UFC: The Ultimate Evolution

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“There are no rules!” – the original tagline that attracted the first UFC viewers.

I have recently started to get in on the often hyped and controversial extravaganza known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and I have found that I am getting quite addicted for better or worse. Watching the UFC from the very beginning when it started in front of a minuscule crowd at McNichols Arena and seeing its evolution (I’m up to UFC X so far) is quite amazing. The multiple personalities and stars that emerged from those first fights is what gave the event sheer life, what gave it hope and something to shoot for. When you watch or come to a UFC fight, you immediately look for the stars and big names, if you know anything about the history of the sport. It’s good to see new faces as well and watch them work their way up the ladder towards MMA glory, going from unknown to superstar sometimes in the blink of an eye.

I feel that it’s quite hard for me to get interested in an entirely new sport without seeing it develop from the very beginning and getting to know some personalities, which is why I have mildly suffered through some laughable moments early on including Rich “G-Man” Goins’ weird announcing gimmicks (saying the last name twice) and fighter info being mixed up, not to mention the tacky on screen graphics.

Those shorts…

The UFC has been going on continuously since its founding in 1993 and has recently hit a surge in popularity with the rise of superstar fighters such as Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, and Junior dos Santos. I have to say I already know more about the old school UFC than the modern and can only name a couple of names off the top of my head. Some of the legendary names from what seems like the ancient past are Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Tank Abbott, Big Daddy Goodridge, and of course Art “one boxing glove” Jimmerson, the only man to wear a boxing glove to a UFC fight. The first person to lose a UFC fight will always be known as Teila Tuli, AKA Taylor Wily, who had to leave after taking a foot to the face and losing a tooth. The fight lasted less than 30 seconds. That is one famous tooth, which was likely lost somewhere around the announcer’s table and swept up later on after the fight. That tooth would be worth millions today if sold online. Tuli was in only one UFC fight, the first. You can now find him playing Kamekona on the reboot of Hawaii Five-0.

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Royce Gracie at UFC 1

What was once quite an obscure sport slinking in the shadows of mainstream status transformed into a global sensation, but not without its controversy. Way back in UFC 9 of May 1996, as the UFC was just finally starting to get its bearings, Senator John McCain stepped in and declared that the bouts in the Octagon were like “human cockfighting”. He was successful in banning the event from many cable stations, thus stopping people from watching the upcoming pay per view, giving it a bad reputation. If this so called sport was going to survive, mixed martial arts would have to clean up its act. If you want to point the finger at the person responsible for making the UFC too sanitized, polished, and boring, point it at McCain. But on the other hand, if you want to point the finger at the person responsible for discussing the elephant in the room, the fact that this was teetering on the edge of being quite illegal, and motivating the sport to change for the better, point it at McCain.

Since a unified set of rules have been set in place for MMA worldwide, something that took decades to achieve, McCain has gotten off the UFC’s back, letting it grow and thrive into what it is today. It used to be quite a brutal sport, that while quite entertaining to watch because of the no-holds barred action and unpredictability, was quite barbaric and dangerous. Now its still quite a spectacle to see but a lot safer and fairer for both competitors in The Octagon. While I’m quite new to the whole sport of mixed martial arts, I seem to understand now why this has become such a popular attraction. You’ve got the Octagon girls, the merchandise, the video games, Fight Pass, TV, the Hall of Fame, reality shows, and numerous other things to check out. It’s quite the well rounded experience and takes the experience to the next level.

The creators of the original Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view event never in a million years thought they were going to create an entirely new sport: modern mixed martial arts. They most certainly probably never thought they’d be contributing to the evolution of a 10,000 year old activity in just two decades: fighting. That first fight was supposed to be a one time thing to see who would win in a fight. A wrestler vs a boxer? Karate vs jujitsu? It was like randomly drawing two disciplines out of a hat and seeing what came out. Now 300 something fights later and that idea has been developed to a level 100 times greater. The old and modern UFC can be divided along one point: before Dana White and after Dana White. He has greatly contributed to the development of the sport and the overall marketing  The evolution is still unfinished though. The next step is seeing if the UFC’s business model is truly sustainable for the long run.