“The U.F.C. is definitely bigger now than boxing or wrestling, maybe even the two combined, though not yet as big as either during their peaks,” said Rich Luker, creator of the ESPN sports poll. “It’s clearly the flavor of the month, but that was once true of poker and then the numbers fell like a rock.”
Three years ago, Forbes Magazine referred to the U.F.C. as the “ultimate cash machine,” worth maybe $1 billion and counting. The ledger books of the parent company, Zuffa, are private but Fertitta said that while he did not know what someone might pay for the U.F.C., “I feel pretty comfortable saying we’re the most valuable sports franchise on the planet, more than Manchester United, more than the New York Yankees, more than the Dallas Cowboys.” That would put it in the $2 billion range.
Frank Fertitta III is ranked No. 355 on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans, with Lorenzo at No. 359. Each owns 40.5 percent of the U.F.C., with 9 percent belonging to White. Last year, Flash Entertainment, an arm of the government of Abu Dhabi, became a 10 percent partner, brought into the company, according to Lorenzo Fertitta, “because we’re taking this thing worldwide and they can more easily open up those doors than we can.”
There are two consecrated themes in the U.F.C.’s sacred text, and one is the claim that mixed martial arts will be the biggest sport in the world within 10 years, a notion many find unrealistic. But the U.F.C. already has staged successful events in Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Abu Dhabi — and next year it is looking to schedule events in Japan, Macao, Singapore and Sweden. “We’re on television in 150 countries,” Fertitta said.
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