Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel does not seem to be familiar with the names of his famous employees. When Endeavor purchased the UFC from Fertittas in 2016, hardcore MMA fans were concerned that the new owners of the UFC were not as passionate about the sport as the previous ones. It turns out they were not entirely wrong after all.
While speaking to CNBC about the UFC's global footprint following the launch of the Endeavor IPO, Ari Emanuel referred to UFC's former strawweight champion Zhang Weili as 'Li Na'. The name is not similar to the former champ's actual name in any way. But Ari Emanuel was saved from immediate embarrassment, as CNBC anchors did not seem familiar with UFC fighters' names either and did not correct him during the interview.
"Our commercial numbers and marketing numbers are up. China is going to be bigger than ever. Actually, because of the fight, even though our Chinese champion lost, Li Na (Zhang Weili), there was over a billion video views out of China. We think that business is gonna be as big as the US market," Ari Emanuel said.
China's own Zhang Weili (21-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) became the first Chinese UFC champion when she won the strawweight title from Jessica Andrade in August 2019. The UFC has made significant inroads into the previously untouched Australian and African market with native/local talent like Kamaru Usman, Francis Ngannou, Robert Whittaker, and Israel Adesanya to name a few.
However, the UFC roster has traditionally had a smaller share of Asian fighters. Although she lost her title to Rose Namajunas at last weekend's UFC 261 event, Zhang Weili, at the moment, is the most significant flagbearer of the UFC in China and the surrounding region.
Ari Emanuel believes the brutal nature of MMA will not hamper their long-term goals
Endeavor's IPO started trading at the New York Stock Exchange starting April 29. The company is also set to gain full control of the UFC from its previously held 50.1% majority stake. Endeavor first sought to launch its IPO back in 2019. But it was forced to pull back a day before its launch due to IPO market weakness and investor concerns surrounding the UFC and sport of MMA. Even though Endeavor is a global conglomerate, over a fourth of its value comes from its ownership of the UFC.
While answering questions about the ever-present risk of mishaps and serious injuries that might jeopardize the future of the UFC and Endeavor, Ari Emanuel stated that no such incidents have happened in the 26 years of the UFC's existence. He drew attention to the fact that similar risks are present in other sports that seem to be safer.
"The UFC, people don't realize has been there for 26 years. Unlike any other sport, we have not had any serious injury... We're like any other sport, Football, Hockey, any of these sports that have to be concerned about that (in-competition injuries and mishaps) and... nothing's really happened in that capacity (in the UFC). So I think we are in the good shape there," Ari Emanuel said.