Never one to toe the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) public relations line, company president Dana White tonight refuted a potentially mixed martial arts (MMA)-changing report that his franchise was up for sale for as much as $4 billion. While a spokesperson initially parroted the standard "we're a private company and don't comment on business-related speculation" line, White was a little more forthcoming with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
"The UFC is not for sale. The ESPN story is overblown. Darren Rovell is not a fan of facts. His facts could not be further off."
Rovell did not reveal his sources in the original story for ESPN.com, but that isn't necessarily uncommon with such big scoops. He did offer numerous details that would seemingly fall under a non-disclosure agreement, including the four potential buyers: WME/IMG, China Media Capital, The Blackstone Group and Dalian Wanda Group (DWG). The latter, DWG, is apparently the front-runner thanks to a chairman -- the richest man in China -- worth $34 billion. In fact, it appears he's been spending a lot of money to get into the sports business in a major way.
"The company has slowly been getting into sports. Last year, Wanda bought a 20 percent stake in soccer superpower Atletico Madrid for a reported $48 million. In March, amid the FIFA scandal, the company agreed to sign on as a FIFA partner, the highest level of sponsorship, through 2030. In January, [DWG] became the first Chinese company to become owners of a major Hollywood film studio when it agreed to buy Legendary Entertainment from Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull for about $3.5 billion."
The truth here, clearly, lies somewhere between fact and fiction. But, where there is smoke, there is typically fire. Whether or not it's a $4 billion fire or just an exploratory valuation exercise, remains to be seen.