By DIEGO LOZANO III
Once frowned upon as a barbaric spectacle known for brutal hand-to-hand combat inside an octagonal cage, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is rapidly evolving into a universal platform for mixed martial arts.
The UFC was founded in November 1993 as the realistic version of Mortal Kombat.
It’s a tournament of the world’s best fighters in disciplines including boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Japanese judo, Russian sambo and wrestling.
Co-founder Rorion Gracie nominated his now-iconic nephew Royce Gracie to compete in these no-holds-barred street fights. It revolutionized the sport as we know it today.
With his legendary jiu-jitsu and tenacious grappling skills, Gracie easily swept past bigger and faster opponents like Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau in the inaugural UFC 1. His performance exhibited the effectiveness of the Brazilian art.
As the company marketed a “There are no rules!” slogan in the late ‘90s, however, the UFC earned a reputation as a horrific sporting event that permitted head-butts, low blows and even hair pulling.
It spawned criticism for its lack of rules, regulations and weight classes. Arizona Sen. John McCain deemed the sport “human cockfighting.”
In response, the UFC initiated regulations and specified weight classes ranging from 155 to 265 pounds.
After that, the UFC became mainstream.
Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, BJ Penn and Mark Coleman led the charge with diverse fighting styles and crowd-pleasing performances.
Through the deep pockets of Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and the promotional genius of Dana White, the UFC front office worked relentlessly to maneuver their brand into the mainstream.
UFC landed its first television series in “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV.
In the season finale, contestants Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar elevated the brand into top-tier sports competition with a 15-minute slugfest that awed fans and non-fans alike.
The UFC has expanded into markets such as Brazil, China, Canada, Abu Dhabi and the United Kingdom.
It currently features eight male weight classes and one female weight class, and may add a second women’s class.
Only 20 years in, there is no doubt the UFC has barely begun to scratch the surface.