Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a U.S.-based mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, currently recognized as the largest MMA promotion in the world. The UFC is owned and operated by Zuffa, LLC, headquarted in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The UFC began as a single-event tournament to find the world's best fighters irrespective of their style, and was based upon Brazilian vale tudo fighting. Although there were a few limited number of rules, fighting in the UFC was marketed as no holds barred, and contests were often violent and brutal. Early UFC fights were less sport than spectacle, which led to accusations of brutality and "human cock fighting" by Senator John McCain and others. 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 state 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 and expansion into Canada, Europe and new markets within the United States, the UFC is currently undergoing a remarkable surge in popularity, along with greater mainstream media coverage. UFC programming can now be seen on Spike in the United States and Canada, as well as in 34 other countries worldwide.
In 1992, inspired by the Gracies in Action video series produced by the Gracies featuring various martial arts masters being defeated using Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, 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 to see which martial art was truly the best which replicated the excitement of the matches Davie saw on those videos. 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 1993, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached pay-per-view producers TVKO (HBO), SET (Showtime) and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both TVKO and SET declined, but SEG – a pioneer in pay-per-view television which had produced such off-beat events as a mixed-gender tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova – became WOW's partner in May 1993.SEG contacted video and film art director Jason Cusson to design the trademarked "Octagon", a signature piece for the event. Cusson remained the Production Designer through UFC 27. SEG devised the name for the show as 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 fighter, Gerard Gordeau; a karate expert, Zane Frazier; a shootfighter, Ken Shamrock; a shoot wrestler, Teila Tuli; a professional boxer, Art Jimmerson; and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Royce Gracie—Rorion's younger brother who was hand-picked by Rorion himself to represent his family. The show was an instant success, drawing 86,592 television subscribers on pay-per-view to witness Royce Gracie take the first UFC crown. 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 with SEG as the show's booker and matchmaker, as well as the commissioner of Ultimate Fighting, until December 1997.
A core proposition 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 (e.g., boxing, judo, or jujutsu) and had little experience against opponents with different skills.
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 in (22 cm) height and 400 lb (180 kg) weight disadvantage. Many martial artists believed that technique could overcome these size disadvantages, and that a skilled fighter could use an opponent's size and strength against him; with the Royce Gracie winning three of the first four UFC events, the UFC quickly proved that size does not always determine outcome.
In response to the criticism, 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; gloves became mandatory and kicks to a downed opponent, hair pulling, fish hooking, headbutting, and groin strikes were banned at UFC 14. UFC 15 saw more limitations on permissible striking areas: strikes to the back of the neck and head, and small joint manipulations were banned. With five-minute rounds introduced at UFC 21, the UFC gradually re-branded itself as a sport rather than a spectacle.
As the UFC continued to work with state athletic commissions, events were held in smaller U.S. markets, including Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama. SEG could not secure home video releases for UFC 23 through UFC 29 in a period known by some fans as the "dark days" of the UFC. With other mixed martial arts promotions working towards U.S. sanctioning, the International Fighting Championships secured the first U.S. sanctioned mixed martial arts 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 "Unified Rules". McCain's opinions have now been revised and he is quoted as saying: "The sport has grown up. The rules have been adopted to give its athletes better protections and to ensure fairer competition."
The UFC slowly, but steadily, rose in popularity after the Zuffa purchase, due partly to effective advertising, corporate sponsorship, the return to 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 Garden 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, with The Best Damn Sports Show Period airing the first mixed martial arts match on American cable television in June 2002 with UFC 37.5. Later, FSN would air highlight shows from the UFC, showcasing one hour blocks of the UFC's greatest bouts. At UFC 40, pay-per-view buys hit 150,000 for a card headlined by a grudge match between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. Shamrock was an original headliner from the UFC's early days who had since defected to WWE-brand professional wrestling. It was the first time the UFC hit such a high mark since being forced "underground" in 1997. Despite the success, the UFC was still experiencing financial deficits, and by 2004, Zuffa had $34 million of losses since the purchase.
After being featured in a reality television series, American Casino, and seeing how well the series worked as a promotion vehicle, the Fertitta brothers decided that the UFC should have its own reality series. Their idea, The Ultimate Fighter – a reality television show not unlike Survivor, but featuring up-and-coming MMA fighters in competition, with fighters eliminated from competition via exhibition mixed martial arts matches – was pitched to several networks, each one rejecting the idea outright. Not until they approached Spike TV, with an offer to pay the $10 million production costs themselves, did they find an outlet. In January 2005, Spike TV launched the series in the timeslot following WWE Raw, and the show became an instant success. A second season of The Ultimate Fighter launched in August 2005, and two more seasons appeared in 2006. Spike TV and the UFC announced plans for additional seasons airing in 2007 and 2008.
Following the success of The Ultimate Fighter, Spike TV also picked up UFC Unleashed, an hour-long weekly show featuring select fights from previous events. Spike TV also signed on to broadcast live UFC Fight Night, a series of fight events debuting in August 2005; Countdown specials to promote upcoming UFC pay-per-view cards, and several other series and specials featuring and promoting the UFC and its fighters.
With increased visibility, UFC's pay-per-view buy numbers exploded. UFC 52, the first event after the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, drew a pay-per-view audience of 280,000, nearly double its previous benchmark of 150,000 set at UFC 40. Following the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's much-hyped rubber match between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell drew an estimated 410,000 pay-per-view buys at UFC 57. For the rest of 2006, pay-per-view buy rates continued to skyrocket with 620,000 buys for UFC 60, 775,000 buys for UFC 61 which featured the second fight between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz, the coaches of The Ultimate Fighter 3. UFC 66, featuring Tito Ortiz facing Chuck Liddell in their highly anticipated rematch, garnered 1,050,000 buy rates, the current PPV buy rate record for the UFC and MMA in general. The UFC broke the pay-per-view industry's all-time records for a single year of business, generating over $222,766,000 in revenue during 2006, surpassing WWE and boxing.
The UFC's mainstream emergence has also been noted by many popular online sportsbooks. BodogLife.com, a popular online gambling site, stated in July 2007, that 2007 would be the first year that the UFC will surpass boxing in terms of betting revenues.
In March 2006, the UFC announced its hiring of Marc Ratner, former Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, as Vice President. Ratner, once an ally of Senator McCain's campaign against mixed martial arts, was credited as one person responsible for the emergence of sanctioned mixed martial arts in the United States. Ratner is expected to help raise the UFC's media profile and help legalize mixed martial arts in jurisdictions inside and outside the United States that do not sanction mixed martial arts bouts.
The UFC continues its rapid rise from near obscurity in 2005, to gracing the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine in May 2007. UFC programming is now shown in 36 countries worldwide, and the UFC plans to continue expanding internationally, running shows regularly in Canada and the United Kingdom, with an office established in the UK aimed to expand the European UFC audience.
On March 27 2007 The UFC and PRIDE Fighting Championships announced an agreement in which the majority owners of the UFC, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, would purchase the PRIDE brand. Initial intentions were for both organizations to be separately run but aligned together and there were plans to co-promote supercards featuring champions and top contenders from both organizations. But recent comments by Dana White indicate that the Pride brand will likely be folded and many former Pride fighters are already being realigned under the UFC brand. According to MMA weekly's website, on Dec 12th 2007 Zuffa will complete the transaction of buying WEC World Extreme Cagefighting.
In 2008, the UFC continue to expand to the mainstream by announcing two major exclusive sponsorship deals with Harley-Davidson and Anheuser-Busch, making Bud Light the official and exclusive beer sponsor of the UFC.
Following an announcement from Dana White on June 18, 2008, Lorenzo Fertitta announced his resignation from Station Casinos in order to devote his energies to the international business development of Zuffa, particularly the UFC.
With the announced closing of the International Fight League in July 31 2008, there were unconfirmed reports that Zuffa had purchased the company. Reports cited the UFC's signing of former IFL fighters Brad Blackburn,Ben Rothwell,Rory Markham, Jim Miller and his brother Dan Miller. The report made note of the UFC's airing of IFL footage during “UFC Countdown: Silva vs. Irvin” and "Ultimate Fight Night 14".
The UFC currently uses five weight classes:
In addition, there are four other weight classes specified in the Unified Rules which the UFC does not currently utilize: Flyweight (under 125 lb, 57 kg), Bantamweight (126 to 135 lb, 61 kg), Featherweight (136 to 145 lb, 66 kg), and Super Heavyweight (above 265 lb, 120 kg). The Bantamweight and Featherweight classes are used in another promotion owned by Zuffa, LLC, World Extreme Cagefighting.
The UFC stages bouts in an octagonal caged enclosure, "The Octagon." Originally, SEG trademarked The Octagon and prevented other mixed martial arts promotions from using the same type of cage, but in 2001, Zuffa gave its permission for other promotions to use octagonal cages (while reserving use of the name "Octagon"), reasoning that the young sport needed uniformity to continue to win official sanctioning.
The cage is an eight-sided structure with walls of metal chain-link fence coated with black vinyl and a diameter of 32 ft (9.75 m), allowing 30 ft (9 m) of space from point to point. The fence is 5'6" to 5'8" high. The cage sits atop a platform, raising it 4 ft (1.2 m) from the ground. It has foam padding around the top of the fence and between each of the eight sections. It also has two entry-exit gates opposite each other.
The mat, painted with sponsorship logos and art, is replaced for each event.
Originally the attire for UFC was very open if controlled at all. Many fighters still chose to wear tight-fitting shorts or boxing-type trunks, while others wore long pants or singlets. Multi-time tournament champion Royce Gracie wore a jiujitsu gi in all his early appearances in UFC.
Note: In the event of a draw, it is not necessary that the fighters' total points be equal (see, e.g., UFC 41 Penn vs. Uno, or UFC 43 Freeman vs. White). However, in a unanimous or split draw, each fighter does score an equal number of win judgments from the three judges (0 or 1, respectively).
A fight can also end in a technical decision, disqualification, forfeit, technical draw, or no contest. The latter two outcomes have no winners.
When a foul is charged, the referee in their discretion may deduct one or more points as a penalty. If a foul incapacitates a fighter, then the match may end in a disqualification if the foul was intentional, or a no contest if unintentional. If a foul causes a fighter to be unable to continue later in the bout, it ends with a technical decision win to the injured fighter if the injured fighter is ahead on points, otherwise it is a technical draw.
These exhibition matches variably have two or three rounds, depending on the rules used for each season. In most seasons, preliminary matches (before the semi-final bouts) were two rounds; in season two, all matches had three rounds. For two-round matches, if there is a draw after two rounds, an extra five-minute round ("sudden victory") is contested. If the extra round concludes without a stoppage, the judges' decision will be based on that final round. All matches past the first round use three rounds as per standard UFC bouts. During the finales for each series, the division finals have the standard three rounds, plus a fourth round if the judges score a tie.
|Division||Upper weight limit||Champion||Since||Title Defenses|
|Heavyweight||Randy Couture||March 3 2007 (UFC 68)||1|
|Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Interim)||February 2 2008 (UFC 81)||0|
|Light Heavyweight||Forrest Griffin||July 5 2008 (UFC 86)||0|
|Middleweight||Anderson Silva||October 14 2006 (UFC 64)||3|
|Welterweight||Georges St. Pierre||April 19 2008 (UFC 83)||1|
|Lightweight||BJ Penn||January 19 2008 (UFC 80)||1|
Heavyweights 206 to 265 lb (120 kg)
Light Heavyweights 186 to 205 lb (93 kg)
Middleweights 171 to 185 lb (84 kg)
Welterweights 156 to 170 lb (77 kg)
Lightweights 146 to 155 lb (70 kg)
In January 2007, Zuffa and videogame developer/publisher THQ announced a license agreement giving THQ worldwide rights to develop titles under the UFC brand. The agreement gives THQ exclusive rights to current and next-generation consoles as well as PC and handheld titles. Also included are "certain wireless rights" which were not detailed. The licensing agreement is to expire in 2011. The first game to be released under this agreement is UFC 2009 Undisputed.