Its a statement that I still hear a lot in day to day living, and every time I hear the question “What is the UFC” I cringe because I know that while the sport of MMA has come a long way in terms of growth since its creation, there is an even longer way to go until it is a globally acknowledged mainstream sport of the calibre of Football, Basketball, Tennis, Golf and the Olympics for instance. However here at the MMA Gateway, we have the full story of what the UFC is –
The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is the largest MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fight promotion organisation in the industry. The very first Ultimate Fighting Championship event was held on November 12, 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, USA.
Some of the initial purpose of the early Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts, was to distinguish what the most functional and potent Martial Art is in a real fight situation for entertainment. The businessmen who originally co founded the UFC was Art Davie, Rorian Gracie, and Campbell Mclaren, however as I will highlight in this article, the company has now changed hands a few times in its 23 year history.
The first UFC events had very minimal regulations, which was simply 3 rules – no biting, no eye gouging and no groin strikes, which interestingly were the same rules adopted in around 648 BC in the Ancient Greek sport of Pankration, which was a predecessor to modern mixed martial arts. But even the groin strikes rule was more of a guideline then a rule in the first UFC event, on top of the fact that there were no weight classes, hair pulling, stomping downed opponents, headbutting and fish hooking opponents were completely legal.
So the first UFC contests took place between competitors of different martial arts disciplines, such as Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Karate, Sambo, Muay Thai, Judo and other styles.
In following competitions, fighters began to notice what techniques were proving to be the most effective in the Octagon (UFC Caged Ring), so many fighters started adopting some of the most effective techniques from a variety of martial arts disciplines, Amalgamating the forms, which inadvertently spawned an entirely new style of fighting known as current-day mixed martial arts (MMA).
However UFC from its first event has had a reputation of being an extremely violent sport, and while many of the early events were brutal in parts, since the emergence of more regulations i have always contested that MMA is not a violent sport, because to me whether its Tennis or Martial Arts or any sport you can think of –
if two men agree to competing for money in an event, with rules in place to protect each other, a referee, doctors on standby, then unless they are literally using weapons to kill each other, then i do not see that as violence no matter what the parameters of the sport are. We all have our own perspectives, but for me violence to me has always been based on a predator and prey situation, attempted murder, or physical aggression not sanctioned by both parties.
However many politicians at the time like Senator John McCain saw UFC as Barbaric and demanded that UFC should be banned, which it was very abruptly after the first few events in 36 states in America. The UFC quickly moved to start incorporating more rules, in an attempt to make the sport more palatable and streamline to wider audiences.
UFC 12 saw the introduction of weight classes and the banning of fish-hooking, UFC 14 saw gloves become mandatory, and kicks to the head of a downed opponent were banned, UFC 15 saw limits on hair pulling, and the outlawing of strikes to the back of the neck/head, headbutting, small-joint manipulations, and groin strikes, then with UFC 21 there was the introduction of 5 minute rounds – so this was the time that the UFC was beginning to successfully re-brand itself as a sport rather then a spectacle.
Then thanks to the work of UFC commissioner Jeff Blatnick and referee John McCarthy, who travelled the country working with and educating state athletic commissions about the sport of MMA, and by UFC 29 the company had secured its first sanctioned event in New Jersey.
Then as the UFC’s rules started to progress, so too did its fighters, the most Notable UFC fighters to appear in this era include Hall of Famers such as Pat Miletich, Chuck Lidell, Vitor Belfort, Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, Jens Pulver, Jeremy Horn, Murillo Bustamante, Andrei Arlovski, Frank Shamrock, Mark Coleman, Pete Williams, Wanderlei Silva and others.
All that being said, the UFC owners at the time, despite making excellent changes to legitimise the sport, could not get into the biggest fight arenas in the country, or secure the best TV deals. So in 2000 Art Davie and the SEG group on the brink of bankruptcy sold the UFC for $2 Million to Station Casino executives Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, as well as their business partner Dana White who then set up Zuffa LLC to be the new UFCs parent company.
Ever since that sale, the sport has continued to grow and grow, some fighters that gained notoriety after Zuffas takeover was the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk, Rich Franklin, Matt Serra, Ricco Rodriguez, Frank Mir, Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan and Robbie Lawler.
Then in January 2005 while still operating at a slight loss, the UFC had a massive success with the Ultimate Fighter, which was a TV series designed as a reality TV show airing on Spike TV, where fighters would live together in a house and fight for a UFC contract. It was a massive success with the final being between Stephan Bonnar and Forest Griffin – Dana White still attributes the Ultimate Fighter season 1 as being a massive saviour for the UFC financially, the Ultimate fighter still airs now, which is on its 24th season.
With visibility increasing, UFC pay per view sales began to explode – by UFC 57 which featured the rematch between Chuck “The Iceman” Lidell vs Randy Couture there was over 410,000 pay per view buys of this card. By UFC 60 which featured the rematch between Tito Ortiz vs Chuck Lidell they hit over 1 million buys.
Then in December 2006 the UFC acquired WEC (World Extreme Cage fighting) to keep ahead of competition, and to expand the lighter weight classes, as the UFC was predominantly heavier weight classes.
So this saw notable WEC fighters transition into the UFC such as: Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, Carlos Condit, Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Jamie Varner, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Eddie Wineland, Miguel Angel Torres, Brian Bowles, Mike Thomas Brown, and Leonard Garcia. Also in December 2006 the UFC acquired their Las Vegas rival WFA (Wolrd Fighting Alliance), in the process capturing the contracts of notable fighters such as: Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Martin Kampmann.
In March 2007 the UFC and their Japanese based rivals Pride Fighting Championships, announced an agreement whereby the UFC would be purchasing the Pride brand. With this purchase the UFC acquired more notable fighters such as: Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva and others.
Shortly after these acquisitions Lorenzo Fertitta secured many new TV deals in China, France, Mexico, Germany and expanded into UFC video games, action figures and various other projects. So certain fighters in this post-pride era, with increased exposure became very prominent, for instance Anderson Silva, Jon Fitch, Lyoto Machida, Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones and many others were becoming big stars.
In 2011 the UFC purchased the Strikeforce promotion, thus again strengthening their already fantastic roster of fighters with the likes of: Nick Diaz, Luke Rockhold, Jason Miller, Dan Henderson, Cung Le, Jacare Souza, and Alistair Overeem.
Then in November 2012, the UFC made another massive move, by introducing women’s MMA into the UFC with their first female signing in Strikeforce Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. She was the first UFC women’s champion defending her title an impressive 6 times, before being dethroned by Holly Holm in November 2015 at UFC 193. Since acquiring Rousey, the UFC has added more female weight classes with the introduction of women’s Strawweight division, where Polish fighter Joanna Jedrzejczyk is the current Strawweight champion.
UFC bouts are contested in an octagon shaped caged ring, hence the nickname “the octagon” which Zuffa has exclusive rights for nowadays. It is metal chain linked fencing covered in black vinyl, the octagon has a diameter of 30 Ft, with a 6Ft high fence. The cage sits on top of a platform which is 4 Ft in height, there is foam padding on the top of the fence, and in between each of the eight sections. There are two exit points directly opposite eachother, and the mat is painted with various sponsors which is replaced after every event. For smaller events the UFC has a smaller cage, which is only 25Ft across, which is useful anytime there is a small venue.
All fighters in the UFC have to wear approved shorts, without shoes. Shirts (except for women), gis, or long pants are forbidden. Fighters must use UFC branded 4 ounce open-fingered gloves, that include atleast 1 Inch of padding around the knuckles, which also allows for fingers to grab.
These type of gloves are excellent to avoid injuries like a broken hand, while still providing the ability to grapple. A mouth guard is another requirement to fight in the UFC, as well as a jockstrap with a protective cup is compulsory for men (women are prohibited from wearing groin protection however). In accordance with compliance, all fighters are checked by a State Athletic Committee official before being cleared to enter the UFC cage.
In early UFC events attire was not controlled at all, fighters would wear what they want, some would wear Wrestling shoes for instance, Royce Gracie wore a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gi, Art Jimmerson once wore a single boxing glove, and after UFC 133 there was a complete ban on speedo style shorts, after Dennis Hallman wore a bright pair that got him in trouble with Dana White and the UFC owners.
Ever since December 2014 to this day, all UFC fighters are required to wear specifically Reebok branded equipment after the UFC and Reebok agreed a 6 year partnership regarding all apparel of fighters within the UFC. This deal has caused friction within the UFC among fighters, because many fighters have had to lose a lot of their own sponsorship deals as a direct result of this UFC deal with Reebok. Interestingly it is since around 2014, that there has been more talk in the industry about fighters getting better pay/unions etc coming into the sport, but i will save the details of that for another post.
So in today’s world the UFC has more mainstream media coverage then ever before, it is available to watch live in more countries then ever before, a wider variety of fighters from different countries then ever before, more events then ever before, everything has now become very well established. In July 2016 The Fertitta brothers and Dana White cashed in on their humble $2 Million investment, by selling the UFC for $4 Billion to WME-IMG.
Now as far as I am concerned the only thing left now is to continue to educate the world on the sport of MMA, until one day there will be a day, where MMA and the UFC will be as well known as any other global mainstream sport, and thankfully I will never be asked again – What is the UFC?