The history of MMA can be traced back to the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This was the first MMA event in the United States. The UFC has been sold and bought several times by several different entities. Today however, few people know how it began.
The Gracie family created the UFC in 1995. Since that time, it has evolved and is noticeably different today than it was at its inception. Today, the UFC is a legitimate sport promotion company, under which all fighters are paid as professionals and are thus able to train full-time. However, in the early years, the only paid fighter was the fighter who emerged victorious.
The Gracie family first created the UFC with one purpose in mind: to showcase their art’s effectiveness to the world. Before the first UFC event, most people believed that a striker (such as a boxer, or Karate practitioner) would easily defeat a grappler (such as a wrestler or Japanese Ju Jitsu practitioner). The Gracies believed that the only way to change this mindset was to pit fighters of other disciplines against Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioners.
The star of the first UFC was the youngest of the Gracie brothers, Royce Gracie. The Gracie brothers chose Royce to showcase their art because he was the least skilled, smallest, and youngest member of the family. Thus, the Gracies thought, Royce’s victories would not be credited to his size or strength.
The world was taken by storm and the martial arts world was turned upside down when viewers first witnessed 19-year-old Royce Gracie defeat much larger and stronger men, many of whom held black belts in other martial arts styles.
Today, the UFC has weight classes, fighters wear protective gear (such as gloves and mouth pieces), and each fighter only fights once per event. However, when the UFC first began, things were much different. It was an 8-man tournament in which competitors participated in fight after fight, either losing or advancing. There were no weight classes, no protective gloves, no mouthpiece required, no time limits, and no rules. As a result, fighting strategies of early UFC fighters are vastly different than those of the fighters we see today.
Royce Gracie shocked the world when he won match after match of the first UFC. After continuing to advance in the tournament, he went on to win the first UFC Championship title belt. A few months later, Royce came back to enter and win the second UFC in the same impressive fashion. Royce also entered the third UFC but had to withdraw in the middle of the event due to total exhaustion after one of his fights.
Ken Shamrock was so disappointed that he did not get a change to fight Royce in UFC 3 due to Royce’s withdrawal that he also withdrew from the event. As a result, in UFC 4, the “superfight” was created – a fight against Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie just for Ken to have a chance to redeem himself from his loss against Royce Gracie in UFC 1.
After UFC 4, the Gracie family felt that the creation of the UFC had served its purpose – to showcase the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. By that time, people were signing up in droves to learn this effective style of martial art. In fact, there were more people signing up at that time than there were instructors. It was not long before some of the Gracie family members began to branch out on their own and start their own schools, and later their own associations.
The first to do this was Rickson Gracie, who created the Rickson Gracie Jiu-jitsu Association. Representatives of his association were established across the country, and soon Gracie Jiu-jitsu was accessible to millions of people across United States.
The UFC continued to grow after the Gracie family sold it. However, it would be an uphill battle before the UFC would come to be known as the sport we see today. In fact, most of states refused to host UFC events. Eventually, all but a few of the United States had outlawed the UFC because they felt it was too barbaric and bloody. This was as a result of the lack of rules and no-holds-barred style of the early UFC events.
The UFC changed hands several times over the years, and eventually was bought by the Fertetti brothers and Zuffa entertainment, with Dana White as the president. Dana came from background in boxing and had been a promoter of that sport. He convinced the Fertetti brothers to invest in his dream of reviving the UFC and building it to where it is today. Today, it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and experts believe that someday it may even surpass the popularity of football in America. Time will tell, but the sport is well on its way.
Dana was able to work closely with the boxing commission to create new rules and regulations, including time limits, weight classes, and mandatory protective gear such as gloves, mouthpiece, and groin protection. Once Dana had calmed the concerns of the boxing commission, he was able to then work towards gaining the respect and acceptance of most of the states that had once banned the sport. One by one, each state began to come around. Eventually, the UFC started to make a comeback. Now the sport is once again legal in almost every state.
Dana’s next step was to get increase the frequency that the events would take place. Up until that time, the UFC would happen once or twice per year. With Dana’s help, the UFC began to air more frequently. Today the sport is on pay-per-view almost once per month with free fights broadcast several times per month.
Next, Dana set his sights on reality television. The reality show TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) was born. This was a huge step forward in the progress of the sport. Today, TUF is watched by millions from all over the world.
Dana went on to market the sport via UFC memorabilia, such as coffee cups, t-shirts, back packs, and action figures now. He also went on to work with game developers to create the UFC fighting game for Xbox 360 and PS3 where fans can play as their favorite fighter or reenact act historic matches.
Over the years since the founding of the UFC, other events like it have come and gone most notably Japan’s “Pride” event. In the future more MMA style events may come and go as well but the sport of MMA is here to stay.