UFC Martial Arts Gets Russian Backing to Expand in the Country

Bloomberg, 18.07.2018

Lucas Shaw

A couple of days after Donald Trump called for closer business ties between the U.S. and Russia, his old talent agent got the ball rolling.

Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial-arts league run by Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor, has formed a joint venture with sovereign wealth funds from Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates to promote UFC events in Russia. The joint venture, announced in a statement from the Russian Direct Investment Fund, will also run other aspects of the UFC business in Russia, including media rights and consumer products.

Russia is the latest stop in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s push to expand around the world. The UFC has produced more than 400 events in 21 countries over the past 25 years, and hosted its first event in mainland China last November. The company has also staged events across Europe and Latin America.

The UFC will host its first event in Russia on Sept. 15 at the Olympic arena in Moscow. Built for the 1980 games, the venue has hosted European basketball and gymnastics events, as well as concerts from Western pop stars.

The Russian sovereign wealth fund announced the deal just two days after Trump, Emanuel’s old client, dismissed intelligence reports that Russian hackers intervened to help him win the presidency. But Trump walked back the remarks on Tuesday, saying he accepts the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did interfere in the election.

Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners owns a majority stake in Endeavor, which has also sold stakes to a Saudi sovereign wealth fund, a Singaporean sovereign wealth fund and SoftBank Group Corp.