The worlds of fighting and technology have been torn apart this week over two simple questions, to which there’s as of yet no clear answer: Has Meta CEO and apparent jiu-jitsu enthusiast Mark Zuckerberg bought out all the seating for a Saturday UFC show that will air on ESPN, and if so, is that because he seeks to test himself in the ultimate proving ground, the UFC Octagon?
As ESPN reported, in an unusual move earlier this week, the UFC announced that it would be closing this weekend’s fight card at the Apex, a facility it owns in Las Vegas, to the press and the public. Why would it do this? UFC boss Dana White didn’t really say, claiming that he merely wanted to give the hard-working fight press “a night off.”
On his Wednesday show, though, MMA insider Ariel Helwani said that a “very good source, very close to the event” had told him it had “something to do with Mark Zuckerberg,” and speculated that it might be Zuckerberg renting out the event so that he and his friends could watch, or possibly doing some sort of metaverse thing. And on that same day, UFC strawweight Mackenzie Dern—who would know, as she’s set to headline the card—stated as fact during a press conference that Zuckerberg would be there and had “rented out the whole event.”
“I’m excited and that just makes me more driven to put on a good show,” she said, “for Mark and whoever’s gonna be there.”
Later in the day, White issued an oddly specific denial:
White is a fight promoter who says all sorts of things, some of them true and some of them somewhat less so, so Motherboard sought to check the facts.
We first contacted Meta, to ask if Zuckerberg was renting out the Apex Saturday and whether he was fighting. Rather than answering, it simply referred us back to White’s oddly specific tweet, which denied that Zuckerberg is personally renting out the Apex but not that it has been rented out on his behalf (by his assistant, say) or that he is fighting.
An email to the UFC spokesperson listed as a point of contact on the press releases it sends us yielded no reply. An email to the ESPN and Disney spokespeople listed as points of contact on the press releases the UFC sends us did yield one, but not definitive answers. “I have been following this news and asked them myself yesterday,” wrote an ESPN spokesperson in an email copying in a second UFC spokesperson, ”and got the same response as you.”
This UFC spokesperson never got back to us, even after we followed up. Nor did representatives of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which regulates fighting events, after we asked whether they were aware of Zuckerberg renting out the event, whether his doing so would raise safety or regulatory issues, and whether there would be regulatory implications if the UFC were to allow Zuckerberg to fight.
So, what do we know? Dern, a much more credible if not more knowledgeable source than White, has asserted as fact that Zuckerberg rented out the UFC Apex and will be there Saturday. White has not exactly denied this, and other involved parties are either saying nothing or pointing to White’s lawyerly denial. We’ll know for sure this weekend, but Motherboard chooses to believe that Zuckerberg will be testing his guerrilla jiu-jitsu against UFC competition.