What is TKO? The UFC and WWE merger explained

Since April’s announcement that the UFC and WWE would be merging, questions have abounded. The biggest, undoubtedly, has been: What does it mean? It was a question that arose again on Tuesday (12 September), when the resultant company, TKO, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

On one side, you have the preeminent promotion in mixed martial arts: the Ultimate Fighting Championship; on the other, the biggest professional wrestling brand around the globe: World Wrestling Entertainment. Except, there are no longer sides. With the UFC’s parent company Endeavor purchasing WWE, a merger has created a “$21billlion+ live sports and entertainment powerhouse”.

Those were the words of Vince McMahon in April. At the time, just one day after Wrestlemania – the biggest event of the year for WWE – the company’s executive chairman added: “Given the incredible work that Ari [Emanuel, Endeavor CEO at the time] and Endeavor have done to grow the UFC brand – nearly doubling its revenue over the past seven years – and the immense success we’ve already had in partnering with their team on a number of ventures, I believe that this is without a doubt the best outcome for our shareholders and other stakeholders.”

Endeavor holds a 51 per cent controlling interest in the new company TKO, and existing WWE shareholders hold a 49 per cent interest. Emanuel has become the CEO of TKO, while Vince McMahon is executive chairman. Dana White, UFC president until now, has become UFC CEO, while Nick Khan remains president of WWE. Endeavor’s Mark Shapiro is the president and chief operating officer of TKO.

But that’s not what you really want to know. Here’s what you are interested in:

Will UFC and WWE athletes feature on each other’s brands?

So, will UFC title fights be decided by pinfall from here on out? Will even more WWE matches take place inside a cage? The answer to those questions is: No.

Will we see more UFC fighters transition to WWE, in the manner that Ronda Rousey or Brock Lesnar did (though the latter in fact started out in WWE before flitting back and forth)? Will we see more WWE athletes compete in the UFC, in the manner that Phil “CM Punk” Brooks did? There are further examples, and the answer to those questions, actually, is: Possibly.

“#itsinevitable,” tweeted former UFC champion Conor McGregor, alongside a mock-up image of himself carrying the WWE title, in April. “I want them all. Easy money,” said rising UFC star Bo Nickal.

At the very least, the UFC and WWE will surely capitalise on the opportunity for frequent, heavy cross-promotion. WWE airs on Peacock in the US, while ESPN is the home of the UFC. Now, each brand will be more visible on the other’s broadcasts.

How will the products change?

Fundamentally, the products will not change. At least, that’s what Paul Levesque – better known by his character name of “Triple H” – said of WWE at the start of an episode of Raw, the night after Wrestlemania.

Levesque has been involved with WWE in a creative capacity since retiring as a wrestler but remains an on-screen presence, and McMahon’s son-in-law told fans in Los Angeles: “I am here to assure you: We ain’t going nowhere. The same WWE that you love, the superstars, the action, the drama, all of it – we are going nowhere.

“We are the WWE; then, now, forever – together,” Levesque concluded, reciting the company’s slogan.

WWE superstar ‘Triple H’ has been involved in a creative capacity since his in-ring retirement (Getty Images)
WWE superstar ‘Triple H’ has been involved in a creative capacity since his in-ring retirement (Getty Images)

Fans have enjoyed what they have deemed to be ‘improved’ storytelling under Levesque’s guidance. McMahon stepped down as WWE’s CEO and chairman last year amid a sexual-misconduct scandal surrounding him, but the 77-year-old soon returned, and reports since have suggested that he has gradually been taking back the creative reins. McMahon first claimed that his return was simply to facilitate a WWE sale, but that has since been proven untrue, it seems.

And what of the UFC? For all the broader questions, most fighters had just one – the sort that was inevitable given widespread criticism of the UFC’s fighter pay, and the boast of the birth of a ‘$21bn’ behemoth...

Will the deal help to improve UFC fighter pay?

“So are we getting paid more now or what?” Mike Davis asked on Twitter in April. “That’s the only question fighters have about this.” Matt Frevola tweeted: “So is this good or bad for fighter pay? #AskingForAFriend.”

Others, like McGregor and Nickal, leant into the more fun narrative around a potential in-ring crossover, with Terrance McKinney joking about fighters getting “put thru a table from a ladder”.

Meanwhile, YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul expressed hope that the deal could effect change in the UFC. A constant critic of the promotion’s fighter pay, Paul – who is scheduled to make an MMA debut in PFL soon and who has invested in Endeavor – tweeted: “UFC + WWE makes too much sense. Great path to increasing fighter pay.”

What will this mean for the audiences/fanbases?

There is a loose notion that WWE fans grow up to become UFC fans, preferring the real-life violence and drama of MMA to the scripted storytelling and action of pro wrestling. Yet reports in recent years have suggested that WWE’s fanbase is, in fact, getting older and fandom of pro wrestling has become more widely accepted. There is some crossover in the audiences of the UFC and WWE, certainly, and Endeavor will surely look to tap into that percentile now.

“Where we want to get is, where every UFC fan is a WWE fan and every WWE fan is a UFC fan,” the UFC’s senior executive vice president and COO Lawrence Epstein told ESPN on 12 September.

In truth, only time will tell what this move means – on screens and behind the scenes – but the speculation is part of the fun.

Click here to subscribe to The Independent’s Sport YouTube channel for all the latest sports videos.