ESPN says UFC up for sale; UFC President Dana White denies report

UPDATE: (May 11, 5:14 p.m.) UFC's Dana White denied reports the company was for sale. White, UFC's President, told Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal said the ESPN story was overblown.

"Darren Rovell is not a fan of facts. His facts could not be further off," White said.

Rovell retorted on Twitter, saying he had five different independent sources and "... once you hire an investment (bank) to to give out your financials, it's hard to say you're not for sale," as reported by the Wrestling Observer.


The Ultimate Fighting Championship, the two-decade old fighting promotion, is for sale, according to ESPN reporter Darrell Rovell.

Rovell said UFC is in advanced talks to sell the business and is taking bids from four companies - WME/IMG, China Media Capital, The Blackstone Group and Dalian Wanda Group. The winning bid is expected to be between $3.5 billion and $4 billion.

Zuffa LLC bought the promotion - which pioneered mixed martial arts - in 2001 for $2 million. Over 80 percent of the company is owned by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. Lorenzo told CNN the company grossed $600 million in revenue last year on the strength of record attendance for Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm, and a record gate for Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo.

According to Rovell, the leading bidder is Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate owned by the country's richest man, Wang Jianlin. The company became the first Chinese firm to own a major Hollywood film studio when it bought Legendary Entertainment. It began moving into sports with a major FIFA sponsorship through 2030.

UFC began in 1993 under Art Davie and Rorion Gracie, a member of the Gracie fighting family and practitioner of Brazilian jiujitsu. The promotion was designed to answer questions on what martial art was the best, and had dream matchups between wrestlers, boxers, karate karateka, street fighters and other disciplans. The show was a major success on pay-per-view, which led to more events. The company's trademark cage or 'Octagon' made it famous and notorious and was designed by Milius. Many standup fighters complained the soft matting and lack of corners was purposely designed to benefit Gracie's jiujitu practitioners over other styles.

Blood and lack of rules led it to be banned in most states and to be pulled from PPV by the end of the late 1990s. The company began implementing weight classes, gloves and stricter rules in consultation with state athletic commissions. Parent company SEG sold UFC to Zuffa LLC in 2001 with Dana White as a business parrtner, who became the face of the company. The company began running pay-per-view again and secured a deal with Fox Sports in the early 2000s. Later came the reality show "The Ultimate Fighter," which put the UFC on basic cable every week, created new stars for the promotion and saw the company break into the mainstream and host fights on network television.

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