The largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world and one of the fastest growing sports organizations across the globe, the UFC is also a relatively new entry into the world of professional sports. For all but the most die-hard fans, the UFC seems to have sprung up out of nowhere and become a worldwide phenomenon. What many casual fans don’t know is just how the UFC began, and how the organization reached the pinnacle of professional mixed martial arts promotion.
- The Gracies Really Are UFC’s First Family – While most MMA fans consider the Gracies to be the sport’s closest thing to a royal family, many don’t know that the UFC itself owes much of its existence to them. The very first UFC competition was the result of Rorion Gracie and an advertising professional named Arthur Davie. Gracie wanted to showcase the superiority of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on a large scale, and helped conceptualize the first UFC event.
- One Style to Reign Supreme – Today, the UFC is as much about a fighter’s personal brand and style as anything else, but the initial purpose behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship was to crown one style of martial arts supreme, not one fighter. The idea was that experts in various styles would compete to determine which style was most effective, rather than to decide which fighter was most skilled.
- Early UFC Fights Had No Time Limit – The only way to end an early UFC fight was to secure a submission, knock out an opponent or make the other fighter’s corner throw in the towel. There were no rounds, no time limits and no wins by decision when the UFC first emerged.
- Weight Classes Came Later – Just as there were no time limits for an early match, there were also no weight classes. A small fighter might easily find themselves against a massive opponent before the spectacle became a regulated sport, and weight classes were instituted later to avoid legal ramifications.
- Avoiding the Athletic Commissions – Any UFC fan today knows how big a role the Nevada State Athletic Commission plays in the sport, but this was far from always the case. In fact, early events took place in smaller markets, specifically in states with no athletic commission in order to avoid regulation and retain the “no holds barred” free-for-all nature of the fights.
- Senator John McCain Almost Killed the UFC – While many people were enthralled with the spectacle of extreme violence displayed at UFC events when the organization first began, viewership was relatively small. This vocal minority was not able to drown out the disdain of government officials, largely led by Senator John McCain. The man who would one day be a Republican nominee for President of the United States called the UFC “human cockfighting,” and took up a one-man crusade to end the sport once and for all. Fortunately for MMA fans, his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.
- The Zuffa Era: Increasing Legitimacy – While the regulation which allowed UFC to survive public scrutiny took place under earlier ownership, the purchase of the UFC name by the Fertitta brothers and Dana White, who would form the parent entity Zuffa, LLC to govern the organization. Thanks to Lorenzo Fertitta’s pull with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Zuffa was able to secure sanctioning and begin the work of making UFC a household name in 2001, close to a decade after the first-ever UFC event.
Under the careful management of Zuffa, the UFC has grown from a tiny organization struggling to even be allowed to air their events to a multinational entity. The next time you tune in for a Fight Night, remember just how close the UFC came to dissolving under political pressure before growing into a sports entertainment juggernaut.