The majority owners of Ultimate Fighting Championship have agreed to buy their biggest mixed martial arts rival, Pride Fighting Championships, in a deal that will establish megafights among the outfits' titleholders and possibly attract huge pay-per-view audiences.
Company executives declined to comment on the sales price, but a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta will purchase the Japan-based Pride for less than $70 million. The person was not authorized to speak to reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The deal was completed Tuesday and was announced during a news conference in Tokyo, where Lorenzo Fertitta has been negotiating with Nobuyuki Sakakibara, the majority owner and chief executive of Dream Stage Entertainment, Pride's owner.
"We have been talking to Pride for probably about 11 months," Fertitta said. "It's been a long, drawn out process but we finally we were able to put the two brands together."
To buy the company, the brothers created a new entity called Pride FC Worldwide Holdings. The newly formed company will take over Pride assets, including its trademarks, video library and valuable roster of fighters, from Dream Stage. The Fertitta brothers, who own Las Vegas-based Zuffa, the parent company of UFC, intend to keep the well-known Pride name and promote fights under that brand.
The acquisition marks a new phase in the brothers' quest to dominate the burgeoning world of mixed martial arts since they bought the struggling UFC in 2001.
"This is really going to change the face of MMA," Lorenzo Fertitta said. "Literally creating a sport that could be as big around the world as soccer. I liken it somewhat to when the NFC and AFC came together to create the NFL."
The deal allows the Fertitta brothers to broker the biggest MMA fights possible in the near future, increasing their influence in this sports entertainment business.
"We will be able to literally put on the fights that everyone wants to see," Lorenzo Fertitta said. "It will allow us to put on some of the biggest fights ever."
In the past, there has been at least one case in which Pride and UFC couldn't hammer out a deal to put their top fighters in the ring together. With Pride in their pocket, the Fertitta brothers intend to ensure that never happens again.
The sale gives Pride more financial backing to expand the business internationally after suffering a recent financial blow. Major sponsor Fuji Television Network dropped Pride in June after a tabloid linked Pride to the Japanese mob--something Sakakibara has denied vigorously. To help bolster Pride, the company staged two PPV fights in Las Vegas. Neither was a financial success. The fights gained exposure for Pride but lost money, making the sale of Pride more likely.
"I think it certainly weakened their position," Lorenzo Fertitta said. "One of our goals is to get back on a major platform back here in Japan."
Fertitta said he'll be looking to expand Pride internationally. Buying Pride is the latest in a series of acquisitions that the brothers have made in the last six months. Zuffa snapped up World Extreme Cagefighting and World Fighting Alliance last year.
Similar to Pride, buying WFA gave UFC the rights to a popular fighter named Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Jackson will face UFC's most popular fighter, Chuck Liddell, the current light heavyweight champ in Las Vegas, on May 26 on PPV.
In the combat world, the Pride deal leaves a fragmented group of upstarts and K-1, another Japanese company that promotes fighters skilled in various forms of kick boxing.
Thanks to a surge in popularity, the brothers' investment in UFC and MMA in general has begun to pay off. Last year, UFC cracked $200 million in PPV revenue, putting it on par with World Wrestling Entertainment.
UFC stages fights in arenas across the country and airs a clutch of successful television shows on Spike TV. It has also opened an office in London, looking toward establishing itself internationally.
The brothers also run Station Casinos in Las Vegas. Lorenzo Fertitta is president and Frank Fertitta is chairman and chief executive of Station Casinos, a public company that recently agreed to be purchased by a private equity investor group that includes key members of the Fertitta family.