As in years past, the UFC is once again rumored to be up for sale. This year, Chinese investors have been the hot topic as the potential buyers to take over the UFC and, for a day, it became a bigger story than Conor McGregor’s latest tweet.
With the rumored purchase of the UFC by investors from China, could the promotion see any major changes? Hypothetically, the UFC would become more business-centric than it already is. Sure, Chinese promotions aren’t currently run the best and may only hold events a couple of times a year, but the amount of money they would spend here — billions of dollars — would lead to the promotion continuing to most likely run on a deep schedule. Maybe it would not as deep of a schedule as the UFC runs currently, but it would need to run at a similar pace in order for the investors to recoup their money. After all, why spend billions if you’re not going to run the company to its full potential?
Fans may also see more things similar to the Reebok deal that would help pump more money into the company through sponsorships. Maybe some Chinese companies would throw their hat into the ring and become some of the official sponsors of the UFC. The company could also strike a deal to broadcast events in mainland China with one of the bigger television broadcasters in the country.
There are some blueprints already in place for these potential investors. China has gradually sunk more and more money into sports in recent years. China’s biggest soccer league has thrown a ton of money into some of the bigger available names in soccer that would be willing to make the move from Europe’s biggest leagues to the eastern Asian coast. They have paid these new players with very lucrative contracts that the players wouldn’t have received playing in the top European leagues. Chinese investors have also bought stakes in some of the bigger clubs in Europe and have even been linked to more in recent months, such as A.C. Milan, one of the biggest clubs in Italy.
Some view Chinese investors the same as Arabic investors in soccer: if they’re buying a club, you can expect a nice heavy influx of cash to buy big-name stars and make the club even more competitive than it already is. If soccer is any example, the UFC wouldn’t fall behind Bellator, but instead would attempt to grow the gap with its rival. It would pay the best guys more money and thereby make any free-agent moves to an outside promotion highly unlikely. Guys like Benson Henderson and Matt Mitrione might not have ever left the promotion if Chinese investors were signing bigger checks to keep them in place.
The UFC wouldn’t go in the direction of complete freak-show fights, a la Pride, although a move in that direction would be a reasonable assumption to make given the propensity of Asian promotions to favor these match-ups. Instead, the UFC would tighten its focus even more on the bigger names in the sport who can bring the eyes to the UFC.
However, we don’t know how invested in the sport of MMA any potential buyer would be in this situation. Fans wouldn’t be likely to see somebody as involved in a hands-on manner in the same way as the current owners of the UFC, the Fertittas or UFC President Dana White. The fights might still be put together by current UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby and Joe Silva. The hierarchy of leadership that coordinates to make the events happen or scouts for the next big thing? That would all be up in the air. White has recently said that he wouldn’t be involved if other owners took control, but, who knows, if more money is tossed in front of him, he might opt to stick around.
A big positive to be gained from this purchase would be that the UFC would break into mainland China. That alone is a huge deal considering the country’s population. It’s a significant market that the UFC could finally conquer. It’s untapped by other major promotions, and the UFC, which has attempted to make inroads in the past, would be the first of its kind to break into China. The billion-dollar investment suddenly looks amazing if the UFC and MMA can really take off in the country.
The sale is all rumor at this point, though. The UFC has been here and done this before, but the keys to the castle have remained with the Fertittas and White. Will it be any different this time?