Dan Lambert was so close to buying the UFC in 2001 that he had a deposit down and there was a closing date scheduled. But the American Top Team owner is glad it didn't work out.
Lambert told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that if he had bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship back then he would have kept it small -- he didn't have nearly the vision or funds of Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and Dana White.
"If it ever comes up, the only thing I think is how fortunate all the fighters and managers and fans are that it ended up the way it did, in the hands of the guys it was," Lambert said. "They put a ton of time and a ton of money and ate a lot of losses before it turned around. I'd love to think of what the business was back then and how the fighters survived back then and then I look at how many people have jobs and make livings now and pretty decent ones at times based on that."
Lambert said had he bought the promotion he would have kept it small, running just two or three shows per year and hoping MMA would get regulated in every state. After New Jersey regulated a UFC show in 2001 and Nevada was set to do it, the Fertittas came on and made Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) a better offer. Lambert said he never got his deposit back and took SEG and owner Bob Meyrowitz to court for it.
Under Zuffa, the UFC has flourished and become a global entity. That was never Lambert's intentions.
"I probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere near any of those goals," he said.
Lambert was in talks with the Fertittas to buy the UFC again in 2004 after the casino owners were more than $40 million in the red with it. The Fertittas and White decided to stick with it and The Ultimate Fighter reality show helped the UFC earn a television deal with Spike TV. The rest is history.
If Lambert had purchased the UFC, he said it would look quite different today.
"It may have stayed around, but it would have been on a very, very, very small scale," Lambert said. "I just didn't want to see it go out of business. I wanted a place for our guys to fight."
So, in the end, it was a win-win. Zuffa has its now billion-dollar business and Lambert still has a place for his American Top Team athletes to compete. Lambert said he would have never been able to pour $40 million into the UFC initially like the Fertittas did.
"I don't have that kind of money, dude," he said.
Lambert still has some hard feelings for Meyrowitz, who he believes screwed him "royally." But overall, he is more than content with how everything happened.
"It was kind of a disaster that worked out pretty well for everyone in the end," Lambert said.