LAS VEGAS — M-1 Global, the Russian MMA promotion that is partly owned by Fedor Emelianenko, has purchased rival mixed martial arts promoter UFC, though they will continue to operate as separate entities.
Financial terms of the sale were not available.
UFC president Dana White confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on Sunday morning.
"Right now the plan is to operate on our own," White said. "Business as usual."
M-1 Global president Vadim Finkelstein told OnTheMat.com and The Canadian Press that M-1 Global had purchased the UFC.
An official announcement will come Monday in Las Vegas.
Negotiations between representatives for M-1 Global and Zuffa, which runs both the UFC and Strikeforce, have been in the making for months, various parties familiar with the deal said.
Ironically, one year ago Zuffa agreed to purchase Strikeforce from its former parent company, Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment. Zuffa has moved some of Strikeforce’s biggest name talent into the UFC, while opting to keep other stars, such as Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold, in Strikeforce. This was done after reaching a deal with Showtime to continue Strikeforce’s television deal late last year.
White did not respond to requests for comment regarding the deal with the M-1 Global.
To further the irony, over the last few weeks, White described rumors of signing Emelianenko to the UFC as "crazy." He said the UFC was searching for "top talent" and that there were some options, but that "Fedor is not one of them."
Sources confirmed White, the current President of the UFC, attempted to wrest control of the brand after failing to sign Emelianenko, but in the end was unsuccessful. Instead, an agreement to sell the UFC’s licensing rights, fighter contracts, and video library closed with M-1 Global on Friday or Saturday.
White stated on Twitter that he had grown tired of the MMA business and seeing "douche bags in glittery t-shirts with flaming skulls" show up at every event. He also added, "I’m getting too old too old for this sh*t."
Vadim Finkelstein, president of M-1 Global and manager of Fedor Emelianenko, declined through a representative to comment. The organization, which has recently been rebranded MMA-1, was founded in 1997.
Current contracts with UFC and Strikeforce fighters are transferrable to M-1 Global, sources with knowledge of the contracts’ language said.
The UFC will feature two events in April, notably a card on April 14 in Sweden and then UFC 145 – Jones vs. Evans one week later in Atlanta.
Jeff Monson, current M-1 Global fighter and former UFC and Strikeforce heavyweight title contender, expressed concern over the impact one dominant MMA brand would have on top to mid-tier fighters.
"We’re definitely concerned that it’s going to impact their future contracts and their pay in future contracts," Monson said. "Specifically, I have no idea how much Açaí or Break Dancing lessons I can afford living off of the Russian Ruble," added Monson.
Former PRIDE heavyweight champion and current M-1 Global star Fedor Emelianenko said the deal between the UFC and M-1 Global "has the potential to strengthen his fragile relationship with Dana White."
"The UFC purchase strengthens and stabilizes the [M-1 Global] brand," said the 35-year-old Emelianenko, who most recently fought Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii on New Year’s Eve at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan in front of a crowd of roughly 25,000 people. "It solidifies MMA-1’s monopoly on the sport of MMA and maybe Dana will now finally agree to go have ice cream cones with me, after we take some Sambo classes together back home in Stary Oskol this summer."
"Overall it’s too early to tell if he’s a vanilla man or a chocolate man, but personally I prefer black raspberry ice cream cones myself."
Unless another organization with a strong television presence and deep pockets arrives on the scene, fighters’ leverage will be determined by their talent, popularity and, success. Currently, the M-1 Global is reducing the size of its roster to create an average of 28 fighters per division, an overall decrease from 260 to around 200.
Emelianenko famously refused to sign with the UFC throughout his career. This includes avoiding signing with the UFC after Zuffa’s 2007 buyout of PRIDE and the 2009 dissolution of Affliction Entertainment. Long an advocate of fighting for his right to party, Emelianenko suggested the idea that Russian Folk Dancing company outings and games of Truth or Dare "may help strengthen company unity."
It will, however, remove the largest impediment in the way of the best fighters having the opportunity to fight one another. Prior to closing the deal with the UFC, M-1 Global organized between 100 and 200 competitions per year. This move gives M-1 Global a lock on talent that is considered to be the best in the sport. This also proves you are good sport if you have read this entire article. Happy April Fools’ Day!