The UFC has quickly outpaced boxing and professional wrestling to become one of the hottest sports properties in the world. With homegrown superstars like Conor McGregor, Israel Adesanya, and more, the organization has the enviable ability to make stars year after year and sustain its tremendous market share in the sport.
However, the success has exposed the haves and have-nots culture of the organization, and this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 211 proved how much impact that dichotomy has. Saturday’s fight featured Mackenzie Dern vs.Yan Xiaonan. On Wednesday, at a media event, the organization told the press and fans that they would not be allowed to attend. The UFC owns its venue, UFC Apex in Las Vegas, for the more minor club-style prospect fights, so although not clear why they barred the public and media, it’s their venue.
— UFC (@ufc) October 2, 2022
Then, during Mackenzie Dern’s media interview, she announced, “I know Mark Zuckerberg rented out the whole event,” and the rumor began that the fights were a private party for Zuckerberg.
Of course, UFC president Dana White went into defensive mode, tweeting that Zuckerberg “did NOT rent out the UFC Apex. That’s total bullsh*t.”
However, when the fights started on ESPN+, it was clear that the event was literally for Zuckerberg, his wife Priscilla Chan, and some critical staffers of Meta. This company owns Facebook and Instagram. Zuck sat by White and was exuberant with every blow, even while his wife winced at the live brutality unfolding before her. The entire scene was reminiscent of a gladiator-styled elite’s bloodsport where the haves watched the have-nots bludgeon themselves to make it to the next level in the bloody game of belts and glory.
"I know Mark Zuckerberg rented out the whole event."
Mackenzie Dern spills the beans on Saturday's private event at the UFC Apex for #UFCVegas61.
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) September 28, 2022
However, the disparity of pay and additional income opportunities routinely stripped from UFC fighters opens up an immense chasm between the world’s most prominent mixed martial arts organization and its chief product, the talent.
In 2001, Lorenzo Fertitta, co-owner of the Station Casinos in Las Vegas, bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship for $2 million with his brother, Frank Fertitta. In 2016, Endeavor, formerly the William Morris Agency, closed a deal to obtain a controlling interest in the UFC for just over $4 billion. The company partnered with several private equity firms to help raise the cash to close the deal.
The talent agency then brought in a star-studded group of investors across the worlds of professional sports and entertainment, 23 big-name celebrities in total, to purchase a small share of the UFC, reportedly worth a minimum of $250,00 apiece. All investors are clients of WME-IMG, now Endeavor, except for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and team owner Robert Kraft.
Dana White shuts down rumors that Mark Zuckerberg has rented out the UFC Apex for #UFCVegas61 🤷♂️
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) September 29, 2022
Still, in the pursuit of revenue, the UFC cut fighter’s ability to get sponsors to wear in-cage and are paid by their athletic apparel sponsors on a sliding pay scale based on your popularity or not paid at all. The UFC has been notorious for allegedly using promotional compliances within their contracts to get the talent to support a sponsor under the guise of a promotional opportunity, aka free.
Outside observers like Jake Paul have echoed the sentiments of the fighters regarding the pay scale, a mix of a low show-up-to-fight fee and a win bonus to motivate in-cage performance. Pay-per-view revenue share is only an option for champions or exceptional cases like Conor McGregor. The UFC has been very bearish on allowing their fighters to fight in other sports like boxing unless your name is Conor McGregor.
Bring them before me. Let them spill blood for my enjoyment.
-The Ruling Class, over and over through the centuries.
Maybe I’m alone here but this just seems humiliating.
Your whereabouts 24/7.
In front of millions or no one. pic.twitter.com/xORK0foyAk
— Nathan Quarry (@NateRockQuarry) October 2, 2022
If Zuckerberg did pay for the private show, it opens up speculation about revenue share for that and initial contracting for the fight purses and bout agreements. Minus the crowd support and media awareness gained from an in-person event, the fight being only for one of the world’s wealthiest men can be deemed exploitation, regardless of how much of an MMA fan Zuckerberg is.
The UFC has yet another point of contention to deal with in the hurt business and the unlikely attention it attracts.
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