UFC's path to boxing begins with its new Apex arena in Las Vegas

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
A general view of the UFC Apex on June 17, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)
A general view of the UFC Apex on June 17, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Dana White’s path to becoming a major player in boxing began on Monday as the UFC president unveiled the company’s new Apex arena that White called the perfect facility for fights.

Apex, which is located next to the UFC offices, is a state-of-the-art production facility that includes space to host fights cards of all sorts, including boxing, that would seat around 1,500.

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Yahoo Sports in October first reported the news that the UFC planned to build the facility, and it will officially open on Tuesday when it hosts the first episode of the new season of “Dana White’s Contender Series,” on ESPN+ in the U.S. and on UFC FightPass everywhere else.

White told Yahoo Sports that in addition to combat sports, the facility could host other events like comedy shows or concerts. White couldn’t speak of future plans, because Endeavor is planning to take the UFC public, but when it is built out, it is expected to include a hotel on the lot and be similar to the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters in Frisco, Texas.

The Apex building will enable White to strengthen UFC FightPass. He said he may bid for major boxing events that would then be streamed on his network.

“The way I’m looking at UFC FightPass is like HBO,” White said. “If you look at how HBO was involved in boxing for over [45] years, we could do that, too.”

In addition to MMA events put on by the UFC, Apex will host other MMA events, as well as boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, kick boxing, Muay Thai and any other kind of combat sport.

It includes two full control rooms and will allow the UFC to produce shows from it that are held anywhere in the world.

White conceived the space in May 2018 after Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel looked at the lot on the grand opening weekend of the UFC’s new offices and its performance institute.

“Ari looked at that and said to me, ‘I want to buy that thing,’ ” said White, who admitted he was puzzled at first.

But after making the purchase of the 130,000 square-foot building from Scientific Games, Emanuel turned it over to White and told him to do with it what he wanted.

“We literally are [only] limited by my imagination,” White said while giving a tour of the facility. “We can do whatever I can come up with.”

That will include boxing when UFC FightPass, the promotion’s live streaming service, is re-launched in the fall. He’s already gotten a promoter’s license to promote amateur boxing, which will lead to a professional boxing promoter’s license.

That will include shows from promoters around the world who want to take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities at Apex. But White, who has been rumored to be negotiating with Premier Boxing Champions promoter Al Haymon to purchase the PBC, is planning to be involved big-time.

White denied a deal with the PBC is in place and said he could partner with other promoters to put on cards, or could buy another promotional company. He said that if major fights go to purse bids, he would be interested in bidding on them to provide high-end content for FightPass.

A general view of the UFC APEX on June 17, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)
A general view of the UFC APEX on June 17, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

He raved about the state of boxing’s heavyweight division, and specifically praised lineal champion Tyson Fury, WBC champion Deontay Wilder, IBF-WBA-WBO champion Andy Ruiz Jr. and former champion Anthony Joshua.

“If you look at boxing right now, it hasn't been this fun for a long time in the heavyweight division,” White said. “You've got four real guys [Fury, Wilder, Ruiz, Joshua].”

He said he’s had conversations with virtually every boxing promoter in the business. He said most of them have been receptive to working with him in some way.

He said the reason for the facility is to support FightPass, and he’ll need content to help with his plan to have shows produced out of Apex every day of the year.

White is a long-time and passionate boxing fan and he used to train boxers when he was younger. But he has been critical of how the boxing establishment has worked, and in building the UFC, tried to avoid many of the pitfalls that have plagued boxing.

“I’m looking to do everything and anything from bidding on some of these big fights to air on FightPass, to promoting fights, to working with other promoters to put on fights,” White said. “I’ve met, or talked to, most of the promoters out there. I didn’t know what this temperature might be when this thing began, but I’ll tell you, it’s been really good.

“The feedback has been good from other promoters. They all seem very interested to do business with me.”

White vehemently denied reports that Endeavor is poised to purchase the PBC. The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger was asked by a fan in a boxing Q&A on the site about rumors that PBC will be bought by Endeavor.

Coppinger wrote, “Rumors are true. Al held several meetings with Ari Emanuel about a potential deal where Al would still be majorly involved the same way Dana is with UFC following that deal with Endeavor.”

White, though, disputed that.

“I never said that, ever,” White said. “I saw some quote the other day where [it said] ‘Dana White said he is 100 percent going to buy PBC.’ I never said that. Never said that. It’s not true. But anything is possible.

“We could end up buying another promotion. We could end up partnering with another promotion. We could end up bidding on their fights to air on FightPass. There is no specific plan right now. We’re still all in talks with all these guys. Not have I just talked with the PBC, because I have a great relationship with Haymon, but I’ve been talking to everybody.”

White could use FightPass as a network to distribute boxing for promoters, giving them another alternative to DAZN, ESPN, Fox and Showtime. He could promote large-scale boxing events himself at other venues that require more seating than Apex but air it on FightPass. He also said he could seek to sign free agent boxers to multi-fight promotional deals.

It’s all made possible, he said, by what the company will be able to do at the new Apex facility. The floor space for a fight is 20,000 square feet. It has more than 50,000 square feet of production space and more than 70,000 square feet of office space.

UFC vice president Craig Borsari said 30 full-time jobs have already been created and said it could exceed 100 full-timers to service the facility.

Apex’s remodeling includes 18 miles of new wire, much of which is fiber, six miles of steel studs to construct new walls, 1,482 gallons of paint and 17 LED panels on four displays. It includes a 50-by-50 sound stage, a VIP suite, a media lounge, four athlete locker rooms, an engineering room, a production office, 12 general purpose rooms and a multi-purpose room.

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