Global mixed martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced a strategic partnership with Australia and New Zealand’s National Rugby League (NRL), those countries’ top-tier rugby league competition.

The partnership will see NRL look to grow its audience in the US by leveraging UFC’s audience in the country, with UFC looking to similarly grow its fanbase in the Asia-Pacific region.

The announcement comes as part of the leadup to the NRL’s first excursion to the US on March 2, 2024, in which it will play a season-opening double-header of games in UFC’s traditional home of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Since 2010, UFC has staged 20 events across Australia and New Zealand, with a number of the promotion’s biggest stars calling the region home.

Dave Shaw, UFC vice-president and head of international & content, has now stated: “We have seen UFC athletes like Alex Volkanovski and Tai Tuivasa start their careers in rugby league before transitioning to MMA… and we’ve also seen plenty of NRL stars enjoying the action at our UFC events across the globe. There is a connection between the sports that transcends beyond the Octagon and that is what excites us about this partnership.”

“There is a great link between our two sports, and I am excited about this partnership and the opportunities we have to grow together,” said Shaw.

“We know the NRL is one of the biggest sporting competitions [in Australia and New Zealand] and they have aspirations to grow their sport here in the U.S. We also know Australians are some of the biggest MMA fans on the planet – it is home to over four million of our 700 million global fanbase – and we are always looking at ways to continue to grow that fanbase in the APAC region.”

The NRL has taken major steps to ensure the viability and long-term legacy of its first event in the US, most notably securing a media rights deal to have the two aforementioned games aired on Fox in the country.

The fixtures, to be aired on the Fox Sports 1 channel in the US, will take place back-to-back at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of National Football League's (NFL) Las Vegas Raiders, just a few weeks after the venue hosts the NFL’s Super Bowl.

With the NFL season finished by March 2 and the Major League Baseball season only starting later in the month, there is a gap in live sports that the NRL could attract in the prime-time slot, allowing it to potentially attract a significant audience.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said at the time of the games’ initial announcement: “The 2024 Las Vegas matches will form part of an exciting ‘Australia Week’ in Las Vegas where we will be showcasing rugby league and Australia to the US market. […] Rugby league will be on a stage which the sport has simply never been on before and we look forward to giving all clubs the opportunity in coming years.”

The UFC also this week renewed its long-standing partnership with global tire brand Toyo Tires.

The multi-year extension of the partnership will see Toyo Tires branding continue to have a prominent presence at select UFC events, with its logo displayed on the floor of its iconic Octagon fighting ring, as well as on UFC TV broadcasts. 

Toyo Tires branding will also be displayed across the UFC website and its social media channels. 

Mike Mossholder, UFC executive vice-president of global marketing said: "Toyo Tires will continue to play a key role in our success and we are excited to further leverage the UFC brand to increase their reach across all channels.”

The pair have been partners for the best part of the latter two decades.