Combat sports’ unmatched fusion of athleticism, strategy, and theatrics has enthralled spectators for generations. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), two of the most recognizable names in combat sports, stand out for their different perspectives on fight entertainment. The 1993-founded UFC is a pioneer in the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA), stressing the spontaneous battles between athletes trained in different disciplines. WWE, which has its roots in the 1950s, is recognized for its scripted professional wrestling shows that mix athleticism with dramatic storytelling. UFC and WWE have both attracted dedicated fan groups, blurred the barriers between sport and entertainment, and become integral parts of the combat sports culture.
The Creation of a Powerhouse
Back in January of 2023, Endeavor-owned UFC and WWE began discussing the possibility of joining forces. On September 12th, 2023, UFC and WWE sealed the deal in a shocking merger valued at $21B. Their newly formed entity, Total Knockout Group (TKO), will maintain the autonomy of WWE and UFC while also growing the world of combat sports and combining elements from both sport and entertainment. Ari Emanuel, the CEO of Endeavor, and Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO of the WWE, came together to agree upon the terms of the merger and their vision for TKO. Although there are growing pains, both Emanuel and McMahon believe that TKO will become a sports and entertainment powerhouse.
As a result of the merger, TKO went public on the New York Stock Exchange and gave investors and fans the chance to own a piece of the action. When explaining the monumental move to investors, Emanuel stated: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring together two leading pure-play sports and entertainment companies that operate in the most attractive parts of the media ecosystem.” The stock opened on the exchange at $100 per share and has dipped to around $82 dollars a share. As the company continues to grow, there are high hopes that being publicly-traded will help TKO flourish in the long run.
Eyes on the Fighters
Wrestlers and MMA fighters have dedicated their lives not only to the sport, but also to putting on an engaging, dynamic show for fans. The merger between UFC and WWE is guaranteed to have a significant impact on the fighters of both organizations. While UFC and WWE will still be operating separately, they will be creating bigger audiences and new opportunities for fighters. By combining the two organizations and their committed fan bases, we all expect to see the fans' love for the two sports grow into one. Although there’s no sign the two will hold combined events, TKO is considering the advantage of stacking events. Khan has even hinted at the idea of an “All Star TKO Weekend” which would include Smackdown, UFC, and WWE all occurring in succession on the same weekend, in the same city.
Fighters will also see opportunities to broaden and test their skill set. We’ve seen cases where UFC fighters transition to the ring and where WWE wrestlers transition to the Octagon in bold, career-expanding moves. For example, CM Punk and Brock Lesnar participated in both organizations and were able to showcase their talents in different ways, sparking new interest among fans. When asked about the new opportunities available for fighters within the TKO organization, WWE President Nick Khan explained how “UFC people with big personalities who, once their UFC run is done . . [could] have a longer life at WWE, an extended life with TKO.” With the two organizations united as one, fighters should find it much easier to switch over and test the waters of a new way of fighting.
On the other hand, the merger also poses new challenges to fighters under the TKO umbrella. With two of the most well-known sports organizations merging together to become a powerhouse of sport and entertainment, so many eyes will be on TKO whether you're a fan or fighter. If athletes are actively looking to pursue careers within TKO, there may be an increase in competition for jobs, making it harder to obtain and retain a job. On September 22nd, for example, the WWE released 20 wrestlers and 100 off-camera employees due to TKO’s 2024 media rights deal with USA Network. With many new athletes wanting to join and such limited space, performances need to be entertaining and there is a lot of pressure on the athletes to create results. Overall, the UFC and WWE merger has presented fighters with both exciting opportunities and a more demanding landscape in their pursuit of success.
Impact on the Combat Sport Fans
Whether you're a fan of the sport or entertainment aspect, we all can expect an exciting shift in the way we consume and interact with the content produced from these amazing events. With the combination of skills and resources, TKO has the potential to improve production quality, create deeper stories within the organization, and compile athlete rosters that will amaze fans and spectators alike. More additions we may see take place include blending of characters and plot lines, holding events consecutively, and with TKO’s new media rights deal, we could even have the opportunity to see reality television and exclusive content.
Additionally, the TKO merger has the potential to improve the fan experience, whether you're a fan consuming material from the comfort of your home or attending the live event in person. With events held around the globe, it is critical that Emanuel and McMahon find unique ways to merge their respective fans into one cohesive, engaged base. Having the two biggest combat sport organizations under one umbrella allows for so much opportunity for this kind of engagement.
The merger between the UFC and WWE to create TKO is a bold move that has the potential to revolutionize the way we perceive and consume combat sports and entertainment. It has the power to captivate a global audience, create unforgettable moments, and push the boundaries of what is possible in the world of sports entertainment. As this exciting venture unfolds, the world will be watching intensely, eager to see what TKO has in store for the future of combat entertainment.