MMA: Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, Sly Stallone, Ben Affleck bet on UFC investment

Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson face off during the UFC 205 press conference at Madison Square Garden on Sept 27, 2016. More than 20 top celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment have piled in as investors in UFC.
Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson face off during the UFC 205 press conference at Madison Square Garden on Sept 27, 2016. More than 20 top celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment have piled in as investors in UFC. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - UFC, the US-based mixed martial arts juggernaut, says that more than 20 top celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment have piled in as investors.

Among the league's new investors are tennis stars Maria Sharapova as well as sisters Serena and Venus Williams; actors Sylvester Stallone and Ben Affleck, and Canadian singer Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye, UFC said in a statement on Friday.

Money reportedly has been pouring in for the fast-growing UFC, whose bloody cage fights were once equated with cockfights.

UFC produces more than 40 live events a year that are broadcast in over 156 countries and territories.

Contacted by AFP, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) declined to give details about the amount of each new investment or the size of the shareholding.

The batch of investments came less than three months after UFC was bought by a group led by US talent agency William Morris Endeavor-International Marketing Group.

UFC did not disclose the price, but US media said it was US$4 billion (S$5.45 billion).

Involved in the WME-IMG acquisition in July were Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), MSD Partners and MSD Capital. The latter two are investment vehicles for entrepreneur Michael Dell.

According to a person with knowledge of the situation, WME-IMG remains the majority stakeholder in the organisation.

WME-IMG bought the organisation from brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, who had bought it for US$2 million in 2001.

UFC does not publish its financial details, but Lorenzo Fertitta said last year that it had US$600 million in revenue in 2015.

UFC fighters battle in an Octagon, an eight-sided 750 sq ft cage.

The fighters, gloved and barefoot, are allowed to combine techniques from different forms of martial arts, but rules try to limit serious injury.

After years of being banned, mixed martial arts fights are allowed in the state of New York. The UFC's first match in Madison Square Garden in New York City is set for Nov 12.