What is UFC
Ultimate Fighting Championship is a U.S.-based mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, currently recognized as the major MMA promotion in North America.
The UFC organization follows a rich history and tradition of competitive MMA dating back to the Olympic Games in Athens . About 80 years ago, a Brazilian form of MMA known as Vale Tudo (anything goes) sparked local interest in the sport.
Then, the UFC organization brought MMA to the world. The goal was to find “the Ultimate Fighting Champion” with a concept to have a tournament of the best athletes skilled in the various disciplines of all martial arts, including Karate, jiu-jitsu, boxing, Kickboxing, grappling, wrestling, sumo and other combat sports. The winner of the tournament would be crowned the champion.
Started by Art Davie & Rorion Gracie – WOW Promotions as a tournament to find the world’s best fighter, no matter their style, the UFC was to be based upon a version of Brazilian vale tudo fighting. Often violent and brutal with minimal rules, the UFC’s brand of vale tudo, initially known as no holds barred fighting, allowed fighters of various disciplines to prove which martial arts style prevailed above others in realistic, unregulated situations. Early UFC fights, while accomplishing the goal of determining which style was best, were less sport than spectacle, which led to accusations of brutality and “human cockfighting” by opponents. Political pressures eventually led the UFC into the underground, as pay-per-view providers nixed UFC programming, nearly extinguishing the UFC’s public visibility.
As political pressure mounted, the UFC reformed itself, slowly embracing stricter rules, becoming sanctioned by athletic commissions, and marketing itself as a legitimate sporting event. Dropping the no holds barred label and carrying the banner of mixed martial arts, the UFC has emerged from its political isolation to become more socially acceptable, regaining its position in pay-per-view television. With a cable television deal with Fox Sports Net and now Spike TV, and legalization of MMA in California, a hotbed for MMA fandom, the UFC is currently undergoing a remarkable surge in popularity, along with heightened media coverage. UFC programming can now be seen in the United States, as well as in Britain, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil.
The UFC is currently based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and owned and operated by casino operators Frank Ferttita III and Lorenzo Ferttita under the name Zuffa, LLC.
The concept for a tournament to discover the world’s best fighter was the brainchild of Art Davie, a Southern California based advertising executive. Davie met Rorion Gracie in 1991 while researching martial arts for a marketing client. Gracie operated a jiu-jitsu school in Torrance, California and the Gracie family had a long history of mixed martial arts matches in Brazil. Davie became Gracie’s student.
In 1992, Davie proposed an eight-man, single-elimination tournament with a working title of War of the Worlds to Rorion Gracie and John Milius. The tournament would feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no holds barred combat. Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to be the event’s creative director. Davie drafted the business plan and twenty-eight investors contributed the initial capital to start WOW Promotions with the intent to develop the tournament into a television franchise.
In 1992, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached Showtime, HBO and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both HBO and Showtime declined but SEG, a pioneer in Pay-Per-View TV who had produced a mixed tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, became WOW’s partner in May 1993. SEG devised the name for the show: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. The two companies produced the first event at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Davie functioned as the show’s booker and matchmaker. The television broadcast featured two kickboxers (Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier), a savate black belt (Gerard Gordeau), a karate expert (Zane Frazier), a shootfighter (Ken Shamrock), a sumo wrestler (Teila Tuli), a professional boxer (Art Jimmerson), and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt (Royce Gracie). The show was an instant success, drawing 86,592 television subscribers on Pay-Per-View TV. In April 1995, following UFC 5, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Davie and Gracie sold their interest in the franchise to SEG and disbanded WOW Promotions. Davie continued as the show’s booker and matchmaker, as well as the Commissioner of Ultimate Fighting, until December 1997.
A core appeal for the show was to find an answer for sports fans: “Can a wrestler beat a boxer.” As was the case with most martial arts at the time, fighters were typically skilled in just one discipline (for example boxing, Judo, Jiu Jitsu) and had little experience against opponents with different skills. Some competitors were also rumored to have inflated their credentials to legitimize their presence. (Kimo Leopoldo, for example, was touted in UFC 3 as having a “third degree black belt” in Tae Kwon Do. Kimo’s fighting is best described as freestyle and he holds no such rank.)
With no weight classes, fighters often faced significantly larger or taller opponents. For example, Keith “The Giant Killer” Hackney faced Emmanuel Yarborough at UFC 3, with a 9″ height difference and a 400-pound weight difference. Many martial artists believed that technique could overcome these advantages, that a skilled fighter could use an opponent’s size and strength against him, and with the 170-pound Royce Gracie dispatching many larger opponents, the UFC quickly proved that size does not always determine outcome.
Although “There are no rules!” was the tagline, the term was not strictly true; the UFC operated with limited rules. There was no biting, no eye gouging, and techniques such as hair pulling, headbutts and groin strikes were frowned upon, but allowed. In fact, in a UFC 4 qualifying match, two competitors agreed not to pull hair as they both wore pony tails tied back for the match. UFC was similarly characterized, especially in the early days, as an extremely violent sport while having very gracious and respectful competitors.
The UFC became a hit on Pay-Per-View and home video almost immediately due to its originality, realism and wide press coverage, although not all of it favorable. The nature of the burgeoning sport quickly drew the attention of the authorities and UFC events were banned in a number of American states. After repeated criticism, and letter writing campaigns led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the UFC was dropped from the major cable pay-per-view distributor Viewer’s Choice, and individual cable carriers such as TCI Cable. The UFC continued to air on DirecTV PPV though its audience was miniscule compared to the larger cable PPV platforms of the era.
To survive, the UFC increased its cooperation with state athletic commissions and redesigned its rules to remove the less palatable elements of fights, while retaining the core elements of striking and grappling. Weight classes were introduced at UFC 12, and gloves became mandatory at UFC 14. UFC 15 saw the introduction of limits on permissible striking areas, barring headbutts, groin strikes, strikes to the back of the neck and head, kicks to a downed opponent, small joint manipulation, pressure point strikes, and hair pulling. And with five minute rounds introduced at UFC 22, the UFC gradually became rebranded as a sport rather than a spectacle.
As the UFC continued to work with state athletic commissions, events were held in smaller US markets including Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama. SEG could not secure even home video releases for UFC 23 through UFC 29, in a period known by some fans as the UFC’s “Dark Ages.” With other MMA promotions working towards US sanctioning, the International Fighting Championships secured the first US sanctioned MMA event, which occurred in New Jersey on September 30, 2000. Just two months later, the UFC held its first sanctioned event, UFC 28, under the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board’s “Mixed Martial Arts Unified Rules”.
After the long battle to get sanctioned, and on the brink of bankruptcy, SEG was approached by Zuffa, LLC, a partnership between Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Ferttita, and boxing promoter Dana White in 2001, with an offer to purchase the UFC. A month later, in January of 2001, Zuffa took control of the UFC. With ties to the Nevada State Athletic Commission (Lorenzo Ferttita was a former member of the NSAC), Zuffa secured sanctioning by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2001. Shortly thereafter, the UFC returned to PPV cable television.
After Zuffa purchased the UFC, it steadily rose in popularity, due partly to effective advertising, the return of cable pay-per-view, and subsequent home video and DVD releases. With larger live gates at casino venues like the Trump Taj Mahal and the MGM Grand Arena, and pay-per-view buys beginning to return to levels enjoyed by the UFC prior to the political backlash in 1997, the UFC secured its first television deal with Fox Sports Net, showing one hour blocks of the UFC’s greatest bouts. By UFC 40 in 2002, pay-per-view buys numbered 150,000 (a mark not hit by the UFC since going “underground” in 1997).
The New UFC
In January 2001, under the new ownership of Zuffa, LLC, the UFC brand completely restructured MMA into a highly organized and controlled combat sport. As a result, the UFC organization now offers eight live pay-per-view events annually through cable and satellite providers. UFC fight programs are also distributed internationally throughout the world, including broadcast on WOWOW, Inc. in Japan, Globosat in Brazil, and Bravo in the United Kingdom.
Response to the UFC brand of MMA has been tremendous, resulting in a growing fan base that has grown exponentially through the years.
Recently, a UFC event in Anaheim attracted more than 17,000 people—the largest audience ever to witness a UFC event. Since then, UFC popularity continues to reach new heights as the third season of the hit reality series The Ultimate Fighter® delivered record ratings for the Spike TV cable network.
Just recently, the UFC organization and Spike TV extended its two-year strategic partnership through 2008 to present four additional seasons of hit reality series The Ultimate Fighter, as well as ten live Ultimate Fight Night™ events and 26 taped programs of UFC: Unleashed™.
The UFC organization is regulated and recognized by the world’s most prestigious sports regulatory bodies including the California, Nevada and New Jersey State Athletic Commissions. The new UFC organization strives for the highest levels of safety and quality in all aspects of the sport.
Under the strong leadership of owners Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta III, and expertise of President Dana White , the UFC brand continues to thrive across a spectrum of live event sports, television production and ancillary business development.