Nearly five months after it was first announced, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment completed their high profile merger, creating the “TKO Holdings Group,” which will begin trading on Wall Street under the ticker symbol “TKO.”
The merger means that for the first time since its inception, WWE is no longer primarily owned by a member of the McMahon family.
Rather, Endeavor now owns 51% of the new company, with WWE shareholders owning the other 49% — 16.4% is owned by now-former WWE CEO Vince McMahon. The merger, however, is hardly the end of the line for McMahon, who will take over as TKO’s executive chairman, with Endeavor CEO Ariel Emanuel serving in the same role for the new company.
— WWE (@WWE) September 12, 2023
— danawhite (@danawhite) September 12, 2023
Obviously, a merger between the world’s two largest sports combat properties is a seismic one with no shortage of potential implications. With that in mind, here are three things we’re keeping an eye on as the TKO era begins:
Hirings and layoffs
As is the case with any mega merger, layoffs are almost inevitable. The unfortunate reality is that TKO now currently employs multiple people who were hired by both WWE and UFC to do the same jobs.
As far as on-screen talent is concerned, it’s worth noting that it’s been more than a year since WWE has had a batch of releases, which had become commonplace in the company throughout 2021 and 2022. WWE has appeared to be on an unofficial freeze since the start of 2023, although there have been a few exceptions.
With the merger now complete, one would imagine there will be some movement on the WWE roster, whether it’s releases, signings or a combination of the two. It’s also worth noting that there are a few high profile wrestlers reportedly* set to hit the open market next year, including AEW’s current heavyweight champion, Maxwell Jacob Friedman and New Japan Pro Wrestling star Will Ospreay.
*As is the case with anything in pro wrestling, taking such contract statuses with a grain of salt.
At the very least, one would imagine that some crossover opportunities are inevitable — especially when it comes to Conor McGregor.
Mr. McMahon’s involvement
This time one year ago, McMahon was out of the picture, having unexpectedly retired as WWE CEO following a slew of reports regarding alleged sexual misconduct and subsequent payoffs. But after a Succession-like coup, McMahon — who still maintained a controlling interest in the company as a shareholder — returned as WWE’s CEO this past January with the intent to sell the company, which ultimately resulted in the merger with Endeavor.
While McMahon no longer has the controlling interest in the company his family first founded in 1953, all indications appear to be that he’ll still be running the show as far as WWE is concerned.
“I would have body-slammed him if he thought he was going to leave,” Emanuel said of McMahon during an appearance on CNBC to first announce the merger last April. “Here is a man who has seen around the corners at every beat over the last 40 years of this business. And has a vision for where this business [is going] way before a lot of people see it. Him now being able to utilize what we have built and our flywheel, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
.@Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel: I would have body-slammed [@VinceMcMahon] if he thought he was going to leave.@ScottWapnerCNBC: What happens if you guys disagree?@VinceMcMahon: We have a little contest in the ring.$WWE $EDR pic.twitter.com/wbg4Vy3stN
— Squawk on the Street (@SquawkStreet) April 3, 2023
But while McMahon is still in charge, the reality remains that he no longer has the same trump card he once held when he owned the controlling interest of his company. While McMahon and Emanuel certainly seem to currently be in a honeymoon phase, it will be interesting to see what happens if any (or when) any differences arise, even though the company line has been that WWE and UFC will be run separately.
For now, however, it’s business as usual, with McMahon — coincidentally or not — returning from a leave of absence following major spinal surgery to oversee WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, hours before the merger went into effect.
TV rights deals
One of the most interesting aspects of the WWE-UFC merger is that the two companies currently possess their own media rights deals.
UFC is under contract with ESPN until 2025, while WWE has separate deals with NBC Universal and Fox, which both expire in October 2024. Additionally, WWE has an exclusive deal with Peacock to air its Premium Live Events, which expires in 2026.
WWE President Nick Khan — who has been largely credited for negotiating such deals — has been open about WWE’s upcoming negotiations, even entertaining the possibility of the company’s shows switching networks and/or timeslots. Khan has also seemed to be keen on the idea of WWE doing more with streaming and as a former sports media agent, has obvious ties to ESPN. It’s perhaps also worth noting that WWE Chief Creative Officer (and McMahon’s son-in-law) Paul “Triple H” Levesque was spotted next to Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos at New York Fashion Week on Monday.
The formation of TKO, however, makes for an interesting wrinkle, especially considering that WWE and UFC’s rights deals expire just months apart. For now, it appears the two entities will continue to operate separately but as is always the case in the world of sports entertainment, those plans are subject to change.