Today, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is almost synonymous with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Whether you love it or hate it, it has become a mainstream sport. Today, UFC fights sell out quickly and there’s lots of money to be made.
But that wasn’t always the case.
The first UFC was pulled together in 1993 with eight fighters of varying styles. The intent was simple: prove which style was the best in a no-holds-bar full contact fight.
The first UFC has very few rules. There were no weight classes, putting opponents of all sizes against one another. The intent was to be a one-off event showcased on a newer television concept of pay-per-view. The first fight was held in McNichols Sports Arena, Colorado. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artist Royce Gracie won the first UFC title. Royce was the younger brothers of one of the co-founders, Rorion and comes from a prominent sports family.
The success of the first show spurred other UFC matches. But as the popularity of the shows increased, so did the criticism. States began to ban this sort of no-holds-bar fighting, making it harder to find venues for the fights. There were long battles to obtain sanctions in various states, which drained the finances of the company. Other MMA promotions were starting to emerge, eroding at their market share.
Nearly bankrupt, Dana White approached Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and convinced them to purchase the ailing organization. Dana White has an aerobics background and was managing two MMA fighters involved in UFC.
The purchase was considered to be highly risky with little prospect of success. Dana White was installed as president of UFC. Through his passion and hard-work as well as the financial backing of the Fretitta brothers, things began to change for the positive for UFC. They were able to obtain sanctioning in Nevada. In 2002, UFC became the first mixed martial arts on American cable television. Later that year, they held one of the most successful UFC first of that time, UFC 40.
But even with these successes, UFC was losing faster than it gained. By 2004, Zuffia had reported lost $34 million since purchasing UFC. Still, the brothers and White did not give up hope. With the rise of reality TV shows, UFC stepped into mainstream television. This brought them new audiences and a wider interest in the sport.
Over time, UFC would grow both through its own rights and acquisitions. The financial woes of the past seem to be far behind them and their success unbounded. It’s hard to believe that a decade ago the UFC was almost at a point of closing its doors forever. UFC’s history is not just a great Martial Arts story but also a great case study of how dedication and passion can translate ultimate success.