Duda: The ramifications of the WWE and UFC merger

Melissa Duda, Columnist


Endeavor, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced earlier this month it would buy 51% of World Wrestling Entertainment and merge the two companies under one name. This move would combine the biggest companies in mixed martial arts and professional wrestling, respectively, and form a powerful $21.4 billion conglomerate later this year. It merges two companies that control their markets and have authority figures involved in the abuse of women and maintain ties to repressive countries. But, given potential massive profits for Endeavor and its shareholders, the chances the company focuses on rectifying these issues are slim. 

Both the UFC and WWE have been hit with respective antitrust lawsuits, with plaintiffs accusing them of monopolistic practices. The lawsuit argues the near-total market control that the UFC and WWE have has made it impossible for athletes to find promising wages.

UFC and WWE athletes earn a measly 16%-20% and 10% of company profits, respectively. Athletes’ wages in other sports leagues like MLB and the NFL make up 50% of the total league revenue. This gap exists because while other sports leagues have players’ unions, the UFC and WWE actively lobby against them. Moreover, other sports leagues allow players to shift teams, which typically allows for a pay increase. The options for UFC and WWE athletes are just to stay or move to a smaller organization, decreasing the athlete’s popularity and financial opportunities. UFC and WWE athlete contracts also have strict clauses, including non-compete clauses, which make it even more difficult to leave the organization in the first place. 

Plus, fan-beloved figures who run the UFC and WWE have been accused and found guilty of domestic and sexual abuse of women. After UFC President Dana White was caught on video slapping his wife at a nightclub, he said in a tone-deaf statement that the public embarrassment was enough punishment for him. That reasoning was sufficient for Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, as White has faced zero punishment for the incident. WWE CEO Vince McMahon has been involved in several sexual misconduct court cases. He stepped down as CEO of WWE for a few years but returned after the outrage blew over earlier this year. 

The UFC and WWE live by their own rules; if an NFL or MLB team owner commits abuse or a crime, there is precedent for the owner to resign. Endeavor has a financial motivation to avoid removing fan-favorite figures, but what kind of precedent does this set within the organization? UFC fighters’ countless domestic abuse incidents indicate they won’t be met with consequences because they supposedly bring value to the company. 

The UFC and WWE regularly hold events in Saudi Arabia because the market benefits them. In doing so, both organizations turn a blind eye to the country’s human rights violations. To make matters worse, some of the very arenas used for their events were built by migrants who work in abhorrent, fatal conditions. Moreover, the UFC and WWE did not cut ties with Saudi Arabia when the U.N. and Turkish officials determined that Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who fell out of favor with the kingdom’s crown prince, was brutally murdered by high-ranking government officials. All of this is gross, but not entirely new in the world of sports. The NBA’s unyielding loyalty to China deters players from speaking out against the country’s human rights atrocities because it makes 10% of the league’s revenue. When profit is involved, companies will turn a blind eye to murder. 

This merger is a match made in heaven for the UFC and WWE. Both White and McMahon will have further protection because Endeavor will likely not punish either of them. The merger will likely increase the value of both companies, but it will also worsen players’ working conditions. The very athletes who put their bodies on the line for the UFC and WWE will not see any benefit from this merger — only the shareholders. 

On the other hand, the merger could also bring the sports into the mainstream limelight, attracting more scrutiny. As they become more mainstream and the antitrust lawsuits make their way through the courts, White and McMahon may have to answer for the deplorable working conditions, their abuse of women and their ties to controversial governments. Still, fans should not hold their breath. These corrupt behaviors are ingrained in both organizations.

Melissa Duda is a Weinberg first-year graduate student. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.