BY MATTHEW “THE FIGHT NERD” KAPLOWITZ
The more I think about it, the less faith I have in it. “Business as usual” seems to be the motto for the UFC after their historic purchase of Strikeforce. It came as a surprise to all of us when Ariel Helwani held the mic under Dana White’s chin to reveal an acquisition that made many MMA fans’ stomachs tie themselves into knots.
Some fans reacted positively to Zuffa’s latest splurge, citing that the best talent would now be under one roof and that all the fights we have been dying for can finally come true. Older fans like myself were more than skeptical; we had seen this before and we knew the chances of this situation being any different were as slim as Gina Carano making weight for a fight on her first attempt.
Let’s take a quick jump into the way-back machine and look at the previous transactions of Zuffa and see what has happened to other companies that were scooped under its umbrella, starting with their most important purchase…
Zuffa buys the UFC – 2001
Station Casino owners Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta joined forces with young entrepreneur (and former aerobics-instructor) Dana White in 2001 to make a purchase that would end up changing the course of sports history. White convinced the Fertittas to buy the assets to the UFC, which in 2001 was still black-listed from television and seemingly on its last legs.
Bob Meyrowitz, owner of the UFC, along with Semaphore Entertaintment Group, sold Zuffa the rights to all of the intellectual properties of the UFC for $2 million. At the time, it was a risky investment at that price, but now, it’s more than a bargain. Nonetheless, Zuffa pushed on and begun the battle to legalize MMA around the country and get the sport back on pay-per-view. They finally returned to PPV with UFC 33, which turned out to be disastrous, as the show cut off during the main event.
The company pushed on and began to find success with stars like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. Things took a turn in the right direction in 2005 when Spike TV aired the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. The reality show introduced a whole new audience to the sport (for better or worse, to many hardcore fans), and opened up opportunities that were once unfathomable for the company. With ‘UFC’ quickly becoming the household name for MMA, it was time for the strategic acquisitions to begin, along with the rest of our sordid tale.
The WFA Purchase – 2006
The first company to be devoured was The World Fighting Alliance, which was originally run by former UFC fighter John Lewis. The WFA was one of the first officially sanctioned MMA shows in the state of Nevada, and initially ran shows in Las Vegas nightclubs. This plan did not work too well, and the company was thought to have gone extinct in 2005.
Instead, a new batch of investors came on board, and in 2006 the WFA ran their comeback show, titled “King of The Streets.” The pay-per-view event was headlined by Quinton Jackson against Matt Lindland, and the comeback fight of Bas Rutten, who had not fought since he won the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 20. The show was enough of a success to warrant a sequel event, but plans were changed on December 11, 2006, when Zuffa acquired the assets of the company and select fighters contracts.
Who were those fighters? Well, the most notable at the time was Quinton Jackson, whose WFA appearance was his first since his long stint in Pride FC. The UFC also grabbed a young Lyoto Machida, as well as Martin Kampmann, Marvin Eastman, and Heath Herring to name a few of the 30 contracted fighters who were up for grabs.
Who was not absorbed by the UFC? Number one was Matt Lindland, who has had a tense history with Zuffa since 2005. Other fighters who were on the outs included Ricco Rodriguez, Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Bas Rutten, although Bas returned to retirement after his comeback fight. The UFC also acquired the WFA tape library, which was used to promote Jackson’s UFC debut but has never been seen since then.
When you look at the history of Zuffa’s future purchases, the WFA seems like a drop in the bucket. Most speculated that the company was acquired solely to gain Jackson’s contract so they could eventually promote a rematch with Chuck Liddell. Another motivator was probably that Pro Elite was slowly on the rise and the UFC wanted to prevent them and Showtime from joining forces and becoming competition.