After being sent tapes of early Ultimate Fighting Championships events, Senator John McCain immediately went on a campaign to ban the sport. McCain famously called those early UFC bouts "human cockfighting."
In many ways, the Senator was right. Early UFC events were brutal and violent. And despite having a few rules, those slugfests were billed as “no holds barred.”
The Senator’s campaign to ban the UFC would, in the long run, prove beneficial to the sport. With 36 states banning no holds barred events and pay-per-view providers refusing to air their bouts, UFC had no choice but to reform.
Between 1997 (UFC 12) and 2000 (UFC 28) the organization adopted a myriad of rules intended to add safety and strategy to their fights. The UFC also began using timed-rounds and weight-classes. With these changes, UFC transformed itself from a salacious spectacle of brutality to a full fledge sport.
The next major event in the promotion’s history occurred in January of 2001 when Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and boxing promoter Dana White purchased the UFC for $2 million. At the time, the organization running UFC was approaching bankruptcy. The Fertittas and White created a company called Zuffa, LLC to run the UFC and White was installed as its president.
Since then, the UFC has become the fastest growing sport in world. Their meteoric rise to the public consciousness was made possible by the use of savvy marketing, holding events in large venues, and the sell of their DVD’s.
Perhaps the sport’s greatest attribute has been its incredible success on pay-per-view. It buy-rates and annual revenue have surpassed that of boxing and rival that of the king of pay-per-view, the WWE.
In 2005, UFC launched its own reality show on Spike TV called The Ultimate Fighter. It’s been a smash hit and helped draw millions to the sport that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the UFC on pay-per-view.
In 2005 and 2007 respectively, UFC graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine. Appearing in those mainstream publications further legitimized the UFC in the eyes of traditional sports fan who still viewed the promotion as more spectacle than sport.
In 2006, World Extreme Cagefighting became a sister promotion to the UFC. WEC specializes in lighter weight classes while UFC specializes in the heavier weight classes.
The following year, UFC absorbed another mixed martial arts promotion, Pride Fighting Championships. There was talk of a UFC-Pride merger but those plans never materialized. Although Pride is no longer an active promoter, many of its fighters migrated over to the UFC brand.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has five weight classes: heavyweight (206 to 265 lb), light heavy weight (186 to 205 lb), middleweight (171 to 185 lb), welterweight (156 to 170 lb) and lightweight (145 to 155 lb).
The promotion utilizes a cage called “The Octagon.” As the name suggests, the cage has eight sides with walls made out of metal chain-link fence. The Octagon measures 32 feet in diameter.
All fighters must compete in approved shorts without shoes. Fighters must also wear approved gloves with at least 1 inch of padding. These gloves must also allow the user to grab with his fingers.
Wins can be achieved through several methods: submission, knockout, technical knockout and judge decisions.
Some notable UFC fighters include Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Wanderlei Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.