Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg can’t duck and weave the jabbing questions that he’s responsible for buying out the entire arena for a major UFC show this Saturday. The rolling speculation has even started to claim that the Z-man himself wants to hop into the Octagon and test his mettle against a live opponent.
The UFC announced earlier this week that they were restricting access to the Las Vegas UFC Apex facility for this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night. Mackenzie Dern, a women’s featherweight contender who is set to face Chinese MMA fighter Yan Xiaonan in this Saturday’s headline bout, told ESPN on Wednesday that “Mark Zuckerberg rented out the whole event.” She said she didn’t know if Zuck himself would be there in person or if the Meta CEO was playing the rich man’s card and getting his own private event, but Dern said it would be “very, very private.”
UFC President Dana White did not mince words trying to quash that rumor shortly after Dern made her comments.
Meta did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but even with White’s full-throated denial, the fact that Zuckerberg has been talking up his love of jiu-jitsu and MMA in the lead-up to this event has fueled speculation that something is afoot. As first noted by Vice, sports reporter Ariel Helwani said during a Wednesday livestream that a source close to the event told him the venue closing has something to do with Zuckerberg. It could be a promotion for Meta, or it could be something else, but most people with a sense of humor argue it would be more fun overall to watch somebody try to tag Mark’s exceptionally thin face.
The event’s being closed to both the public and sports media, but the fight will still be televised and livestreamed on ESPN+. UFC has yet to explain why they’re closing the venue, with White telling ESPN they were giving sports reporters “a night off.” There’s still no word on who or what would be occupying those hundreds of empty seats at the Apex. UFC did not immediately answer Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Zuckerberg has been open about his interest in MMA. He even talked up his own training and love of martial arts on a recent Joe Rogan podcast episode. The Meta CEO has shown off his MMA training regime in a video posted on his Facebook page, and while he doesn’t look half-bad doing some light technical work, he would really need to keep his gloves up in an actual full-contact match.
More likely, if this is indeed a promotional event, it’ll be an attempt to show off some new VR technology that will tie into his company’s down-the-rabbit-hole approach to creating the metaverse. This could be anything from digital product tie-ins to a full MMA VR game. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg released another promotional video for their upcoming VR headset demonstrating a VR version of Olympic rapier fencing, so any new successor to Wii Sports boxing would be directly in the company’s new wheelhouse.
Though as much as these videos are being used to promote his company, Zuckerberg does seem to want to appear wherever his company needs to showcase something physical. He’s an alright fencer (he was captain on his high school fencing team after all, according to an interview with The New Yorker) and he seems fine for an amateur brawler.
But Zuckerberg positioning himself as the face of his company has not helped his image when he’s mocked as a “secret lizard person” or that his self-styled avatar in Horizon Worlds looks like a creepy, thin-lipped doll. His tendency to get in front of the camera can’t help but lead to speculation that he’ll want to jump in the octagon this weekend. And honestly, Zuck getting his face pounded would probably do a lot to help his public image.