Marshall Zelaznik started with the UFC in 2006. He was a key cog in the promotion’s growth, both internationally and digitally as a major proponent behind UFC Fight Pass. Zelaznik’s most recent position was chief content officer.
When the end of his tenure came, it was not necessarily abrupt, Zelaznik told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. Zelaznik was laid off in October 2016, one of somewhere between 60 and 80 people let go three months after WME-IMG purchased the UFC for more than $4 billion.
Zelaznik said he saw the writing on the wall.
“I was asked to leave,” he said. “No two bones about that. Obviously when the company was acquired by WME and IMG, IMG has one of the world renowned media groups in terms of distributing media. By the time the acquisition happened, I had taken on more of an exclusive role around our content and media sales and obviously launching Fight Pass.”
When he heard that WME-IMG was the company that would be buying the UFC, Zelaznik said he warned his staff. He knew that IMG could feel there was “redundancy” between their positions and some of the things IMG already does. These are not uncommon things in acquisitions, he said.
“It wasn’t a surprise that I was asked to leave,” Zelaznik said. “But that’s in essence what happened. I think that in the end IMG has got a really good background for media sales. We had never done a deal with IMG when I was at the UFC to take on our distribution rights, because we had a team that was managing it. But ultimately, I was asked to go.”
Now, Zelaznik has come somewhat full circle. After being laid off by the UFC, Zelaznik went to work for the eSports brand Major League Gaming, which is owned by Activision Blizzard. He has since moved on from there and last week it was announced that Zelaznik was hired as the new CEO of Glory Kickboxing.
So one of the men who helped get UFC Fight Pass off the ground will now be helping run a promotion that airs some of its events on UFC Fight Pass.
“No one ever wants to leave that way,” Zelaznik said of the UFC, “but in the end, now with hindsight, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Former Glory CEO Jon Franklin will move into a role as chief development officer and Zelaznik said he will become the main promoter and face of Glory, not unlike Dana White for the UFC and Scott Coker for Bellator.
“It’s not a role that I’m overly comfortable being, but I definitely am going to take the reins of being the promoter,” Zelaznik said. “You’ll see me in the media discussing not only the business, but fights.”
The goal for Zelaznik, he said, will be developing Glory’s popularity as a combat sports property and breaking some stigmas people might have about the product.
“Kickboxing has this connotation around it, a perception that people have around the sport,” Zelaznik said. “I think sometimes, and maybe I’m projecting a little bit, it seems like there is a bit of point fighting going on and it almost has an Olympic quality to it. I think that is sort of a hangover to fights that happened back in the day.
“What we are is, we are standup combat. So if you’re an MMA fan and you like it when the fighters are banging and standing up, that’s basically what you have with Glory. You have knees, you have flying knees. You don’t have all the clinching that takes place in MMA. There are opportunities to clinch that have to come with a very swift strike. You can’t continue to hold. It just makes for non-stop standup combat action.”
Zelaznik said his experience in helping grow the UFC and some of the things he learned from being in the rapidly expanding world of eSports will be brought over to Glory.
“I think what the UFC was able to do shows there’s a real interest in combat sports,” he said. “I have no doubt Glory is gonna take its share of the stage when it comes to combat and putting on exciting fights.”
The one regret for Zelaznik, he said, was maybe not getting a chance to give proper farewells to some people in the UFC after working there for 10 years. He said when he and others were laid off, they were escorted from the building without having the ability to say goodbye the way he wanted. Zelaznik said he did get a bit of that afterward.
“While I wasn’t surprised, I think in the end no one ever wants to go out that way,” he said. “I think the one disappointing thing was when the day came and you knew it was coming — it was an awful day for the company, it was terrible — you didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to anybody. You kind of got walked out of the building. And that was a little funky to me. I mean, I get it. It’s a company and that’s how it has to work.
“We were lucky. There were a lot of people that gathered together after people were let go that today and we all go together at a nearby bar and hung out. I got my chance to say goodbye to people.”