The UFC’s relationship with Donald Trump may not be as close as it appears

Ari Emanuel is pushing a narrative that the UFC and Donald Trump have always been very close. That's not entirely true.

By: Nate Wilcox | 2 months ago
The UFC’s relationship with Donald Trump may not be as close as it appears
Donald Trump and Ari Emanuel's UFC are not as close as they appear. IMAGO | PHOTOSHOT by Peter Foley

The mainstream media is falling for Ari Emanuel’s UFC spin (again)

UFC owner Ari Emanuel would have us believe that Donald Trump and Dana White are soul brothers who go way back and have always been friends and allies. It’s true, look at all these stories in corporate media.

Some recent headlines include:

And as someone with 15 years experience as a mid-level political operative and PR flack I can promise you that if you’re seeing the same story in every outlet there is a public relations professional pushing that story. These stories didn’t all just happen by accident nor did all these reporters arrive at the same angle independently.

Who’s linking Donald Trump to the UFC all over the media?

Your first guess as to who is working so hard to link Donald Trump with the UFC in the media would be the Trump campaign. I mean that’s the specific angle The Guardian took, right?

But I’d like to argue that it’s actually the UFC or rather TKO capo di tutti capo Ari Emanuel who’s working so hard to link his products with Donald Trump instead of the reverse.

The latest major piece to link Donald Trump with Ari Emanuel’s TKO family of companies (the UFC and WWE) is in The Atlantic.

I’ll let a picture do the work of 1000 words here:

The Atlantic magazine: A Gory Amalgam of Truth and Spectacle
Trumpism hovers over the merger of the UFC and WWE.

I’ll also share two paragraphs of the piece since it sums up how the MSM sees the UFC and WWE and Donald Trump:

“Over both of …these organizations, looms—I was going to write “the shadow of Trump,” but Trump has no shadow. No secret darkness, no buried awareness: Every inch of him is lit up. Better perhaps to say that the Trumpiness of all this is baked in. The story of the world as told by the UFC and WWE—it’s not exactly a liberal’s vision. Booming characters preen and dominate; nuance is banished. This is heavy-metal America. Trump is a longtime wrestling fan, and playing himself (who else?) he feuded publicly with Mr. McMahon, at one point shaving the character’s head at ringside. Much of Trump’s most appalling public behavior—say, that impression of a disabled reporter—is in the repertoire of a classic heel: To loudly deplore it, to boo and hiss, only reassures his fans. He was also an early supporter of the UFC, and Dana White has repaid him with many loud pledges of fealty, most notably in a speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention: “Let me tell you something! I’ve been in the fight business my whole life. I know fighters. Ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump is a fighter, and I know he will fight for this country!” Always close to the McMahons, Trump in 2017 appointed Linda McMahon as the head of the Small Business Administration.

“So now what? High theater, high narrative, has merged with what Kipling called “the undoctored incident.” The kayfabe has merged with the fist in the face. Is some kind of grotesque UFC-WWE blend in the cards? White has pooh-poohed the idea: “If you look at the WWE,” he said last week, “they have an entertainment value, and they have these guys that are incredible athletes that go in there and do their thing. It’s well known that it’s scripted. When you look at the UFC, this is as real as it gets. That’s our tagline.” But there’s life after the UFC: Former MMA stars such as Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar have already found that they can cash in as wrestlers for WWE. Will this process, this pipeline of talent, now be accelerated? Conor McGregor—the most wrestlerlike, in his self-presentation, of all the UFC champions—is surely watching these developments carefully. As are, from the stands, the howling wrestling fans, the bloodthirsty UFC fans, and the rest of us with an interest in the American evolution.”

There may be larger cultural alignments linking Trump with the UFC and the WWE and it’s obvious what Donald Trump has to gain (votes), but…

The only reason that coverage like this is all over the place, all pitching the same exact narrative is because Endeavor (and TKO and UFC and WWE) boss Ari Emanuel wants it out there.

What’s Ari’s angle here?

And why does Ari Emanuel want these properties associated with Donald Trump? Well it’s not because he’s an ardent Republican Trump supporter who thinks that is what is best for our country. It’s because he thinks he’ll make more money this way.

John Nash explained it on Bloody Elbow’s Hey Not the Face Podcast why Ari Emanuel deliberately aimed at right-wing advertisers because they’re easier to deal with than “a list” brands like Burger King and Harley Davidson.

The sales cycle is shorter, they make few if any complaints when a fighter says something controversial, and you can rack up a whole bunch of them at a nice profit.

But Ari doesn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse of his fan base(s) when he aims to get his WWE in our UFC.

Here’s the thing, I know from many years of running Bloody Elbow (and creating and managing Vox Media’s Cageside Seats) that UFC fans don’t want WWE coverage in their feed and most WWE fans don’t want to see UFC news in their feed either.

And the other little twist the MSM is entirely ignorant of and that TKO doesn’t want to push as part of their story—once upon a time, Donald Trump backed one of many promoters who attempted to knock the UFC off their perch.

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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