UFC president Dana White confirmed late Sunday night the accuracy of a New York Times report that the company had been sold for approximately $4 billion to a group headed by talent agency WME/IMG.
White told Yahoo Sports via text message that he would remain with the company. The new group bought the shares of the company owned by Frank Fertitta (40.5 percent), Lorenzo Fertitta (40.5 percent) and White (9 percent).
The Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment, which purchased 10 percent of the UFC in 2010, will keep its share for now. White said he will remain as an owner, president and head of day-to-day operations and the Fertittas have a minority interest in the new company, but he could not disclose specifics.
“I’m obviously bummed about not being in business with my best friend [Lorenzo Fertitta] and my partners of 20 years,” White said. “I am happy about the future of the UFC, the sport and my role moving forward.”
In 2001, White and the Fertitta brothers purchased the company for $2 million from Semaphore Entertainment Group. Each Fertitta had 45 percent at that point and White had 10 percent. In 2010, the Fertitta brothers sold 9 percent and White 1 percent to bring on Flash.
The UFC struggled in those early days and by 2004, the company was more than $40 million in the hole. It funded the entire cost of the first season of the reality series “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike in a last ditch effort to save the company.
White has said the show was the Trojan horse that allowed the company to reach the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that would become its strongest constituency.
ESPN reported in May that the company was up for sale, which White denied. He said on “The Dan Patrick Show” the day after the ESPN report that the company wasn’t up for sale, but this time added, “if someone comes to us with $4 billion, we’ll talk.”
Last month, FloCombat reported the sale had been completed and that White would stay on. The UFC denied that report too, saying it had written a letter to its employees telling them it wasn’t true.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the WME/IMG group also included private equity firms Silver Lake and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and an investment company owned by Dell Computers founder Michael Dell.
WME/IMG is not expected to play an active role in running the company.
Ari Emanuel, the brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is close with the Fertitta brothers and has represented the UFC in the past. Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey is represented by WME.
The sale is expected to close before UFC 202 on Aug. 20.