The UFC’s longstanding ambition to enter the Russian market is closer to becoming a reality than ever before.
According to reports, UFC executives Ari Emanuel and Dana White met with the deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation, Vitaly Mutko, in Moscow to discuss a future UFC show in the country. The high-ranking government official, who also heads the Russian football union, was shown a presentation that promoted economic benefits of hosting a UFC event in Russia.
"A little while ago I've met with the UFC owners,” Mutko told R-Sport (translation via @bayginavukat). “They say that we do not have a single partner or a title fight in Russia. Our Khabib there is alone, beating everybody. They've shown me their presentation. I was shocked when I saw what they were doing. The revenues, how much they get from the TV.”
The deputy prime minister also mentioned Fedor Emelianenko, who was recently re-elected president of the Russian MMA Union, an entity that regulates the sport in Russia since its legalization in 2012. Ironically, despite the UFC’s infamous past with Emelianenko, the promotion could be forced to do business with him If it is determined that they require regulatory oversight when hosting shows in Russia.
Over the past few weeks, new UFC owner Ari Emanuel has met with several key political figures, including President-Elect Donald Trump and, more recently, Russia’s deputy prime minister. While details from the former remain a mystery and were likely not related to Emanuel’s combat sports venture, the latter highlighted his ability to secure meetings with key Kremlin officials specifically to discuss the UFC.
Mutko, who previously served as Russia’s Minister of Sports, was promoted to deputy Prime Minister a few months after the McLaren’s report shed light on alleged state-sponsored doping dating back nearly a decade. While Mutko was not directly named in the report, the independent Canadian expert behind the report later stated that claims Mutko was unaware of the program are “inconceivable.” He remains a controversial figure in Russian sports and politics.
BloodyElbow reached out to UFC officials for an official statement though are yet to receive a response.