Dana White might be the first name that people think of when it comes to the UFC. However, despite him being the face of the global MMA giant, the UFC was founded by a man named Art Davie. Davie was one of the early American adopters of MMA in the eighties. Davie was the force that brought the UFC into the lexicon, although he sold his rights before it became as big as it is today. Speaking on the deal, however, Davie believes that the massive 2016 sale might have been due to something slightly shady.
The Davie story
Davie grew up in Southern California and got an interest in martial arts after training with Rorion Gracie. After spurring his interest, Davie had the idea to sell MMA fighting to the masses with a mail-order VHS service featuring raw, underground fighting. Thinking back to all the big boxing matches from his day., Davie figured he could do the same for Martial Arts.
“I just knew this was a million-dollar idea,” Davie told Yahoo Sports. “Everyone wanted to know, going back to when I was a kid, what if Bruno Sammartino fought Muhammad Ali? Who has the best fighting style? I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen, but I knew I had to.”
Originally, Davie wanted to present the fights the way they are today on live television, but HBO, Showtime, and ESPN all turned down his pitch. Eventually, he found a home with Semaphore Entertainment group, and live MMA fights became a feasible option. After securing a home distribution model, he recruited a roster of superstar fighters to kick his idea off the ground.
The UFC was born. Over the next several years, he watched as the UFC went from a niche MMA organization to the behemoth that it is today. However, Davie isn’t reaping many benefits from his idea.
Davie sells his share
In 1995, people weren’t as smitten with the UFC as they are today. While it is commonly acknowledged as a legitimate sport today, many thought it was too brutal to have a long shelf life. To make things worse, politicians were getting involved and banning UFC fights from even taking place inside their states. The fights were not in sold-out arenas but small venues in small cities.
With that in mind, Davie decided to sell the struggling business as a means to recoup his losses. While the exact numbers of the deal aren’t known, Davie sold his stake to investors for peanuts compared to what it would be today. It also let the dominoes fall in a way that eventually led to the Fertitta’s massive sale of the brand to WME and Dana White’s tenure as president of the brand.
After the UFC sold for $4 billion, it’s safe to say that Davie had regrets about his business decision. However, in speaking about his decision to sell, Davie also raised some questions about why.
Why did the UFC sell?
When the UFC was sold to WME, it was the largest sale in the history of a sporting league. However, while such a deal’s financial implications were enough to sway almost anyone, Davie believes there may be another reason.
“People have brought up that issue that eventually the sport may face some significant response when it comes to the issue of CTE as the NFL has had to deal with,” Davie said (per CY Interview). “And certainly there’s evidence going back to the beginning of 23 years ago that some athletes have suffered some degree of impairment. So that issue, I think, looms large in the future. I think that that’s an issue for the leading brand to have to come to grips with.”
Whether this was sour grapes or something bigger, Davie is on to something. The sale came at the height of the hysteria surrounding CTE. Whatever the case may be, Davie has tried to get other MMA businesses off the ground to varying results. However, his insights into the sport that he helped revolutionized should not go unnoticed. Whether he is reaping the benefits or not, Davie is why fans have the UFC today.