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WME-IMG deal will take UFC to ‘next level’ – White

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White has said the mixed martial arts promotion’s takeover by the WME-IMG agency will take it to the “next level” after the deal was formally confirmed this (Monday) afternoon.

Under the agreement, reportedly worth around $4bn (€3.6bn), WME-IMG will also serve as UFC’s operating partner. Private equity firms Silver Lake Partners and KKR will join WME-IMG as new strategic investors, along with MSD Capital and MSD Partners, which will provide preferred equity financing. The latter two firms are investment groups of billionaire Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers.

While UFC supremo White (pictured) will continue in his role, upon closing chairman and chief executive Lorenzo Fertitta will step down from day-to-day operations. Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who along with White operated UFC’s parent company Zuffa LLC, were believed to each own just over 40 per cent of the company. Frank Fertitta and Lorenzo Fertitta will both retain a passive minority interest in the organisation following the takeover.

Commenting on the deal, White, who was said to have held a stake of around nine per cent, stated: “No other sport compares to UFC. 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. I’m looking forward to working with WME-IMG to continue to take this sport to the next level.”

The UFC has continually denied a takeover was in the offing in recent months, even going so far last month as stating it was considering its legal options over the “false stories” surrounding its future. Zuffa LLC bought the UFC in 2001 for only $2m and Flash Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi government, is said to retain its 10 per cent stake following the takeover.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” WME-IMG co-chief executives Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell said. “It’s been exciting to watch the organisation’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’s involvement in the deal comes after it first made a strategic minority investment in WME in 2012 to support the company’s development of new business models and distribution channels leveraging the convergence of content creation and technology. Silver Lake subsequently reinvested in WME and supported its management team in the company’s 2014 acquisition of IMG.