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Volume 20 No. 42
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Plugged In: Lawrence Epstein, UFC COO

Moments before Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor began their walk-ins on a historic night for combat sports, UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein found his way to his seat at T-Mobile Arena, where his 76-year-old father, Kenny, and teenage sons, Jake and Joe, were waiting. Not to be lost amid the hype and the bling and the many, many zeroes attached to one of the fight game’s most lucrative nights ever was the rare cross-pollination of two fan bases at opposite ends of the generational spectrum. Epstein went into the event hopeful that it would broaden the audience for his sport and came away convinced it has.

I have two boys that are huge Conor McGregor fans. So I took them to the fight along with my dad, who was really excited about the event. I’ve turned him into a UFC fan, but he’s a boxing guy at his core.

On growing up going to fights: My dad was an executive at Caesars Palace, so we would always go to fights there, both outside and in the pavilion. We saw dozens and dozens and dozens of great championship fights, and up-and-comers, too. We’d go to events at the Showboat. We’d go to events at the Silver Slipper. The Riviera had a lot of fights. We went to so many of them, I don’t even remember the first one. It was UNLV basketball and boxing. That’s what we had in Vegas. … It’s something dads and sons would do. Instead of going to a Yankees game, we’d go to watch championship fights.

On the risk that a blowout boxing loss might tarnish the UFC brand: We obviously try to make decisions based on facts, but we also make decisions based upon our gut. This is where Dana [White] came in and said, “Look, this guy’s not going to embarrass himself.” … With all the factors that were discussed — length, age and all the other factors — Dana just said, “Listen, is there a risk? Yeah. But it’s a calculated risk that we think is going to pay off.” And he was 100 percent right. There’s always risk going into a big event like this.

On what they learned from the event: It’s literally the question that I have challenged every single person in our company to answer. We have a team leader meeting once a week. I’ve been telling everybody for the last six or seven weeks, I want to learn from this event. We’re going to have a ton of data. We’re going to be exposing ourselves to a completely different and much broader audience. I don’t care what department you work in. There’s something we’re going to learn and we’re going to be a much better company and better promoter going forward.

On giving up control in a co-promotion: You read all these things about Al Haymon and Mayweather. But everything I’m going to say is based on actual experience. The guys couldn’t be better to work with. Of course we had tough negotiations. Of course we didn’t agree on everything. But Al Haymon and the entire team, including Floyd, were great to work with. We pulled off what is going to be the biggest event in the history of combat sports. We did it in a short period of time.

On comparisons and contrasts: First off, I’m a fan of boxing and of UFC and MMA. I love getting to the UFC fights early because I know something exciting is going to happen in one of those prelims and I don’t want to miss it. With boxing, that’s just not the way things go. People are focused on coming to see the main event. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we like to present 10 to 12 fights that are all interesting and that fans will come to see. That’s what the UFC brand stands for. It’s not any better or any worse. It’s just a different philosophy on how to present events to the public.

                                                                                                                                      — Bill King