings as it relates to the production side because of their production facility, and our production facility.”

Endeavor’s curious claim on UFC fighter pay after WWE merger

While talking about all the massive “savings” and “profit” this new company will have, it’s important to also note the longterm issue with athlete pay.

As Bloody Elbow’s business expert John Nash noted, while making the rounds today, Endeavor COO Mark Shapiro boasted that “fighter pay has grown at a faster clip than overall UFC revenue.”

It’s worth noting that this bold claim was made on the same day that the UFC filed a petition with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in which they conceded that the Plaintiffs’ expert’s model “demonstrates that the overall pool of fighter compensation did not keep up with UFC’s revenue growth.”

UFC fighters are estimated to have received around just 13% of the revenue in 2022.

The dominant MMA world leader is being sued by its former fighters for their controversial business practices and abuse of their market power. Depending on the current appeal noted above, the landmark antitrust class action lawsuit against the UFC is set to go on trial this April.

Bloody Elbow has a hard-earned reputation as the source of record for MMA business and legal coverage of this landmark UFC antitrust lawsuit case. If you want to see more of this kind of work, please subscribe to the Bloody Elbow newsletter and learn how you can support the site.

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About the author
Anton Tabuena
Anton Tabuena

Anton Tabuena is the Managing Editor for Bloody Elbow. He’s been covering MMA and combat sports since 2009, and has also fought in MMA, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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