WWE merger, plans for boxing, and a historic rivalry: Inside the UFC’s biggest week of the year

The Sporting Tribune's Alan Dawson reflects on a big week for the UFC, from its merger with WWE, plans to create a boxing company, and thrilling fights from Contender Series on Tuesday to Saturday's Noche UFC.

LAS VEGAS — The jarring sounds of fists thudding flesh continually filled the Apex with such aplomb that UFC boss Dana White couldn’t help but jump out of his seat and give a standing ovation to Contender Series fighters auditioning for a role in MMA’s big league.

As he’s told me countless times through the years, he loves Tuesday nights, and he is a midweek mainstay at the company-owned 500-capacity venue to assess which prospects, or veterans yet to make it, were ready for a UFC deal.

Some nights are better than others and September 12 was the best episode of the summer’s season.

It was unmistakably violent, and White leaped at the chance to give all five Contender Series winners instant UFC deals.

Earlier that day, White rung the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to usher in a new era as TKO Group Holdings — a company overseeing the WWE and UFC’s merger — became publicly-traded.

Valued at a combined $21 billion, TKO is a sports behemoth that has interests in combat sports, sports entertainment, digital media, media rights, video games, and even film.

There could be greater synergy between WWE and UFC but there may also be further room to grow should TKO expand into boxing, as White alluded to when I asked him a few questions midweek.

The Sporting Tribune: Is there room in the organization for a boxing company?

Dana White: Yeah.

The Sporting Tribune: Is it one you would create or one that TKO would look to buy an existing company?

Dana White: I would create.

Considering TKO has the pro wrestling market-leader in WWE and the MMA market-leader in UFC under one roof, if it created a company with the intention of building it into boxing’s market-leader then TKO would control the full breadth of the mainstream combat sports industry.

As White would have been involved in numerous high-profile meetings while in New York, it was somewhat of a surprise to see him in his seat so early at the Apex … but he would have been thrilled to have caught all the action. 

“Every fight tonight was awesome,” he told me backstage. 

Tuesday, you see, was another night in which White handed UFC contracts to all of the fighters who won their bouts. 

Jean Matsumoto had kicks that sounded like bullwhips, and James Llontop who dominated his bout, both joined the UFC roster after their respective decision wins. 

Julia Polastri’s strike variety, Steven Nguyen’s merciless punching, and Jhonata Diniz’s one-round KO, also convinced White to send UFC deals their way.

Though emergent stars like Cameron Saaiman, Bo Nickal, or even Raul Rosas Jr. are yet to announce themselves this season, like those novices did last year, the thrilling nature of the successful fighters as a whole is something White has responded to this season.

“It was an amazing day,” he said.


Alexa Grasso is speaking to the press ahead of an event that was built entirely around her — UFC Noche, a celebration of Mexican Independence Day and Mexican combat sports culture.

The Saturday closest to September 16 is traditionally a date synonymous with boxing and some of its most beloved boxers from Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., to Floyd Mayweather, and, most recently, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

Canelo was initially expected to box Jermell Charlo in a rare undisputed champion vs. undisputed champion event on September 16 himself, however, with the UFC wanting to host a Mexican-themed show themselves, TGB Promotions and Premier Boxing Champions postponed their event by a couple weeks, and so Canelo won’t compete until September 30.

Even though boxing entered a super-fight era this year, that alone is a statement that shows Las Vegas remains an MMA town at heart.

Regardless, the magnitude of the show was never far from the headliner’s thoughts as Grasso told The Sporting Tribune on Wednesday that “it’s special … a dream come true.”

That dream became reality as fight night neared.

A mariachi band dripping in traditional charro suits played to flight fans at the weigh-in Friday, before a midday carnival atmosphere enveloped the Toshiba Plaza on Saturday.

That energy transferred inside the T-Mobile Arena, where there were too many Mexican flags for one man to count.

The venue, home to Stanley Cup champions the Golden Knights, has witnessed greatness numerous times this year. 

We’ve seen Jon Jones body Ciryl Gane, Gervonta Davis finish Ryan Garcia, and Terence Crawford pull off one of the best welterweight wins of all time.

And on September 16, we saw Grasso and former champion Valentina Shevchenko combined for five rounds in a back-and-forth match so dramatic and so wild that it is surely now regarded as the greatest rivalry in women’s flyweight history.

Grasso told The Sporting Tribune and other reporters earlier in the week that she’d love to train with Canelo Alvarez.

Canelo, of course, had a historic rivalry with Gennadiy Golovkin — one in which may define his career in boxing.

Now Grasso, too, has her own historic rivalry — one in which may define her career in MMA.

But hers wasn’t the only headline written from a Latin American lens that night as 18-year-old stud Raul Rosas Jr. bounced back from defeat with a 54-second knockout win.

Daniel Zellhuber beat Christos Giagos with a come-from-behind anaconda choke, and Tracy Cortez maintained her unbeaten UFC run with a solid win over Jasmine Jasudavicious.

Few could have dreamed up a greater set of results for Mexicans. 

And so, for the 18,766 in attendance, many — if not all — would have left having had an “amazing day” just like White, earlier in the week.