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UFC sold for reported $4 billion; Dana White to continue as president

Dana White, center, stands between Daniel Cormier, left,

Dana White, center, stands between Daniel Cormier, left, and Jon Jones during a UFC 200 mixed martial arts news conference, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP / John Locher

Ultimate Fighting Championship, the promotion that began mixed martial arts 23 years ago and elevated its profile ever since, has been sold to WME-IMG by the Fertitta brothers.

The deal was announced Monday. Financial terms were not disclosed, but The New York Times and ESPN reported the deal was for $4 billion.

Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta first purchased the UFC for $2 million in 2001 from Semaphore Entertainment Group. The Fertitta brothers, who owned 80 percent of the company, will continue to hold a small stake in the UFC, as will Dana White, who will remain as president. Fertitta will step down as chairman after a short transition period. White owned 9 percent of the company before the sale.

Flash Entertainment, owned by the Abu Dhabi government, will maintain its 10-percent stake in the UFC.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” WME-IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell said in a statement. “It’s been exciting to watch the organization’s incredible growth over the last decade under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers, Dana White and their dedicated team. We’re now committed to pursuing new opportunities for UFC and its talented athletes to ensure the sport’s continued growth and success on a global scale.”

Silver Lake Partners and KKR also join WME-IMG as investors, along with MSD Capital LP and MSD Partners LP, which will provide preferred equity financing.

Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC, emailed the more than 500 fighters on its roster to inform them of the sale.

“From the moment Zuffa LLC purchased UFC over 15 years ago, you, the athletes, have always been the central focus of the promotion,” a portion of the letter said. “That will not change. WME-IMG, who has been involved with UFC for many years, is focused on the continued global expansion of mixed martial arts and committed to further promoting you on the global stage.”

The UFC just wrapped up its biggest weekend in recent years with three straight nights of fights in Las Vegas, culminating in its landmark UFC 200. Thursday’s card aired entirely on UFC Fight Pass, its digital streaming network.

Earlier this year, the UFC also earned a victory in New York politics. After an eight-year fight, mixed martial arts was legalized in the largest media market in the world. New York was the 50th state to legalize the sport.

“We’re confident that the new ownership team of WME-IMG, with whom we’ve built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC’s global growth,” Lorenzo Fertitta said. “Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organization and its athletes.”

Under the Fertitta brothers and White, mixed martial arts grew from fringe spectacle under the guise of “sport” to a real sport with state-sanctioned regulations and guidelines for its professional athletes. It went from being banned on pay-per-view to being a pay-per-view mainstay along with national broadcast deals, first with Spike TV and now with Fox Sports. The UFC also has an apparel deal for its fighters with Reebok.

“Our goal has always been to put on the biggest and the best fights for our fans, and to make this the biggest sport in the world,” White said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to working with WME-IMG to continue to take this sport to the next level.”

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