Tuesday, June 18, 2019 | 2 a.m.
UFC President Dana White was showing Ari Emmanuel, the CEO of Endeavor, UFC’s parent company, around the promotion’s performance institute shortly before it opened two years ago when the latter became distracted.
Emmanuel was looking out the window of the East entrance with his gaze set about 100 yards away to Scientific Games’ neighboring corporate headquarters.
“I want to buy that building,” White recalls Emmanuel telling him.
White didn’t understand his boss’ desire at the time, but he does now. Endeavor acquired the plot last year, and after less than six months of construction and renovations, is ready to unveil the newest wing of the UFC’s sprawling campus located just off the Jones Boulevard exit of the 215 Beltway.
The UFC Apex opens officially when the third season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday and airs on ESPN+. The promotion’s aim with Apex isn’t unlike what they sought to accomplish with the performance institute — just for a different corner of its business.
The UFC hopes Apex revolutionizes its smaller live-show presentation and production in the same way that the performance institute has done for athlete preparation and training assistance.
“It’s a custom mini-arena for us,” said Craig Borsari, UFC executive vice president of operations and production. “From the inception, it’s been, ‘How do we make the perfect venue for fights?’ And we feel like we’ve achieved it. Once we got through to the end of the process, we realized we can serve a lot of other events, entertainment, sporting events as well.”
For now, the building’s purpose will be concentrated on fights. Only the first phase of its construction is completed, including the “mini-arena,” which can seat up to 1,500 spectators, and all the other fight-night necessities such as four locker rooms.
The second phase will finish by the end of the year, with highlights like a state-of-the-art control center and gym, modeled as an extension of the performance institute and an upgraded version of the old “The Ultimate Fighter” space. The control center will allow the UFC to produce live events remotely.
“We can basically do things anywhere in the world from here,” White said. “This place can run 24 hours a day. We can do a fight here at 8 in the morning, rip it apart and set it up for another fight at 11, set it up for another fight at 2, can do another fight at 5. We can produce content out of here live 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.”
Apex will be the unofficial home of UFC Fight Pass, the company’s streaming service. Many wondered about the viability of Fight Pass after the UFC’s new television deal with ESPN, which began this year and included its fight library migrating over to ESPN+.
But White constantly reminded that Fight Pass still serves the rest of the world, and also stressed that Apex was conceived with the intention of creating new content for all subscribers.
“It’s all about having your own network, and if you’re going to have your own network, you start to think about what you want and what the fans are into,” White said.
White believes the answer lies in branching into other combat sports — namely boxing — as well as regular events like comedy shows and concerts. Enacting those ideas down the line will mean opening Apex to the public, but during the first phase, attendance will be restricted.
Friends and family of fighters are the only public spectators invited to the contender series, while access is always tighter for filming of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, of which White hinted a return for a 29th season.
If White is to be believed, however, it won’t be long until fans are welcomed not only at Apex but the whole area. There’s still room for more development, and White teased building a hotel between the performance institute and Apex.
He wanted to share more but cited Endeavor’s impending move to go public as a reason why he couldn’t. Put it this way: What was running through Emmanuel’s head a couple years ago as he peered out at a building that he didn't own is no longer a mystery to White.
“This facility was a big piece that we’ve been waiting for,” White said. “There’s a massive master plan for this whole area here that we will be building out over the next two to three years … Let me just say this, it’s ridiculous. It’s phenomenal what’s going to happen with this land right over here.”