Wrestling fans have known all about Shane McMahon for years. He’s perfected a silly shuffle, wowed audiences with moves usually only pulled of by the most athletic wrestlers in the world like Rob Van Dam, and even went back and forth with Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle in one of the WWE’s most brutal matches of all-time. Shane McMahon once even threw himself from the top of the WWE’s Titantron, falling 30 feet to the (carefully padded) floor.
“What I always liked about Shane is that he never forgot what it's like to be one of the boys,” a WWE insider who requested anonymity told me. “He didn't drink the corporate Koolaid and always treated me with respect.”
This is all great stuff, and makes an astounding highlight reel for a man who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. The millionaire son of WWE owner Vince McMahon, Shane certainly didn’t need to risk his body to entertain the crowd. He did it anyone, because he didn't want to ask anyone to do something he wouldn't do himself. But, what exactly does it have to do with helping expand the UFC’s business? How does this resume explain a recent meeting in Las Vegas with Dana White and the Zuffa brass? Who is Shane McMahon when he isn’t on WWE Monday Night RAW? What does he offer the UFC that makes his potential hiring one of the most intriguing stories of 2010?
World Wrestling Entertainment resembles the UFC in many ways. Both are touring companies that bring their high-energy shows to fans worldwide. Both are attempting to draw a television audience from the 18-34 year old males desperately in need of real life super-heroes. And both have a desire to spread a very American brand of entertainment worldwide.
“Shane more than anyone sees connections between his father’s company and the UFC,” one close friend of the family told me. “He loves his family but doesn’t think the wrestling business will ever reach the levels it did in the late 1990’s. He’s good friends with some of the fighters and sees MMA taking wrestling’s place in the popular culture.”
It’s in this last area that Shane McMahon has made his mark. While the WWE has a ten-year head start on the UFC, there can be little doubt that their international outreach efforts have been remarkably more successful. They have more and better television deals in more countries around the world. They are able to successful promote their wrestling shows worldwide, often seeking refuge in overseas tours when the wrestling business hits a domestic lull.
“Shane was very active in international licensing and pulled in many deals that had a very low chance of happening-like the Televisa TV deal where WWE had gotten the door slammed in its face for years,” a former WWE employee said. “He's strong on interpersonal relationships while being firm on business matters. In layman's terms, you considered him your best buddy while he was taking advantage of you on a deal.”
And then there is merchandising. While the UFC has passed the WWE in pay per view sales, their merchandising business has failed to get off the ground. Even in America, you are only now seeing the beginning of a push in this direction from the UFC, with toys from Jakks Pacific and a successful newsstand magazine.
But five years after the initial explosion of popularity built by The Ultimate Fighter reality show, you don’t see a strong UFC brand in the marketplace. While you might expect a thriving brand of UFC t-shirts and hats to be sold in Wal-Marts nationwide, instead you find-almost nothing.
Here, more than anywhere else, is where the UFC can use McMahon’s help. Not only has he witnessed firsthand the WWE’s slow march to wrestling ubiquity, he has personally secured much of the company’s foreign business deals. McMahon has successfully made millions in the United Kingdom and German markets, even successfully taking the WWE into the heart of Western Europe, and can likely replicate that success for the UFC.
“He could offer UFC much-needed help in marketing and licensing,” a UFC insider said. “Because his predecessors such as Randy Klein and Bryan Johnston didn't exactly set the world on fire.”
The man Shane would likely replace, recently hired executive Bryan Johnston, has failed to impress Zuffa in his short tenure on the job. Johnston came to the company from Burton Snowboards and has a very strong reputation. But since joining Zuffa this year, he hasn't been able to secure the major deals company officials were expecting. McMahon, though he might be tempted to jump off the Octagon and onto Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg’s announce table, can certainly do better than that.
The sticking point, as it so often seems to be in the fight business, is money. McMahon, who recently cashed out more than $50 million in WWE stock (and still has another $30 million in stock), doesn’t want to be a mere employee. He wants to buy into a thriving company, joining Dana White as a minority owner of the company owned by Station’s Casino magnates Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The Fertittas have struggled mightily, and very publicly, with a real-estate bust in Las Vegas that caught them unprepared. They may actually, as strange as this seems for two billionaires, need the money. That may be the difference between whether we see Shane McMahon inside the UFC Octagon in 2010.
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