UFC CEO Dana White rubbed his forehead in obvious consternation over a quote from a longtime UFC executive on joining the UFC and WWE fanbases.
The quote, from an ESPN.com article on the fight promotion’s official merger on Monday with the pro wrestling leader, was no doubt intended as an optimistic take on the possibilities of the promotions working under the same umbrella (and, naturally, the chance to grow more profitable).
“Where we want to get is where every UFC fan is a WWE fan and every WWE fan is a UFC fan,” said UFC senior executive VP Lawrence Epstein, whose quote produced his immediate reaction.
White didn’t quite see it that way.
“Lawrence, I love ya, one of the dumbest statements of all-time,” White said of Epstein, who formerly served as the UFC’s chief legal counsel before taking a broader executive role with the company.
“I don’t know why he said that — I don’t even know what to say to that,” White continued. “No, there’s some crossover. Some people like WWE, some people like UFC, some people like both. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a day where we turn every UFC fan into a WWE fan, or every WWE fan [into a UFC fan].
“What’s beautiful about the synergy between these two fan bases is they are very, completely opposite. There’s very little crossover. Maybe he was misquoted. I hope that’s the case, because I could not disagree with him more.”
Monday’s merger brought White together with WWE Executive Chairman Vince McMahon as the executives from the promotions rang the NYSE bell after making official their merger, which makes the UFC and WWE one publicly traded company, TKO Group Holdings. Endeavor, the UFC’s previous corporate parent, owns 51 percent of TKO’s stock; its CEO Ari Emanuel has said the plan is for UFC and WWE to operate independently under their current leadership. White was named the UFC CEO, though he is not on TKO’s Board of Directors.
White previously has dismissed the idea of competitive crossover between WWE and UFC, saying fighters who went into pro wrestling and vice versa was on a case-by-case basis. Former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar was the highest-profile wrestler to fight in the octagon, though he brought collegiate wrestling credentials to his new venture. Another crossover, like former WWE champ CM Punk, who had a fraction of Lesnar’s actual combat experience, ended in short UFC run. UFC fighters who made their way to WWE have found mixed success; Matt Riddle and Ronda Rousey are two of the best-known examples.
As for the fan bases of the sports entertainment promotions, there’s been much written about the expansion of the UFC’s fan base at the cost of the WWE during its explosive growth in the late 2000s and early 2010s. There’s less evidence of the opposite with UFC fans becoming aficionados, though, and both phenomenons haven’t been extensively measured, though both promotions conduct extensive research on their audiences.
Former UFC champ Rousey said there were obvious differences between fans of UFC and WWE in how they responded to talent.
“I would say that the WWE fans care more about the wrestlers than the UFC fans care more about the fighters,” she said on her YouTube channel. “UFC fans have much less respect for their veterans and legends of the sport than WWE fans do. A lot of UFC fans are kind of like bandwagon fans in that way. It’s like, the second you’re not on top, you’re dead to them.”
Former UFC Co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta has previously said the UFC based its business model on that of the WWE; the promotions are structured very similarly in the way they produce content and work with talent. White has repeatedly cited McMahon as a business influence. That respect doesn’t mean he sees the brands as going after the same fans’ dollars.