Along with stardom comes wealth. Many famous personalities and athletes have deals that help them make money far after their careers end. Some celebrities invest in real estate or vehicles; others like Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Mark Wahlberg, and Guy Fieri made the ultimate investment — in the biggest MMA company in the world. Here’s why they bet on the UFC.
How and when the UFC started
The Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded 27 years ago to identify the best form of martial arts. At the time, there were zero rules and no weight classes. This meant some fighters had an unfair advantage over their significantly lighter and smaller opponents.
The fighting disciplines promoted by the UFC included boxing, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, and taekwondo to mention a few. After the first few events and absence of rules, fighters adopted new techniques to emerge victorious against opponents. Thus began the discipline of fighting known today as mixed martial arts, or MMA.
Named by the former art director Jason Cusson, the UFC enjoyed plenty of fame in its first few years on the air. Art Davie, the UFC creator, functioned as the matchmaker and hoped the show would answer fans’ questions regarding martial arts.
However, the UFC’s successful stint was short-lived after the sport’s violent runs got flagged by the US authorities. Senator John McCain first saw the events of the show on tape in 1996 and detested it. The senator led a campaign to ban the sport, calling it a “human cockfight.”
The campaign gained momentum, and 36 states in the US banned the ‘no rules’ fighting. After the ban, the UFC experienced a significant decline in its audience. The UFC eventually bowed down to pressure and rebranded itself as a sport and not a spectacle later on.
The UFC’s comeback in the early 2000s
The sanctions imposed in the UFC made it difficult for the company to make a significant profit. It almost folded until the Fertitta brothers came into the picture. As the sport’s rules evolved, so did the competitor roster with Hall-of-Famers Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Matt Hughes emerging.
With their business partner Dana White, the Fertitta brothers approached SEG Productions as the UFC teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. The three investors offered to buy the UFC from SEG for $2 million. Soon after, the UFC began turning around and gaining slow but steady popularity.
A significant factor for its steady rise at the time was great advertising, its return to cable pay-per-view, and various corporate sponsorships. Dana White became UFC president in 2001 and still leads the company to this day.
Under White’s tenure, the UFC has sold out 500 events. He’s brought in key players, such as Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor, and Jon Jones, who’ve improved the UFC’s name and popularity. In 2015, the UFC generated $609 million in revenue with its five-year ESPN contract valued at $1.5 billion.
Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Mark Wahlberg, and Guy Fieri invest in the UFC
In 2016, Hollywood talent company William Morris Endeavor bought the UFC together with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Silver Lake Partners, and MSD Capital. The investors bought the company for a whopping $4.025 billion making it the most expensive buyout in sports.
The deal also included celebrities who bought a stake in the UFC, details Fox Business. The stars include tennis player Serena Williams, The Weeknd, Tyler Perry, actor Mark Wahlberg, Food Network chef Guy Fieri, and quarterbacks Tom Brady, and Cam Newton, among others.
Dana White stated that adding a pool of widely talented celebrities like those mentioned above would solidify the UFC’s name and expand its global reach.