The Ultimate Fighting Championship aka UFC has become the leading promotion for American Mixed Martial Arts over the last two decades. Over the course of UFC history, the company has held over 500 live events across the world. Their 500th event took place at UFC 244: Diaz vs Masvidal.
With the company holding UFC events almost on a weekly basis, they have taken things to a new level, by traversing the globe to expand MMA over the entire world. The company has traveled to several different countries and have not only put on main events worthy of any pay-per-view, they have also managed to incorporate the local MMA fighters into the event by having them fighters from the country they are in heavily feature on the card.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has a long history attached to it. It can be traced back to when Art Davie first made the proposal to John Milius and Rorion Gracie for an eight-man single elimination tournament called War of the Worlds. The idea for the tournament came from a video-series Gracies in Action where Gracie jiu-jitsu students fought against and defeated top martial-artists from various other disciplines.
The tournament was set to feature no-holds-barred combat to decide which the best martial arts was. Davie found the backing of 28 business investors who helped to start WOW Promotions. The entire idea was supposed to help develop the tournament into a television franchise of its own.
1993 was a big year for WOW Promotions, as they approached by PPV producers and SEG. While the producers declined, SEG, who were a pioneer in pay-per-view television at the time and were known for being out-of-the-box, partnered with them.
They designed the trademarked ‘Octagon’ and devised a new name for the show – The Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The first-ever UFC event was held on 12th November, 1993, and it was called UFC 1. Art Davie was the UFC booker and matchmaker. UFC 1 was advertised as the tournament which would answer the question, ‘Can a wrestler beat a boxer?’ and other such questions. In 1993, most fighters were skilled in only one discipline as the concept of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was not that popular yet.
The UFC fight card featured top fighters from different disciplines such as shoot-fighter Ken Shamrock, karate expert Zane Frazier, sumo wrestler Teila Tuli, boxer Art Jimmerson, kickboxers Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier, savate fighter Gerard Gordeau, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Royce Gracie, the brother of Rorion Gracie.
Royce Gracie was the one who was able to win the first-ever tournament and he won the UFC tournament championship with the help of his submission skills, beating others along the way.
The show was supposed to be a one-off, but such was the success, that it gave birth to future UFC pay-per-views. At this time in the company’s history, the fighters regularly faced larger or taller opponents. This was the time of Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Patrick Smith, Dan Severn, Marco Ruas, Tank Abbot, among others. Jiu-jitsu was heavily featured early on, but later became one of the many different styles featured in UFC.
Royce Gracie won the 3 of the first 4 tournaments, showcasing that size did not always matter in such fights. WOW Promotions finally came to an end in 1995, when after UFC 5, Art Davie and Rorion Gracie sold their interest to SEG. Davie continued to work with the company until 1997.
With SEG having the controlling interest in UFC after having taken over from Art Davie and Rorion Gracie, they worked on expanding the company, but were faced with major difficulties due to the lack of UFC rules.
Mixed Martial Arts and UFC were not looked on kindly by a large portion of the public. The main tag-line of the company was ‘There are no rules.’ UFC rules allowed hair-pulling, groin strikes, and fish-hooking, while biting and eye-gouging were the only things that were banned.
The UFC reputation was not a good one as they were known for being violent and the audience received disclaimers.
This was also the time when in UFC 5 there would be single-fights, where fighters fought only a single opponent in a single event. This became the practice later on, with the tournament format being abandoned. The UFC 6 event was the first time a non-tournament UFC Champion was crowned in the form of Ken Shamrock.
The US Authorities disliked the events due to their violent nature. Senator John McCain led a campaign to ban UFC, and called it ‘human cockfighting’. This saw 36 states enact laws to ban the ‘no-holds-barred’ fighting. The UFC continued to air via PPV, with only a tiny portion of the audience compared to the cable pay-per-view platofrms.
To counter this, UFC worked with State Athletic Commissions to put out UFC rules with elements being removed from the sport with striking and grappling remaining the core of the tournament. They introduced weight classes and banned fish-hooking, kicking the head of a downed opponent, headbutting, and groin strikes, also introducing 5-minute rounds. UFC weigh-ins were introduced to ensure that fighters were part of UFC Fight Night.
With the help of Jeff Blatnick and referee John McCarthy, the UFC worked with athletic commissions to create the UFC rules and to change the ‘bloodthirsty’ perception regarding UFC fights.
Eventually, they were successful and featured their first-ever sanctioned event at UFC 28 in New Jersey on 17th November, 2000. This was the time of UFC fighters such as Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Frank Shamrock, Andrei Arlovski, Wanderlei Silva, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, among others.
The most notable and important part of UFC history came next as SEG was at the point of bankruptcy due to their quest for legitimacy. This was when Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, alongside Dana White, approached SEG and purchased UFC. They created Zuffa, LLC after having bought the company at $2 Million.
Zuffa managed to get sanctioned in Nevada, and returned to pay-per-view television with UFC 233 which had 3 Championship fights.
Slowly, they started to build up their live audience and then secured their first-ever television deal with Fox Sports net. The UFC television deal was an enormous coup for them as they brought UFC to a larger audience.
UFC 37.5: Chuck Liddell vs Vitor Belfort was the first-ever main event on American television on 22nd June, 2002.
UFC 40 was the biggest and most critical event in UFC history as they sold 13,022 tickets for MGM Grand Arena and 150,000 pay-per-view buys, which was double any of their previous events. This event was headlined by Ken Shamrock taking on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz. Ken Shamrock had left WWE previously to return to MMA, leading to an even bigger audience.
Despite UFC 40, the company was still not doing well financially, and so they stepped out of pay-per-view and directly to television. They began a reality series of their own, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). It was to feature up-and-coming MMA fighters all competing for a 6-figure MMA contract. They managed to find an outlet in Spike TV after numerous rejections.
The Ultimate Fighter 1 was launched in January 2005, immediately after WWE RAW. They drew impressive ratings and Dana White has been noted as saying that TUF 1 was what helped to save The UFC. The season was renewed and aired new seasons until it moved to FX in 2012.
UFC managed to get extremely popular during this time and their pay-per-view numbers exploded as those who watch TUF were also buying pay-per-views. Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture faced each other at UFC 52 in the first event after TUF and that saw 300,000 buys.
The purchases continued to increase and saw the team build-up with Marc Ratner being hired by them. Zuffa continued to expand and took out their competition, purchasing World Extreme Cagefighting, and also bringing their competition’s top fighters such as Urijah Faber, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, and others to their promotion all of whom would become Top UFC fighters. UFC purchased others such as the World Fighting Alliance and in their biggest move, Pride Fighting Championships. While it was expected that the two would run together, eventually they aligned together as Dana White felt that Pride was not sustainable.
UFC 100 was a massive success and the popularity continued to rise hitting 1.6 Million buys, with the help of former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar in his rematch against Frank Mir. ESPN became interested in UFC from this point and started to promote it.
Over this time, UFC merged with WEC, and also purchased Strikeforce. The two ran side-by-side for a while, till UFC merged with Strikeforce as well.
Fox partnered with UFC at this point and signed a seven-year deal with them.
UFC then launched their own women’s MMA division led by Ronda Rousey, who became the first-ever female UFC Champion. She fought for the first-ever time at UFC 157 where she won the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship by defeating Liz Carmouche.
UFC continued to build domestically in the United States, but they also went international. They fought in different countries in Brazil, Canada, The United Kingdom, Mexico, among others. They fought in every continent, expanding their product in each and every market.
Following the surging popularity of UFC, in 2016 Zuffa sold UFC to a group led by WME-IMF for a massive $4.025 Billion, a property it had purchased at $2 Million. Dana White remained as the UFC president.
Following this in 2018, May, UFC reached a new media deal with Disney and ESPN, leaving behind their contract with Fox, which was set to expire at the end of the year. Instead, they started airing on ESPN from the beginning of January 2019.
Endeavor was set to have an IPO which they later canceled, due to failure of IPOs of similar companies recently.
UFC teamed up with USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) in 2015 as their independent drug-testing anti-doping agency. With 2.75K minimum drug tests per year with an average of 5 per fighter, USADA also had the right to hand out punishments to fighters who fail the tests. They are subject to random tests at any place or time, and must be a part of the testing pool for a minimum of 6 months before their fights to qualify for any UFC event.
The UFC rules regarding their anti-doping policy which were amended are as follows:
Here is the list of International Broadcasters of UFC currently. Fans know how to watch UFC by going through their country’s channel guides:
UFC has a whole host of weight divisions, so to talk about top UFC fighters, one would only be able to take in the UFC pound-for-pound rankings. Currently, Kamaru Usman is #1 in UFC Pound-for-Pound Rankings.
There are several weight classes in the world of MMA, so it is easy to be confused. However, in UFC, there are the following:
For detailed information, visit UFC Weight Classes page.
For more, visit UFC Champions page.
Last updated- June 11th, 2022.