It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2016. Throughout the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
The UFC’s new owners got to play with their shiny new toy, Conor McGregor, and later to show him off as the showcase for modern MMA’s spectacular legal return to New York.
In one fell swoop on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden, the three biggest MMA stories of 2016 converged. The new owners, WME-IMG, watched the effervescent McGregor batter Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight belt. As big-time MMA entered the Big Apple for the first time in its modern era, McGregor proved his worth and became the first fighter in promotional history to hold two titles at once. He then demanded a piece of the company he has buoyed as Ronda Rousey’s star power has flickered.
New Yorkers were there to witness it all. It was McGregor’s Irish legions and all their chanting, UFC President Dana White’s struggle to keep his star and new ownership partners happy, and their own ability to become a promoter’s dream, as they showed up in droves to every event for a solid two weeks.
Never before had people in the city had the chance to wet their beaks in the UFC stream and stay in its confines for the actual event. No doubt, that is exactly what WME-IMG was counting on when it ponied up a reported $4 billion-plus.
Not often is a sports franchise, company, organization, or whatever you want to call it, purchased with such a hefty price tag. When WME-IMG went ahead with the buy, the story went well beyond MMA headlines.
An individual sports franchise rarely sells for an amount of that magnitude, which made the story a front-page piece for every sports section in newspapers. Business insiders and analysts couldn’t stop salivating over the dollars involved. Fighters wanted their share of the pie, and fans wondered how the sale would affect their beloved sport.
White remained in his post, while former owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta walked away with their pockets lined with a smooth $870 million each, as well as a remaining eight-percent stake in the business. As an owner of nine percent of the UFC, White collected $360 million.
The Fertitta brothers and White bought the UFC in 2001 for $2 million. They sank an estimated $44 million into the project before taking one last and final chance at making it work. In 2005, Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company, launched The Ultimate Fighter. The organization took off and had the sport of MMA in tow.
The UFC produced the biggest stars. The company acquired top talent and turned them into celebrated mixed martial artists on the world’s grand stage. The UFC took over other promotions, dug into the roots of the regional scene and signed the aspiring Chuck Liddells of the future.
The UFC staff developed a sports property bigger than most. They constructed a machine that is well oiled, for the most part, and will continue to produce revenue, but WME-IMG will need years of record-breaking pay-per-view events to even begin turning a profit.
It’s been less than 12 months since the UFC was sold, but one thing is apparent. Much like its shiny new toy, WME-IMG better not be here to take part, but rather takeover.
Other finalists: USADA, MMAAA
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2016 MMA Award winners.