UFC, WWE officially combine under TKO umbrella

The UFC and WWE are now officially under one roof.

Endeavor, the UFC’s parent company, and WWE announced Tuesday the closing of its merger and the launch of TKO, a company that will combine the forces of the two global-powerhouse live-event and sports promoters. TKO began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday morning.

Endeavor will own 51% of the new company and WWE shareholders will own 49% of it. TKO has a valuation of $21.4 billion and will serve “more than one billion young and diverse fans, reaching viewers in 180 countries, and producing more than 350 annual live events,” according to a release. TKO will use Endeavor’s expertise in “domestic and international media rights, ticket sales and yield optimization, event operations, global partnerships, licensing, and premium hospitality to drive revenue growth.”

Former WWE controlling shareholder and chairman Vince McMahon will act as executive chairman of TKO, with Nick Khan, who also sits on the board, as WWE president. Dana White, the former UFC president, will now have the title of UFC CEO. Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel will be CEO of TKO, and Endeavor’s Mark Shapiro is the president and chief operating officer of the new company.

“Where we want to get is where every UFC fan is a WWE fan and every WWE fan is a UFC fan,” UFC senior executive vice president and chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein told ESPN.

The merger was first announced in April. WWE had been seeking a merger and Khan told ESPN he believes McMahon really started thinking about Endeavor as a partner when McMahon, Khan, McMahon’s daughter Stephanie and WWE chief content officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque attended UFC 276 in July 2022 in Las Vegas. Khan said McMahon saw similarities between the UFC and WWE and how they grew.

McMahon and White were instrumental in building their respective enterprises from the ground up and are thought of as two of the most influential combat sports promoters ever. Khan, who, while with CAA, helped WWE negotiate its last media rights deal before becoming McMahon’s top executive in 2020, said there are “similar characteristics in the DNA of both companies.”

“It’s not really his thing to go to basketball games, football games — it’s just not what he does,” Khan said of McMahon. “When he decided, ‘Yeah, I want to go,’ … and when he went, that’s when I believe he started thinking about it, and it all started to manifest when we engaged in a fulsome process starting this past January.”

Epstein said UFC executives had envisioned a world where the UFC and WWE could partner up “probably for a decade and a half.”

“We’ve always thought there was just incredible opportunity to sort of roll up these two great brands and great organizations in the combat sports space,” Epstein said. “We were a little bit early in our thinking on this thing. And of course, it’s really exciting and really a dream come true to have this come together.”

There are no plans for “massive changes” to the respective products, both said. Epstein said White will still run the day-to-day operations of the UFC and Levesque will remain the head of creative for WWE. What could happen, Epstein said, is the UFC and WWE holding major events on the same weekend in one city and the two promotions going to tourism authorities and selling them on paying for the UFC and WWE as a package deal coming to their jurisdiction.

It’s possible there could be some talent crossover, too. Former UFC champions like Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey have been WWE stars and former UFC double champion Daniel Cormier has done some on-screen work with WWE. Cormier was present at the stock exchange Tuesday with company executives. The relationship between MMA and professional wrestling — and athletes doing both — goes back to the dawn of MMA as a sport.

“UFC fighters are going to stay focused on the UFC and WWE superstars obviously do something different in our ring,” Khan said. “… 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.”

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