UFC is heading to Saudi Arabia, thanks to Vince McMahon
Last month the UFC announced it would be taking the Octagon to Saudi Arabia for the first time in its history. The UFC’s debut show in Riyadh is expected to happen on March 24, according to ESPN.
The UFC is just the latest sporting attraction to be bought up by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the oil-rich nation continues to cultivate its image as the world’s premier destination for live entertainment. This image is being crafted because Saudi Arabia does not like its current image, that of an oppressive hyper-patriarchal regime with a ghastly human rights record and a proclivity for taking apart journalists with bone saws.
Plenty of sports promotions and athletes are willing to look past how Saudi Arabia’s regime operates. In the last 24 months the world’s top golfers, soccer players and boxers have all cashed cheques with monies generated by the country’s Public Investment Fund.
He claimed that new TKO Group colleague Vince McMahon is the man behind the deal.
“It was Vince McMahon,” said White. “It was 100% Vince McMahon. He made every call, he didn’t make on more without picking up the phone and calling me and getting me in the loop and seeing if I was cool with this and that. He went from being, oddly enough, I don’t know why, an enemy (of UFC’s), to being an unbelievable incredible partner.”
Vince McMahon is a friend of the House of Saud
The WWE was one of the first US based sports/entertainment companies to bring their product to Saudi Arabia. Their first show there was back in 2014.
It’s early forays into that country were subtle, with non-televised house shows to taste the appetite of Saudi fans (and reactions elsewhere in the world). Once those tests were out the way, WWE announced their 2018 Royal Rumble show would take place in Saudi Arabia.
They then created the Crown Jewel PPV for Saudi Arabia, a new annual event on their calendar.
Some of the company’s biggest names have competed at the Crown Jewel shows. Last year Logan Paul headlined the event opposite Roman Reigns. This year’s show, which happened last weekend, also included Paul (versus Rey Mysterio).
McMahon’s role shifting from WWE to UFC?
Vince McMahon had been at the helm of the WWE for decades before a series of lawsuits unsettled his position atop the company. Those lawsuits outlined multiple alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and subsequent hush money agreements.
In 2022 McMahon stepped down as chairman and CEO of the WWE, due to an internal investigation into those claims. A month later McMahon announced his retirement from the business, naming his daughter Stephanie McMahon as the new chairwoman and CEO and his son-in-law Triple H as Head of WWE Creative.
McMahon returned to the WWE less than a year later and assumed an executive chairman role to martial through the sale of the WWE to Endeavor and its merging with the UFC to form TKO Group (an entity McMahon is thought to own 34% of).
It was unclear what McMahon’s role would be with WWE after the sale. Dana White’s recent comments might have tipped off that McMahon may now have a large role on the UFC side of the TKO ledger.
In his Wrestling Observer Newsletter industry insider Dave Meltzer thinks Endeavour will seek to utilize McMahon’s notoriety to benefit the UFC beyond the Saudi deal.
In a recent report Meltzer wrote the following (per WrestleTalk):
“White’s quotes indicated that McMahon is now involved with helping the UFC business and is not strictly working on WWE business in his Chairman of the Board of Directors position with TKO, where he’s actually above White on the corporate depth chart.
“UFC has been left to run itself from the sport standpoint since the Endeavor purchase but McMahon, like Ari Emanuel, who heads the big company, is involved in big picture deal making.”
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