This week's sale of the UFC is not the first time the promotion has changed hands in its short 23-year history. In fact, it is the third time.
Still, the previous owners, Zuffa, grew the MMA promotion to its current apex. So, fight fans may be uncertain as to how things will or will not change under the mixed new ownership's direction.
Only will time will tell for sure how the UFC may change, but Elias Cepeda says there are at least six things we can either expect or should look for in the coming years, after the UFC's most recent sale.
1. We should expect core operations to remain largely the same...at least initially.
The new ownership keeping on existing UFC president Dana White and other executives sends a clear message that they like the product and its delivery. In many ways, that makes a lot of sense.
The new ownership has never run a fight promotion so bringing in new leadership without knowledge of the UFC's operations and what has made them successful would have been a recipe for disaster. White is a pretty hands-on president and has played a major role in the UFC's monumental growth and financial success, so in terms of know-how, he should be seen as a steadfast hand at the helm of the promotion's ship.
Perhaps years from now, when they themselves learn the business a bit better, the UFC's new ownership will want to re-tool their executive team, but for now they have good reason to keep the same group of people in place who have grown the promotion up to this point.
2. We should look for an announcement on whether or not the UFC will be part of a publicly traded entity
As an asset of an ownership group that includes a publicly-traded company like KKR, the UFC may also soon find that president Dana White's steady hands and large body of knowledge also come with the mouth of a PR nightmare. While White's years of abusing media members, including with misogynistic, homophobic insults and slurs against people with special needs , insulting fans on social media and generally acting publicly petulant with those who anger him never took too lasting of a toll on the UFC's bottom-line when they were owned by privately-held Zuffa, the situation could become much different, now.
As a part of a larger-profile and possibly publicly-traded company, Dana White could end up being a major liability. The reason is that for larger-profile and publicly-traded companies, bad press can affect stock prices, which directly affect their value.
The exact corporate structure of the UFC and its new ownership isn't fully understood, just yet, but it certainly includes larger companies and some, like KKR, who are publicly-traded. So, they may be more sensitive to or concerned with the next emotional and public blow-up from White.
The UFC has scaled-back White's unscripted public moments at things like press conferences a great deal, recently. I'd look for that pattern to continue.
White is valuable for his executive experience in the fight game and his positive celebrity. So, things like his fun Looking for a Fight web reality show, bland televised interviews with pliable reporters and shaking fans' hands are all areas where White's public face is probably best utilized, and where we can expect to see him most.
3. We should look on to see how international expansion will continue to develop
Outgoing co-owner and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta was by all-accounts integral in spearheading successful international expansion efforts for the UFC over the past few years. So, one has to wonder if the promotion will lose any ground in that area with Fertitta leaving.
4. We can expect expanded Hollywood involvement
One major part of the UFC's new ownership is WME-IMG, which manages a great deal of talent in the entertainment industry. Dana White has already spoken publicly about the intention of the UFC to move into movies and television in a concentrated way, now, and WME-IMG certainly has the gravitas in Hollywood to help make that happen.
This is a way the UFC can really continue to have a piece of superstars who move on from fighting to entertainment, full-time, much in the way pro-wrestling outfit WWE has done with the likes of John Cena and The Rock and their movie careers.
5. We should look for how new potential conflicts of interests will be handled
For major stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, the UFC's new ownership could mean a streamlined path to Hollywood success. That's a potentially very good thing.
For Rousey, in particular, things may get a little complicated, however. That is because Rousey is already represented by WME, while she's an active UFC fighter.
That arrangement was fine, before, but now it will be a major conflict of interest for the UFC's new owners. One person or group managing and promoting a fighter at the same time is one of the oldest and most predatory arrangements in the fight game, because such relationships are structurally rife with opportunities for profiteering and double-dipping off of fighters.
Companies or people both managing and promoting a fighter isis unethical and, in boxing, illegal. The Muhammad Ali Act requires a firewall between promoters and managers in professional boxing.
One former MMA fighter congressman has introduced a bill to apply the Ali Act to MMA as well as boxing. It is common-sense, but a measure that the UFC is fighting tooth and nail.
As such, it would appear that the new ownership is poised to exploit the loophole of the Ali Act fighter protections not presently applying to MMA fighters, instead of correcting it. They may want to remedy this conflict with Rousey and make sure future ones don't arise before regulators come knocking at their new doors.
6. We should expect fighters to demand more
The UFC's most recent sale is the biggest sports organization purchase in history. The fighters and the show they make possible are, apparently, worth a great deal.
With the deeper pockets of their new ownership, look for fighters to become more aware of and dig into issues of worker rights and compensation much more deeply in the coming years. The UFC already has one class-action suit of former athletes filed against it alleging monopsony and monopoly.
UFC athletes also, by the promotion's own reporting to creditors, received a much smaller percentage of revenue than do athletes from other major sports leagues and organizations. They are also classified by the promotion as independent contractors instead of employees, despite many requirements and restrictions placed on them.
UFC fighters are also some of the only major sport athletes who are not represented by an association or union which would allow them to bargain collectively and have a seat at the table of lucrative UFC licensing deals when it comes to athlete royalties. Now that fighters have gotten a better sense of how much, exactly, they are worth, I'd expect them to attempt to look to increase their pay and rights.