UFC and WWE merger: What multi-billion pound deal could bring fighters

Brock Lesnar with the WWE Title
Brock Lesnar is a former UFC and WWE champion

Ken Shamrock, Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey; the list continues.

Professional wrestling and MMA have rubbed shoulders for decades, with athletes crossing over between disciplines, but never before have the two worlds been so united.

Following the news that WWE and UFC merged Under Endeavor Group Holdings, critics and fans are speculating where the new £17.3 billion sports entertainment brand will go.

Many details are unknown, but BBC Sport examines why the deal may make sense, the reaction and what it means for the worlds of MMA and professional wrestling.

Professional wrestling and MMA are linked

Ronda Rousey with the UFC title
Ronda Rousey became UFC champion before repeating the feat in WWE

The main difference between UFC and WWE is the competition.

UFC is a competitive sport where athletes fight to determine a winner by knockout, submission or decision, while WWE is classified as “sports entertainment”, where the winners of fights are predetermined with storytelling at the heart of its philosophy.

Despite this, there are similarities between the two, and this is believed to contribute to fan crossover which could be a key factor behind the deal.

Many WWE and UFC athletes have collegiate wrestling backgrounds, with the sport providing a strong foundation in both disciplines.

It has seen athletes like Shamrock, Lesnar, Jake Hager and many more have successful careers in both.

There are also a number of UFC fighters who have referenced outspoken and flamboyant WWE stars as influential in their growth as entertainers, which in turn helps promote fights.

These include Rousey, who left the UFC to become WWE Champion, Colby Covington who regularly adopts WWE themes for his cage walk, and Israel Adesanya.

Former UFC middleweight champion Adesanya fights Alex Pereira in a title rematch at UFC 287 in Miami, Fla. on Saturday.

“Maybe I didn’t realize the importance of the influence [WWE was]”, Adesanya told BBC Sport.

“As an artist, that certainly played a role. I spent Fridays watching [WWE promotion] Smackdown Mondays watch Raw and watch these guys do their thing, be charismatic and electrifying, on the mic and in the ring.

“We also used to practice the crazy moves, doing the Hardy Boyz’ Swanton bombs from the arm of the sofa onto the mattress. That definitely played a role in my shaping, I guess, into the man you see before you.”

The importance of the self-promotional side of MMA, which is heavily influenced by professional wrestling, is underscored by the UFC’s record pay-per-view numbers.

Outspoken Conor McGregor dominates, with eight of the 10 most bought UFC shows of all time, but record cards without the Irishman include Lesnar, Rousey and Jorge Masvidal.

A closer look at the inner workings of the UFC also shows similarities to professional wrestling.

Similar to WWE, the UFC sometimes creates fights with storytelling at the heart of its promotion rather than making fights between close-ranked athletes.

For example, Pereira got a title shot from Adesanya in November after just three fights in the UFC due to the history between the two, with Pereira having won two previous victories over the Nigerian in kickboxing.

And last February, Masvidal and Covington also headlined an untitled in-game event because of a Friends-turned-rivals story arc.

What was the reaction?

The company will be led by Endeavor chief executive Ari Emanuel, WWE executive chairman Vince McMahon fulfilling the same role within the professional wrestling organization and Dana White remaining president of the UFC.

White predicts a successful partnership between the three.

“Vince is a savage in the wrestling space, Ari is a beast at what he does, then add what we at the UFC bring to the table and there’s no limit to what this business can accomplish in the next few years,” Blanc said.

Some wonder what effect the deal will have on UFC fighters’ pay.

UFC contract rules mean fighters are limited when it comes to making money from promotional offers while fighting inside the octagon, with some including the former champion of heavyweights Francis Ngannou, leaving the organization to seek “freedom”.

A screenshot of a tweet from Matt FrevolaA screenshot of a tweet from Jake Paul

Elsewhere, people have speculated about potential athlete crossovers, though UFC fighters are more likely to make WWE appearances than wrestlers battling inside the octagon.

McGregor has already thrown his hat in the ring…

A photo of Conor McGregor holding a WWE and UFC titleA screenshot of a John Kavanagh tweet

Will the merger change anything?

There are unlikely to be drastic changes to the look of each branch, with the merger likely creating more opportunities for brand enhancements and behind-the-scenes crossovers.

An example of this is already in motion with YouTuber and WWE star Logan Paul’s Prime energy drink promotion across the UFC and WWE.

Logan Paul at Wrestle Mania 39
YouTuber Logan Paul fought WWE star Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 39 on Saturday

The merger could see programming in unison between the UFC and WWE, with the pair perhaps unlikely to hold events at the same time in order to preserve ratings, while publicizing the shows the other.

Another change that could take place is more similarities in how each brand is delivered.

Currently, the UFC uses a pay-per-view model in the United States, while WWE hosts all of its content under its streaming service, the WWE Network, with both arms having an agreement with BT. Sports in the UK.

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