UFC reportedly on verge of being sold for at least $4 billion

Reports about the UFC being up for sale have resurfaced. ESPN reported Thursday that bids to buy the world’s largest mixed martial arts company are drawing to an end and two bids are in the $4.1 billion range.

UFC vice president of public relations Dave Sholler told the Review-Journal the private organization had no comment. UFC president Dana White did not respond to multiple voicemail messages.

The UFC, which has experienced explosive growth in recent years, is based in Las Vegas.

According to multiple reports, the bids are by WME-IMG, in conjunction with Dalian Wanda Group, and China Media Capital. FloCombat and Forbes also carried reports Thursday on the potential sale.

The winning bid reportedly would get the entire company. The two groups are still trying to fully finance the buyout.

The ESPN report by Darren Rovell said WME co-chair Ari Emanuel has been asking investors to contribute $25 million to $50 million. One prominent investor who said yes was the Kraft Group, which is led by Robert Kraft and owns the NFL’s New England Patriots and the MLS’ New England Revolution.

In addition to the WME group, TenCent Holdings — owner of the largest internet portal service in China — also is reportedly among the would-be investors.

Jeremy Botter of FloCombat noted the sale is imminent and would take an 11th-hour change of heart by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the company’s majority owners, for the exchange not to go through.

In May, White vehemently denied Rovell’s initial report of the potential sale.

“The UFC is not for sale,” White told the Review-Journal on May 10. “The ESPN story is overblown. Darren Rovell is not a fan of facts. His facts could not be further off.”

According to ESPN sources, the UFC forced its partners to sign more extensive confidentiality agreements after word got out.

Rumors of a potential sale of the UFC have come and gone for several years. The Fertittas, operating as Zuffa LLC, purchased the UFC for a reported $2 million in 2001.

The UFC closely guards financial details. The Fertittas are believed to each own just over 40 percent of the company, with White around 9 percent and Flash Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi government, owning the remaining 10 percent.

Other than the change in ownership, the UFC would remain the same, from retaining White as the company’s promoter to matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby continuing their roles, to the public relation departments staying intact, according to FloCombat.

The two top bidders reportedly are willing to give White ownership shares to keep him with the company.

WME-IMG, China Media Capital, The Blackstone Group and Dalian Wanda Group were cited as potential competitors when the news broke last month.

The Blackstone Group withdrew before sealed bid submissions began, and WME-IMG, The Wanda Group, The Kraft Group and TenCent Holdings united for one bid instead of competing. Zuffa is being represented by Goldman Sachs.

During this decade, the UFC has exploded with the rise of superstar fighters Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor. The organization is preparing for the historic UFC 200 pay-per-view card July 9 at T-Mobile Arena. The UFC continues to break record attendances, live gate box office receipts and PPV sales.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0492. Follow him on Twitter: @gmanzano24

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