When it comes to professional MMA organizations, there is a clear number one in the race. While its true that the UFC doesn’t have a complete monopoly on the best fighters on the world (like the NFL does with football or the NBA does with basketball), they definitely have the best roster, make the most money and attract the most eyes. The sport (and the UFC itself) is growing at a fast rate and is a far cry from the way it was in the original days. Here is a little look at the history of the UFC and its rise in recent years.
The UFC actually got its start in 1993 when Art Davie came up with the idea for an 8 man martial arts tournament and brought the idea to Rorion Gracie and John Milius. The tournament was to essentially feature 8 different fighters with 8 different styles and backgrounds to see which discipline really was the best. At this time the rulebook for the UFC was fairly bare as it wasn’t as controlled, regulated and safe as it is now. In the early days, there were no weight classes and the fighters didn’t even have to wear gloves. It had a reputation for being extremely barbaric and it has been reported by some that it was meant to be a one-off and not supposed to be a series of events or even a promotion, like it has become now (though some dispute this fact).
In the mid to late 1990’s, the sport and promotion started to gain a bit of steam and attract more eyes. However, this attraction of more eyes also caught the attention of some powerful people in politics (most notably John McCain) who found the events abhorrent and called for them to be banned. As a result, 36 states banned the events and made it difficult for the UFC to get anywhere. When these bans took place, the UFC knew they had to change up their game a bit and make more strict rules to appease the various athletic commissions around the USA. This is when the gloves became mandatory, kicks to the head of a downed opponent were banned and many more changes were made.
However, after these long and tumultuous fights with athletic commissions to get sanctioned, the company who owned the UFC (SEG) was nearing bankruptcy as those fights weren’t cheap. This is when Station casino executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta (along with business partner Dana White) approached the company with interest of buying the portion. Eventually, a deal was made and the Fertitta’s and White bought the UFC for $2 Million and created Zuffa LLC as the parent company of the UFC.
This turned out to be a great decision for the new UFC owners. Within the next few months and years, the UFC rose greatly in popularity which has largely been attributed to sponsorship, greater advertising, a return to pay per view and more. And this slow and steady growth has continued and continued and the UFC now has some of the biggest sponsors on earth, makes millions of dollars every show and even appears on major TV channels such as Fox. The UFC that we see now is an extremely far cry from the early days, even though those early days were only just longer than a decade ago.