Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2023/04/07/pollocks-update-breakdown-of-the-wwe-ufc-merger/
POST IT NOTES
**Rewind-A-Wai #128 is available now on the POST Wrestling Café with Wai Ting and I discussing CM Punk’s famous interview on the Art of Wrestling podcast in November 2014. It was Punk’s first interview since leaving WWE and saw Punk spend two hours going over his disillusionment with the company since re-signing three years prior and all the tumultuous issues, he experienced leading to his exit in January that year. The two of us spent 2 ½ hours discussing the major points, how it this sounds over eight years today, comparisons to the All Out press conference, and the future of Punk.
**Next Tuesday, we are presenting the April edition of the ASK-A-WAI Mailbag Show and you can submit your questions on the POST Wrestling Forum thread or submit your audio question (for free) at memo.fm/postwrestling. The show will be released for all POST Wrestling Café members.
**Rewind-A-SmackDown will be LIVE at a special start time of 10 p.m. ET tonight for POST Wrestling Café members. We will be discussing all the top news stories from today and the post-WrestleMania edition of SmackDown to cap off a historical week in pro wrestling history. We will also take your calls and feedback.
**Bruce Lord and Karen Peterson will have an NJPW Sakura Genesis POST Show out on Saturday for Café members.
**The UFC 287 POST Show will be streaming on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET on the POST YouTube channel.
THE POWER PLAYERS OF NEWCO
One of the most seismic weeks in the history of the professional wrestling industry saw the merger of WWE with UFC while under the auspices of Endeavor and its CEO Ari Emanuel.
The yet-to-be-named NewCo will bring Emanuel, Vince McMahon, Dana White, and Nick Khan under the same umbrella with an “all chips on the table” bet that it is positioned for sizable increases in its respective media rights negotiations. The temperature in the room will be bear out this year as WWE opened its negotiations this past weekend with its incumbents – NBC Universal and Fox – with Khan estimating the rights should be finalized later this year. The UFC’s deal with ESPN expires at the end of 2025, which coincides with WWE’s streaming deal with Peacock wrapping up. It has already been posited that a potential streaming partnership could be on the table between WWE and UFC down the road and at this juncture, all revenue opportunities should be explored.
The effects of this week’s deal will have short, middle, and long-term impacts and varying outcomes for different parties. For WWE fans, the immediate concern is Vince McMahon’s navigation back to his position of power with Monday’s handling of Raw going against the executive chairman’s stance that he would not be “getting in the weeds”.
The creative direction of the company is a small area of this week’s news, but it does reflect fan sentiment, which has undoubtedly been at its highest in years since the changeover last summer and Paul Levesque overseeing creative. Rather than differentiating the creative visions as personal taste, Levesque’s run coincided with business improvements in both television numbers, live events, and peaking multiple stories for WrestleMania, which was the most successful WrestleMania of all time due to a variety of factors.
With that said, here is a look at the major players and how we can view this past week from their various points of view:
Unquestionably one of the winners of this entire period, as remarkable as that sounds given the legacy-tainting scandal last summer of multiple sexual misconduct claims reported by the Wall Street Journal.
McMahon’s tenure in the company was perilous at best following last summer’s scandal, although the ace in the hole was McMahon’s voting power as its controlling shareholder that he maintained despite his resignation. He kept an ultra-low profile before the fireworks in late December where he forced his way back into the company. It was a calculated maneuver, initially met with resistance by its board of directors voting unanimously to turn down McMahon’s request for return. McMahon used his trump card of voting power to essentially state that he wasn’t asking to return but was telling them he was returning. His armor for such a bold move in the wake of controversy was the desire to explore “strategic alternatives” for the company, which excited Wall Street, which was quick to jump on the potential value of a sale or merger, rather than the black mark that McMahon’s return represents. McMahon was right in this equation and there was little, if any, blowback.
Now, McMahon sits as a theoretical #2 under Ari Emanuel in this new company and while it’s an all-stock deal, McMahon looks to profit greatly once the true value of the company is determined. More than anything, his voting power in the new company may have diminished but his impact on WWE business is fortified in this organization chart. Monday’s actions at Raw may have been an outlier with McMahon already in town for WrestleMania and appearing at the show, but that could also be a naïve assumption given McMahon’s track record. He is at his own discretion for how much or how little he is involved. The same “in the weeds” comparison was used in 2019 when Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman were appointed executive directors and McMahon very much controlled the content presented on each program.
It remains to be seen what his influence truly reflects in the weeks and months to come. Was Raw a special occasion given McMahon already being in town and attending the show? Fan sentiment has been exceptionally high over the past few months culminating with upticks in attendance, television numbers, and building several marquee attractions with Sami Zayn challenging Roman Reigns in Montreal, Zayn & Kevin Owens reuniting and going for the tag titles, Cody Rhodes’ return from injury and challenging Reigns, along with the weekly Bloodline stories that have been the strongest element of WWE programming over the past year.
It has been a roller coaster for Levesque, who seemed as removed from the picture as possible during his serious health scare and removal from the day-to-day functions at NXT, to his return after the McMahon scandal.
Much will be determined by McMahon’s role in the new company and what day-to-day duties are assigned, which could make involvement in creative nearly impossible anyway. Unlike many aspects of the deal, this is one area that should be known – one way or another – very quickly.
He goes from CEO of WWE to the title of president under the new company while maintaining a position as a high-ranking official and the same title Dana White holds on the UFC’s side.
It was noted by CNBC’s Alex Sherman in our interview, that you have the dynamic of Ari Emanuel and Nick Khan under the same roof, who were competing agents at WME and CAA respectively before Khan joined WWE in the summer of 2020.
Khan’s immediate course of business is facilitating the next television rights for Raw and SmackDown and it’s a question of how or if Emanuel gets involved in those talks and how that relationship works. Obviously, there is a lot of overlap in experience and contacts between these two power brokers within the media industry and they can either complement one another or be overstepping into the other’s domain.
Khan has years remaining on his deal with WWE and could easily be argued as the most important executive hire in the company’s history. Prior to joining WWE, he was the lead negotiator in 2018 for WWE’s existing rights (average annual values of $265 million and $205 million for Raw and SmackDown respectively) and landed the licensing agreement with Peacock for the domestic rights to the WWE Network that runs through 2025.
It remains to be seen what Khan’s long-term aspirations are and with the sale in the rearview mirror (pending approval) and the television rights settled later this year, what are Khan’s short and long-term goals for himself?
The Endeavor purchase famously sent White into a self-described spiral, where he noted that he locked himself up in a hotel room for days t wrap his head around the massive change and departures of childhood friends Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta.
White was considered essential in the changeover of ownership in 2016 and had to eliminate many top executives and find savings across the board, including the elimination of lifetime deals for Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes.
Whether it’s under Endeavor or his broadcast partners, White is a team player and backs his team at all costs.
His relationship with Vince McMahon is an interesting one as he is one of the few promoters White never takes shots at, even though he hints at a less-than-reciprocal relationship. White recently cited showing up at WrestleMania in New Orleans for Ronda Rousey’s first match in 2018 and being given poor tickets and understanding the message that was sent loud and clear.
McMahon once tried to screw White by poaching Mike Goldberg on the day of a live UFC card on Spike TV, which was airing head-to-head with the Raw Homecoming show on the USA Network in October 2005. This came months after Spike publicly pulled out of talks with WWE for renewal and left WWE with no leverage to find an alternative television home. Spike had the ability to walk away from WWE due to the surging popularity of UFC, which was in the midst of the first season of Ultimate Fighter and Spike was able to migrate a portion of WWE’s audience to the UFC by airing the reality series immediately after.
The crossover question remains to be seen between WWE and UFC. It makes all the sense that there would be cross-promotion of major events with fighters showing up on WWE programming to promote a fight, and under the right circumstance, having WWE wrestlers present in the crowd at major UFC events or interviewed on the broadcast.
White has always kept an arm’s distance from pro wrestling and is a micro-manager to the same level as Vince McMahon when it comes to delivering the product he believes his audience desires – and there is definitely an anti-wrestling sentiment that will exist if the crossover is too heavy-handed on a UFC broadcast whereas a WWE audience would likely be more open-minded.
A major subject is layoffs, which seem inevitable with a deal of this magnitude. Endeavor president Mark Shapiro has said as much, noting they plan to find $100 million in “synergies” from the merger and both WWE and UFC could feel a sizable pinch.
UFC, they have been doing record business since the pandemic and because of this merger, their employees could be affected, which is a killer for morale, as it will be for WWE, who have also achieved record earnings over these past few years. This part of the equation is always the nastiest but it’s the reality of merging two major companies and finding overlap and efficiencies.
“Hey, do you think we’re paying the wrestlers enough?” – No one.
If we learned anything post-UFC sale, it was that a) fighters lost a whole lot of leverage, and b) in the era of guaranteed rights and an ESPN+ pay-per-view deal, it made the UFC less reliant than ever on appeasing its top fighters.
For many pro wrestlers, those that grew up as fans, it is unfathomable money they are currently making, and many don’t want to rock the boat. Are they underpaid? It goes without saying when you have a $9.3 billion valuation and escalating television rights deals that the talent is not guaranteed any percentage of. One can assume the growing sponsorship revenues yield just as much.
In theory, the pot has grown and given WWE the ability to offer better contracts, but it is purely at their discretion, and adding costs during this merger is the last thing on their agenda.
The idea of a union or association seems out of grasp for this generation as it’s not something publicly debated or brought up by talents much less imagining an organized effort to truly make that move.
If there is a recent event where talent had leverage, it was the start of the pandemic when WWE was adamant about not missing any shows and honoring its television commitments even if it meant placing talent and staff in danger when all other sporting events were shutting down (except for UFC, who also don’t have a union to contend with). Talent had the opportunity to stand their ground and ensure something for their side in order to facilitate the company’s wants, but instead, they worked all the shows and were thanked by an unprecedented number of releases in 2020 and 2021.
The upper class is usually always taken care of, and there may be examples of increases while also maintaining a hard percentage of revenues they won’t exceed, just like UFC. It remains to be seen if cuts to talent occur as they seek out “synergies”.
Nothing of major consequence should be expected from the consumers of either WWE or UFC immediately. Ultimately, the new company will be maximizing every revenue opportunity and it would be foolish to imagine that some of that cost will be expected out of the fanbase, which is loyal to a fault.
The largest concern I have seen is the fear from WWE fans of a return to the pay-per-view model and citing the UFC’s model with ESPN+. It cannot be dismissed as a possibility, especially with Mark Shapiro stating that will run “the UFC playbook” and the ESPN+ deal is a major part of that playbook. WWE’s deal with Peacock still has nearly three years remaining and it’s hard to imagine any major changes coming before that, not to mention Peacock not being in the pay-per-view industry yet.
For the next deal, Nick Khan mentioned to John Ourand & Andrew Marchand that if they were offered a hypothetical “5x increase” with a pay-per-view component attached to the streaming rights, they would have to explore it. It sounded like a “pie in the sky” theory, but with the Endeavor attachment and the belief that major events like WrestleMania are underpriced, it has to be of consideration.
Can WWE go back to an all-pay-per-view model? I don’t think so. Khan seems very cognizant of fan accessibility and the benefit of lowering the entry for its big events to the most eyes while also maximizing revenue. Could WrestleMania be priced higher? Yes. But, with this current model and rising viewership figures to coincide with Peacock’s growth, more people are seeing it’s premium live events than at any time in the company’s history and have opened the door to more sponsorships with the higher volume and peaking with over $20 million in sponsorships this past weekend.
A WWE event is generally more affordable than a UFC event and ticket pricing itself has become a hot-button issue due to dynamic pricing. Khan made a point last week of mentioning that its cheapest priced tickets for WrestleMania were only $25 but rising ticket prices seem inevitable for the biggest events and UFC has hit unchartered levels for its biggest pay-per-view events.
**Friday Night SmackDown takes place from the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon, and airs at 8 p.m. ET on Fox with the following announced for the show:
*Paul Levesque to address the audience
*Sami Zayn vs. Jey Uso
*Rey Mysterio & Santos Escobar vs. Damian Priest & Dominik Mysterio
*Gunther, Giovanni Vinci & Ludwig Kaiser vs. Sheamus, Butch & Ridge Holland
*Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn return as tag champions
*Rhea Ripley to appear
**AEW has a two-hour block on TNT with a live show from Kingston, Rhode Island for Rampage and Battle of the Belts VI. Of the six BOTB specials, this feels like the most thrown-together card they have presented with three matches quickly announced during the main event of Dynamite. The block begins at 10 p.m. ET and the following has been announced:
*Darby Allin vs. Lee Moriarty
*FTW Championship: Hook © vs. Ethan Page
*Anna J.A.S. vs. Julia Hart
*The Acclaimed, Matt Menard & Angelo Parker vs. TBA
*Swerve Strickland makes an announcement
*Sit-down between Jade Cargill and Taya Valkyrie
Battle of the Belts VI
*AEW International Championship: Orange Cassidy © vs. Dralistico
*TBS Championship: Jade Cargill © vs. Billie Starkz
*ROH Tag Team Championships: Lucha Bros. © vs. Powerhouse Hobbs & QT Marshall
**IMPACT Wrestling averaged 117,000 viewers and 0.02 in the 18-49 demographic on AXS TV and ranked #133 among cable originals on Thursday. It was the show’s largest viewership since August 11, 2022. (Showbuzz Daily)
**New Japan Pro Wrestling has a big event on Saturday beginning at 4 a.m. ET on New Japan World. It is the company’s return to Ryogoku Kokugikan with five championship matches including Mercedes Mone’s first title defense after winning the IWGP Women’s Championship at Battle in the Valley in San Jose in February. It is a loaded show and features SANADA’s first significant match since leaving LIJ and forming Just Five Guys.
*IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada © vs. SANADA – SANADA has beaten Okada once in his career and has always been the bridesmaid for the IWGP title. If ever there was a time to put the title on him, this could be the one to establish his new group and direction. SANADA doesn’t feel like “the guy”, although he was said to be getting strong reactions on the shows in the lead-up to Sakura Genesis. It could also free up Okada for a lot of interesting matches without the political issues of booking him as champion with AEW for Forbidden Door.
*IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi © vs. Robbie Eagles – Hiromu is routinely having stellar matches with every title defense and this should be no different. Eagles is now part of TMDK and is a fantastic performer. Between these two, Lio Rush, YOH, and El Desperado, that is an incredible core that this division has. SHO desperately needs to get away from House of Torture and have a concentrated role with this talent.
*IWGP Tag Team Championships: Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Aussie Open
*NJPW Television Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. © vs. Shota Umino
*IWGP Women’s Championship: Mercedes Mone © vs. AZM vs. Hazuki
*Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI vs. Taichi, DOUKI & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
*KENTA, El Phantasmo & David Finlay vs. Hikuleo, Tama Tonga & Master Wato
*Aaron Henare, Jeff Cobb & Francesco Akira vs. EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi
*Shinnichi Champion Grand Prix Six-Man Tag – Participants TBA
**A match everyone is raving about is the Ultimate Triad match between Shingo Takagi and Aaron Henare from Korakuen Hall last Sunday. The KOPW title match was given 5 ¼ stars by Dave Meltzer and I heard from people at New Japan that it was exceptional. I will attempt to watch the match over the weekend as it was lost among all the WrestleMania Week events.
**Dana White was a guest on the Pat McAfee Show on Friday to promote UFC 287. White stated they are expecting a gate of $11.5 million for the card on Saturday night in Miami. It is the first time the promotion has run a card in the city since April 2003. White was utterly dismissive of Francis Ngannou, stating they offered him a lot of money and he would never fight in the UFC again while adding that Jon Jones is the top heavyweight in the world.
**Brandon Thurston has an analysis of WWE’s business over the past eight months under the creative leadership of Paul Levesque compared with the prior year.
**The UFC 287 card takes place on Saturday with its first show in Miami since UFC 42 in April 2003. The main event pits Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya in a rematch for the UFC Middleweight Championship with Pereira holding two kickboxing wins and one MMA victory over Adesanya. In their last fight, Adesanya was winning the fight until he was stopped in the fifth round with referee Marc Goddard waving it off. It is a relatively quick return and it will be interesting to see what if any, major changes are made by Adesanya. It is like Kamaru Usman, who was winning his second fight with Leon Edwards up until the fight-ending head kick. Usman was favored in the third fight but it was a clear win for Edwards are five rounds. Pereira is as versatile a kickboxer as you will find in the division with an opening for a wrestling-heavy offense, but is Adesanya able to exploit that? Adesanya seems to fall somewhere between making little to no changes versus a wholesale interruption of his strategy in the last fight. There is much more to lose for Adesanya, who would be 0-2 against the current champion and likely have to go through a gauntlet of fights before receiving another title fight.
Here is the full lineup for Saturday’s card from the Kaseya Arena:
MAIN CARD (10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view)
*UFC Middleweight Championship: Alex Pereira (7-1) vs. Israel Adesanya (23-2)
*Gilbert Burns (21-5) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-16)
*Rob Font (19-6) vs. Adrian Yanez (16-3)
*Kevin Holland (23-9) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-6)
*Raul Rosas Jr. (7-0) vs. Christian Rodriguez (8-1) – Rodriguez missed weight at 137 pounds and was fined 20 percent of his purse
PRELIMINARY CARD (8 p.m. ET on ESPN & ESPN+)
*Kelvin Gastelum (17-8) vs. Chris Curtis (30-9)
*Luana Pinheiro (10-1) vs. Michelle Waterson-Gomez (18-10)
*Gerald Meerschaert (35-15) vs. Joseph Pyfer (10-2)
*Karl Williams (8-1) vs. Chase Sherman (16-11)
EARLY PRELIMS (6 p.m. ET on ESPN+ & Fight Pass)
*Cynthia Calvillo (9-5-1) vs. Lupita Godinez (8-3)
*Trey Ogden (16-5) vs. Ignacio Bahamondes (13-4)
*Shayilan Nuerdanbieke (39-10) vs. Steve Garcia (13-5)
*Sam Hughes (7-5) vs. Jaqueline Amorim (6-0)
REWIND-A-WAI #128: CM Punk on Art of Wrestling w/ Colt Cabana
John Pollock & Wai Ting reflect on CM Punk’s widely-discussed podcast appearance on The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana.
John Pollock & Wai Ting review AEW Dynamite with Tony Khan announcing All In at Wembley Stadium, Jay White is ALL ELITE, MJF Day, and The Gunns vs. FTR in a Titles vs. Careers match.
Braden Herrington and Davie Portman review WWE NXT from April 4th, 2023 featuring Wes Lee vs Axiom for the NXT North American Championship.
POLLOCK & THURSTON: Alex Sherman of CNBC
John Pollock and Brandon Thurston welcome CNBC reporter Alex Sherman to discuss Endeavor’s move to merge WWE with UFC under a new company.
John Pollock and Wai Ting react to the news of WWE’s merger with UFC under Endeavor and review Raw After WrestleMania 39.
BREAKING NEWS: WWE deal with Endeavor
John Pollock and Brandon Thurston discuss all aspects of Endeavor’s purchase of WWE and launching a new company with UFC.
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