Sports entertainment has changed forever.
In an industry on the cusp of what seems to be a newly-found ‘boom’ period, things have only become more explosive with the recent merger between the WWE & UFC. Both companies are on a run of near-consistent sellouts, record-setting attendance numbers, PPV numbers reaching all-time highs and a plethora of talent. Recent developments have only raised the ceiling on where both companies could be headed.
Combining the world leader in professional wrestling, with mixed martial arts, creates a duo that can entirely re-shape both industries under the new banner of ‘TKO’.
What is TKO?
The recent merger, branded TKO, was finalized earlier in April of this year. It took another step forward earlier in September when the group officially launched onto the New York Stock Exchange. Introducing TKO marked the official arrival of a sports entertainment juggernaut.
UFC owner Endeavor marked the most pivotal shift in this deal by purchasing a majority 51% of WWE. This marks the first time in company history that it will not be under the majority control of Vince McMahon since purchasing the company from his father in 1979. It ended one of the most important eras in sports entertainment history, making way for what could be a move that entirely changes the industry as we’ve known it.
TKO’s official press release stated the following: “TKO brings together UFC, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, and WWE, an integrated media organization and the recognized global leader in sports entertainment, to create a new premium sports and entertainment company serving more than one billion young and diverse fans, reaching viewers in 180 countries, and producing more than 350 annual live events.”
Bringing together the two biggest brands in sports entertainment invites a world of opportunity, one that clearly aims to unite fans from both sides of the aisle. A unique venture that sets out on the challenging task of building a bridge between worlds that couldn’t be more different despite their similarities.
Who Leads The Charge?
As different media spheres collide, the leadership and structure of both WWE & UFC have already begun to change as a new era ushers in. Following some early talent cuts, some announced and some unannounced, we have now learned what the leadership of TKO will be like moving forward.
- Ariel Emmanuel, the Chief Executive Officer of Endeavor, will remain in his position as Chief Executive Officer.
- Mark Shapiro, President and Chief Operating Officer of Endeavor, continues on as President and Chief Operating Officer.
- Seth Krauss, Chief Legal Officer of Endeavor, who continues as Chief Legal Officer of Endeavor.
- Dana White, the former President, has now been promoted to the role of Chief Executive Officer of the UFC.
- Nick Khan continues his role as President of the WWE.
- Vince McMahon has now been positioned as the Head of the Board of Directors of the newly founded TKO. He will work alongside 11 other fellow board members, namely Khan & Shapiro.
Not all of these role changes are as meaningful as others. Certain positions such as that of Nick Khan (or the un-named Triple H) remain constant with what has already been established. Even the role of the former UFC President remains largely unchanged despite being promoted to CEO.
To quote Dana White himself;
“The CEO thing…it’s a lateral move for me. I run everything that happens here. Everything that goes on here, I determine, so nothing has changed,” White said Tuesday. “It’s just three letters.”
Other role changes, particularly that of Vince McMahon who now heads the Board of Directors, have come under early fire due to his ongoing lawsuits and fairly recent WWE controversies. Recent regulatory filings even revealed internal concerns over the former WWE Chairman’s role in TKO;
“McMahon’s membership on our Board could expose us to negative publicity and/or have other adverse financial and operational impacts on our business. His membership also may result in additional scrutiny or otherwise exacerbate the other risks described herein. Any of these outcomes could directly or indirectly have adverse financial and operational impacts on our business.”
Regardless of the role changes and concerns from those within TKO, it’s safe to say a team consisting of decades of experience, knowledge, and business strategy has the capability to launch TKO into the stratosphere.
Is There Crossover Potential?
This is very much a question that is likely best left until the future to be answered properly. However, we can always make a fair guess based on what we know in TKO’s early days… Creating bridges between both WWE & UFC seems like a driving factor in TKO’s founding, yet one that can feel misbalanced.
The idea of stars on both sides crossing over seems more likely on one side than it does on the other. WWE stars may be gifted with athleticism, charisma, and character work, but more than likely don’t possess the skill or mindset to step into an octagon for 3-5 rounds against the world’s best Mixed Martial Artists. On the other hand, a select number of UFC stars have already shown the potential to be successful “sports entertainers” based on their connection with the audience alone.
Transferable skills are what we look for in this discussion, these clearly exist more on the side of the trained fighter than the entertainer. WWE President Nick Khan did comment on the prospect of crossover appeal between both companies, stating;
“UFC fighters are gonna stay focused on the UFC and WWE Superstars obviously do something different in our ring, but you also see in the UFC people with big personalities who, once their UFC run is done, once the UFC and the fighter says, ‘Hey, maybe now’s the time to call it a day,’ could those people have a longer life at WWE, an extended life with TKO? We think so.”
Considering the differences athletes on both sides face in regards to training and, more importantly, the punishment they face in their respective positions, an avenue clearly exists for those in the UFC to find a career post-retirement that could help set them up. The likes of Conor McGregor, Colby Covington, Israel Adesanya, and Sean O’Malley are all examples of fighters who draw vivid influence from the world of professional wrestling with their presentation and overall audience connection. Currently, even stars outside of the organization such as Dillon Danis have discovered newly-found relevancy by playing the role of the unbearable heel.
More and more stars are following this pattern set by the aforementioned mega-stars, feeling more like characters than actual people stepping into a cage. Who’s to say this pattern couldn’t lead to many more UFC fighters developing a style that is fit for the world of WWE to breathe new life into their careers?
The same can’t entirely be said for sports entertainers wanting to work under Dana White, however. Mixed Martial Arts isn’t a similar dance to the world of professional wrestling in the slightest, being something athletes commit their entire lives to perfecting. Longevity is notoriously easier to achieve in the world of WWE, primarily due to the precautions and reduction in life-threatening beatings one takes every time one goes to work. At the very least, this opens up the doors to an entirely new talent pool filled with potential.
The Long Road Ahead
As of this writing, nothing substantial seems to be changing or on the verge of change. Not only is it too early to tell what key changes will occur as TKO expands, but most officials on both sides haven’t indicated either business will shift the nature of what they’re doing currently.
UFC is doing what UFC does best, while WWE is continuing to do what WWE does best.
That being said, some ideas have been briefly floated in passing, namely by Nick Khan himself in regard to what the vision TKO has for what a WWE/UFC crossover event of the weekend could look like down the line.
Khan recently stated; “What everyone envisions is can you set up an all-star TKO weekend where if Smackdown goes on Friday and the UFC goes on Saturday with a pay-per-view and WWE goes with a premium live event on Sunday, can you do that from the same city? Certainly a lot of cost efficiencies there in terms of production. But a lot of revenue efficiencies in terms of upside, we think they’re as well.”
It will likely be a long time until a “TKO weekend” comes to fruition. But it does sound like it could be a mega event on the same scale as a WrestleMania weekend. A star-studded crossover event, with fans from all sides of the globe, potentially even a major financial aid to host cities as well. Where complications come in is with the layout of such an event, considering how vastly different the setup of a WWE show or event is to that of something put on by the UFC.
Dana White, on the other hand, feels differently about the notion of how effective the crossover appeal could be, directly taking issue with statements made by UFC VP Lawrence Epstein, whose goals are ideally to have, “every UFC fan is a WWE fan and every WWE fan is a UFC fan.” White responded calling the statement “one of the dumbest statements of all time,” primarily minimizing the scope of fans that even have crossover appeal. Turning over fanbases with completely contradictory interests can be either ambitious or silly, depending on your perspective. But it shows one of the driving goals of TKO is to spark a new fanbase that shares mutual interest in professional wrestling, as much as Mixed Martial Arts.
Time will tell where these new partnership goals will lead, and the outcomes it will produce. The plans that have been discussed publicly so far are nothing short of ambitious for the industry as a whole. It’s opening up a world of possibility to expand both sports on a scale we’d deemed almost unimaginable a decade ago.
So, What Does This All Mean?
In short, the general aspiration from TKO executives is to establish a fanbase that sees professional wrestling fans watch more MMA and MMA fans watch more professional wrestling. Whether this goal can be achieved is up for debate amongst fans on both sides.
If this aspiration comes true, it will further shift the very nature of the industry. But if not, it doesn’t necessarily harm either brand considering the loyalty that has been established from their core fanbases.
What it does mean though, is we will be seeing many more attempts to create that crossover appeal that TKO was quite clearly created for. Whether it be a “TKO weekend,” former UFC stars finding post-career success under the WWE banner, cross-promoting, or further synergy between WWE & UFC events, we’ll be seeing much more of a partnership forming rather than the silent approval we’ve been seeing up until this point.
Nothing is set in stone as of right now. But one thing is for sure, the future is shining brighter than ever in the world of sports entertainment.