One of the boldest partnerships in recent memory is now official. WWE and the UFC, two powerhouses in combat sports, have officially formed the ultimate tag team following a merger with Endeavor. The result? The formation of TKO Group Holdings.
Combined, the UFC and WWE reach over one billion fans worldwide. TKO Group Holdings is now valued at $21 billion and officially went public at the New York Stock Exchange. For fans of both, WWE’s Triple H famous saying comes to mind: “Are you ready?”
“We’re ready to fire out of the gate,” Endeavor and TKO Group President and COO Mark Shapiro told The Hollywood Reporter. Endeavor and its leadership team will “now have a much stronger and firmer seat at the table. But our first mission is to fully capitalize on this insatiable demand for premium content and live events.”
Endeavor owns a 51% controlling interest in the new company, with WWE shareholders owning 49%. It is the first time Vince McMahon or a member of the McMahon family will not have complete control of WWE in over 70 years. Vince McMahon founded Titan Sports, the predecessor of WWE, once owned by his father.
“This is the culmination of a decades-long partnership between Endeavor and WWE across strategic initiatives, including talent representation and media rights. Given our collaborative, trusted relationship and Endeavor’s incredible track record of success growing UFC, we believe WWE is optimally positioned for future growth and success as part of TKO,” said McMahon via Business Wire.
Here’s a breakdown of the entire deal, from the timeline to what the future holds for both companies.
WWE and UFC merger timeline
The merger comes during a time when Vince McMahon got brought back into the fold of WWE after stepping down as CEO for allegedly paying hush money to a former WWE paralegal over an affair.
Later reporting claimec McMahon agreed to pay “more than $12 million over the past 16 years to suppress allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity.” McMahon recently paid $17.4 million to the company to cover costs related to an investigation into the matter.
Outside of that timeline, WWE CEO Nick Khan teased a sale of the company, saying in February one would be “quick.”
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McMahon helped enhance the process once he returned to the top of WWE’s board. Endeavor was one of several names looking to invest in WWE.
Other names in the mix included Comcast, FOX, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, Netflix, Amazon, Liberty Media, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, and even the Khan family, known for wrestling promotion AEW.
Ari Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, previously suggested there was no initial interest by Endeavor to invest in WWE. That quickly changed, and in April, before the second day of WrestleMania 39, the deal became official.
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What is TKO Group Holdings?
Per its official website, TKO Group Holdings “is a premium sports and entertainment company that comprises UFC, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, and WWE, an integrated media organization and the recognized global leader in sports entertainment.”
Emanuel will be the chief executive of the new company. McMahon, the executive chairman, and Mark Shapiro, Endeavor’s president, will continue their roles. Khan will be the head of the wrestling side of things, while UFC president Dana White, who was also involved in a scandal when he slapped his wife after she struck him on New Year’s Eve, will now be UFC CEO.
Other members will be Jason Lublin as Endeavor’s CFO, Andrew Schleimer as the new organization’s CFO, and Lawrence Epstein as the UFC’s COO. Triple H, aka Paul Levesque, will still be WWE Head of Creative and Talent Relations but is not on the TKO board of directors.
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How will the merger affect WWE and UFC?
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Endeavor expects growth in domestic and international media rights for the UFC and WWE. It plans to develop more content, increase the number of live events, boost premium hospitality revenue, and bolster sponsorship and product licensing.
Emanuel stated TKO has been discussing opportunities with platforms for rights to WWE shows RAW (USA Network) and SmackDown (FOX). Both shows have deals that end in 2024, and there is interest in bringing them to various digital and linear platforms. The UFC has a deal with ESPN and Disney that expires in 2025.
For those wondering about a collaboration between the two, it’s possible. While there has been a dividing line between MMA and pro wrestling fans, both organizations are ready to push to combine both fandoms.
Epstein told ESPN: “Where we want to get is where every UFC fan is a WWE fan, and every WWE fan is a UFC fan.”
Fighters are not unfamiliar with pro wrestlers, and vice versa. Both sides watch the other. They also try and cross over every so often. Pro wrestling has seen several big MMA stars transition to the squared circle: Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock, Ronda Rousey, King Mo, Matt Riddle and Shayna Baszler, to name a few. Pro wrestlers who tried their hand at MMA include Brock Lesnar, CM Punk and Bobby Lashley.
Recently, Daniel Cormier, a big WWE fan, acted as a special referee for a Riddle vs. Seth Rollins match. We could see more of that, or even combat stars switching sides once one part of their career is over.
“UFC fighters are going to stay focused on the UFC, and WWE superstars obviously do something different in our ring,” Khan told ESPN. “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.”
Outside of talent, both thrive on hosting events. The UFC has a deal with ESPN where they produce multiple fight nights and PPV events a year. WWE has “Premium Live Events” on Peacock. There have been times when events by both are on at the same time.
Epstein stated that the UFC and WWE could now hold events on the same weekend in the same location. The idea would be that the organizations could go to tourism authorities, “selling them on paying for the UFC and WWE as a package deal coming to their jurisdiction.” That could result in increased profits on all fronts, including merchandise, food, drinks and town visits.