Ultimate Fighting Championship

Ultimate Fighting Championship
Subsidiary
IndustryMixed martial arts promotion
PredecessorPride Fighting Championships, Strikeforce, World Extreme Cagefighting Edit this on Wikidata
Founded1993 (1993)
FoundersArt Davie
Bob Meyrowitz
Campbell McLaren
David Isaacs
John Milius
Rorion Gracie[1][2]
Headquarters,
Key people
Dana White
OwnerEndeavor
Silver Lake Partners
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts
MSD Capital
(via http://www.ufc.com

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is an American mixed martial arts promotion company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is owned and operated by parent company William Morris Endeavor.[3][4] It is the largest MMA promotion company in the world and features on its roster the highest-level fighters in the sport.[5] The UFC produces events worldwide[6] that showcase twelve weight divisions and abides by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.[7] As of 2019, the UFC has held over 500 events. Dana White is the president of the UFC. White has held that position since 2001; while under his stewardship, the UFC has grown into a globally popular multi-billion-dollar enterprise.[8]

The first event was held in 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.[9] The purpose of the early Ultimate Fighting Championship competitions was to identify the most effective martial art in a contest with minimal rules and no weight classes between competitors of different fighting disciplines like boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, sambo, wrestling, Muay Thai, karate, and judo. In subsequent events, fighters began adopting effective techniques from more than one discipline, which indirectly helped create a separate style of fighting known as present-day mixed martial arts.[10] In 2016, UFC's parent company, Zuffa, was sold to a group led by William Morris Endeavor (WME–IMG), including Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and MSD Capital[11] for $4.025 billion.[12]

With a TV deal and expansion in Australia, Asia, Europe,[13][14][15] and new markets within the United States, the UFC has increased in popularity, and has achieved greater mainstream media coverage; the promotion brought in a total revenue of US$609 million in 2015,[16] and its next domestic media rights agreement with ESPN was valued at $1.5 billion over a five-year term.

History

The former logo of the UFC, used from 1993 to 1999

Early competition: early 1990s

Royce Gracie used Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the early years of UFC to defeat opponents of greater size and strength.

Art Davie proposed to John Milius and Rorion Gracie an eight-man single-elimination tournament called "War of the Worlds". The tournament was inspired by the Gracies in Action video-series produced by the Gracie family of Brazil which featured Gracie jiu-jitsu students defeating martial artists of various disciplines such as karate, kung fu, and kickboxing. The tournament would also feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no-holds-barred combat to determine the best martial art and would aim to replicate the excitement of the matches Davie saw on the videos.[17] Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to act as 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.[18]

In 1993, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached pay-per-view producers TVKO (HBO) and SET (Showtime), as well as Campbell McLaren and David Isaacs at the Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both TVKO and SET declined, but SEG – a pioneer in pay-per-view television which had produced such offbeat events as a man vs woman tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova – became WOW's partner in May 1993.[19] 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.[17] SEG devised the name for the show as The Ultimate Fighting Championship.[20]

WOW Promotions and SEG produced the first event, later called UFC 1, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Art Davie functioned as the show's booker and matchmaker.[21] The show proposed to find an answer for sports fans' questions such as: "Can a wrestler beat a boxer?"[22] As with most martial arts at the time, fighters typically had skills in just one discipline and had little experience against opponents with different skills.[23] The television broadcast featured kickboxers Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier, savate fighter Gerard Gordeau, karate expert Zane Frazier, shootfighter Ken Shamrock, sumo wrestler Teila Tuli, boxer Art Jimmerson, and 175 lb (79 kg) Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Royce Gracie—younger brother of UFC co-founder Rorion, whom Rorion handpicked to represent his family in the competition. Royce Gracie's submission skills proved the most effective in the inaugural tournament, earning him the first ever UFC tournament championship[24] after submitting Jimmerson, Shamrock, and Gordeau in succession. The show proved extremely successful with 86,592 television subscribers on pay-per-view.

It's disputed whether the promoters intended for the event to become a precursor to a series of future events. "That show was only supposed to be a one-off", eventual UFC president Dana White said. "It did so well on pay-per-view they decided to do another, and another. Never in a million years did these guys think they were creating a sport."[25] Art Davie, in his 2014 book Is This Legal?, an account of the creation of the first UFC event, disputes the perception that the UFC was seen by WOW Promotions and SEG as a one-off, since SEG offered a five-year joint development deal to WOW. He says, "Clearly, both Campbell and Meyrowitz shared my unwavering belief that War of the Worlds[note 1] would be a continuing series of fighting tournaments—a franchise, rather than a one-night stand."[26]

With no weight classes, fighters often faced significantly larger or taller opponents. Keith "The Giant Killer" Hackney faced Emmanuel Yarbrough at UFC 3 with a 9 in (23 cm) height and 400 pounds (180 kg) weight disadvantage.[27] 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 175 lb (79 kg) Royce Gracie winning three of the first four events, the UFC quickly proved that size does not always determine the outcome of the fight.

During this early part of the organization, the UFC would showcase a bevy of different styles and fighters. Aside from the aforementioned Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Patrick Smith, the competitions also featured competitors such as Hall of Famer Dan Severn, Marco Ruas, Gary Goodridge, Don Frye, Kimo Leopoldo, Oleg Taktarov, and Tank Abbott. Although the first events were dominated by jiu-jitsu, other fighting styles became successful: first wrestling, then ground and pound, kickboxing, boxing, and dirty boxing, which eventually melded into modern mixed martial arts.

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.

Emergence of stricter rules

"Big" John McCarthy referees as Tank Abbott puts Cal Worsham against the cage at Ultimate Ultimate 1996

Although UFC used the tagline "There are no rules" in the early 1990s, the UFC did in fact operate with limited rules. It banned biting and eye-gouging, and allowed techniques such as hair pulling, headbutting, groin strikes, and fish-hooking.

In a UFC 4 qualifying match, competitors Jason Fairn and Guy Mezger agreed not to pull hair—as they both wore pony tails tied back for the match. That same event saw a matchup between Keith Hackney and Joe Son in which Hackney unleashed a series of groin shots against Son while on the ground.

The UFC had a reputation, especially in the early days, as an extremely violent event, as evidenced by a disclaimer in the beginning of the UFC 5 broadcast which warned audiences of the violent nature of the sport.

UFC 5 also introduced the first singles match, a rematch from the inaugural UFC featuring three-time champion Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, called "The Superfight". This proved an important development, because singles matches would feature fighters who suffered no prior damage from a previous fight in the same event, unlike tournament matches. Singles matches would become a staple in the UFC for years to come.

"The Superfight" began as a non-tournament match that would determine the first reigning UFC Champion for tournament winners to face;[28] it later evolved into a match that could feature either title matches or non-title matches. The "Superfight" would eventually completely phase out tournament matches; by UFC Brazil, the UFC abandoned the tournament format for an entire card of singles matches (aside from a one-time UFC Japan tournament featuring Japanese fighters). UFC 6 was the first event to feature the crowning of the first non-tournament UFC Champion, Ken Shamrock.

Controversy and reform: late 1990s

The violent nature of the burgeoning sport quickly drew the attention of the U.S. authorities.[29]

In 1996, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) saw a tape of the first UFC events and immediately found it abhorrent. McCain himself led a campaign to ban the UFC, calling it "human cockfighting", and even sending letters to the governors of all fifty US states asking them to ban the event.[30]

Thirty-six states enacted laws that banned "no-hold-barred" fighting, including New York, which enacted the ban on the eve of UFC 12, forcing a relocation of the event to Dothan, Alabama.[31] The UFC continued to air on DirecTV PPV, though its audience remained minuscule compared to the larger cable pay-per-view platforms of the era.

In response to the criticism, the UFC increased 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. UFC 12 saw the introduction of weight classes and the banning of fish-hooking. For UFC 14, gloves became mandatory, while kicks to the head of a downed opponent were banned. UFC 15 saw limitations on hair pulling, and the banning of strikes to the back of the neck and head, headbutting, small-joint manipulations, and groin strikes. With five-minute rounds introduced at UFC 21, the UFC gradually re-branded itself as a sport rather than a spectacle.[32]

Led by UFC commissioner Jeff Blatnick and referee John McCarthy, the UFC continued to work with state athletic commissions.[33] Blatnick, McCarthy, and matchmaker Joe Silva created a manual of policies, procedures, codes of conduct, and rules to help in getting the UFC sanctioned by the athletic commissions, many of which exist to this day.[33] Blatnick and McCarthy traveled around the country, educating regulators and changing perceptions about a sport that was thought to be bloodthirsty and inhumane.[33] By April 2000, their movement had clearly made an impact.[33] California was set to become the first state in the U.S. to sign off on a set of codified rules that governed MMA.[33] Soon after, New Jersey adopted the language.[33]

As the UFC continued to work with the athletic commissions, events took place in smaller U.S. markets, and venues, such as the Lake Charles Civic Center. The markets included states that are largely rural and less known for holding professional sporting events, such as Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, and Alabama. SEG could not secure home-video releases for UFC 23 through UFC 29. With other mixed martial arts promotions working towards U.S. sanctioning, the International Fighting Championships (IFC) 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".[34]

As the UFC's rules started to evolve, so too did its field of competitors. Notable UFC fighters to emerge in this era include Hall of Famers Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Pat Miletich, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, and Tito Ortiz, as well as notables Vitor Belfort, Mark Kerr, Pedro Rizzo, Murilo Bustamante, Frank Shamrock, Mikey Burnett, Jeremy Horn, Pete Williams, Jens Pulver, Evan Tanner, Andrei Arlovski, and Wanderlei Silva, among others.

Zuffa era: early 2000s

After the long battle to secure sanctioning, SEG stood on the brink of bankruptcy, when Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and their business partner Dana White approached them in 2000, with an offer to purchase the UFC. A month later, in January 2001, the Fertittas bought the UFC for $2 million and created Zuffa, LLC as the parent entity controlling the UFC.

"I had my attorneys tell me that I was crazy because I wasn't buying anything. I was paying $2 million and they were saying 'What are you getting?'" Lorenzo Fertitta revealed to Fighter's Only magazine, recalling the lack of assets he acquired in the purchase. "And I said 'What you don't understand is I'm getting the most valuable thing that I could possibly have, which is those three letters: UFC. That is what's going to make this thing work. Everybody knows that brand, whether they like it or they don't like it, they react to it.'"[35]

With ties to the Nevada State Athletic Commission (Lorenzo Fertitta was a former member of the NSAC), Zuffa secured sanctioning in Nevada in 2001. Shortly thereafter, the UFC returned to pay-per-view cable television with UFC 33 featuring three championship bouts.

Struggle for survival and turnaround

The UFC slowly, but steadily, rose in popularity after the Zuffa purchase, due partly to greater advertising,[36] 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, the UFC secured its first television deal with Fox Sports Net. The Best Damn Sports Show Period aired the first mixed martial arts match on American cable television in June 2002, as well as the main event showcasing Chuck Liddell vs. Vitor Belfort at UFC 37.5.[37] Later, FSN would air highlight shows from the UFC, featuring one-hour blocks of the UFC's greatest bouts.

UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock was instrumental in the UFC's turnaround into a mainstream sport.

UFC 40 proved to be the most critical event to date in the Zuffa era. The event was a near sellout of 13,022 at the MGM Grand Arena and sold 150,000 pay per view buys, a rate roughly double that of the previous Zuffa events. The event featured a card headlined by a highly anticipated championship grudge match between then-current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz and former UFC Superfight Champion Ken Shamrock, who had previously left to professional wrestling in the WWE before returning to MMA. It was the first time the UFC hit such a high mark since being forced "underground" in 1997.[38] UFC 40 also garnered mainstream attention from massive media outlets such as ESPN and USA Today, something that was unfathomable for mixed martial arts at that point in time.[39] Many have suggested that the success of UFC 40 and the anticipation for Ortiz vs. Shamrock saved the UFC from bankruptcy; the buyrates of the previous Zuffa shows averaged a mere 45,000 buys per event and the company was suffering deep monetary losses.[39] The success of UFC 40 provided a glimmer of hope for the UFC and kept alive the hope that mixed martial arts could become big.[40] Beyond the rivalry itself, the success of UFC 40 was due in part to the marketing and outreach power of crossover athletes - from Pro Wrestling to MMA and MMA to Pro Wrestling - a practice with roots in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships.[41] Long time UFC referee "Big" John McCarthy said that he felt UFC 40 was the turning point in whether or not the sport of MMA would survive in America.

Despite the success of UFC 40, the UFC was still experiencing financial deficits. By 2004, Zuffa had $34 million of losses since they purchased the UFC.[43] Fighters who came into prominence after Zuffa's takeover include Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk, Matt Serra, Ricco Rodriguez, Robbie Lawler, Frank Mir, Karo Parisyan, and Nick Diaz.

The Ultimate Fighter and rise in popularity

Faced with the prospect of folding, the UFC stepped outside the bounds of pay-per-view and made a foray into television. After being featured in a reality television series, American Casino,[44] and seeing how well the series worked as a promotion vehicle, the Fertitta brothers developed the idea of the UFC having its own reality series.

Their idea, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) was –a reality television show featuring up-and-coming MMA fighters in competition for a six-figure UFC contract, with fighters eliminated from competition via exhibition mixed martial arts matches. It 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.[43]

In January 2005, Spike TV launched The Ultimate Fighter 1 in the timeslot following WWE Raw. The show became an instant success, culminating with a notable season finale brawl featuring light heavyweight finalists Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar going toe-to-toe for the right to earn the six-figure contract. The live broadcast of the season finale drew a very impressive 1.9 overall rating. Dana White credits TUF 1 for saving the UFC.[45]

On the heels of the Griffin/Bonnar finale, a second season of The Ultimate Fighter launched in August 2005, and two more seasons appeared in 2006. Spike and the UFC continued to create and air new seasons until the show moved to FX in 2012. . UFC.com. March 22, 2006.[46]

Following the success of The Ultimate Fighter, Spike also picked up UFC Unleashed, an hour-long weekly show featuring select fights from previous events. Spike also signed on to broadcast live UFC Fight Night, a series of fight events debuting in August 2005, and Countdown specials to promote upcoming UFC pay-per-view cards.

After a very successful run on Spike and with the upcoming announcement of the UFC's new relationship with Fox, Spike officials made a statement regarding the end of their partnership with the UFC, "The Ultimate Fighter season 14 in September will be our last... Our 6-year partnership with the UFC has been incredibly beneficial in building both our brands, and we wish them all the best in the future."[47]

With the announcement of UFC's partnership with Fox in August 2011, The Ultimate Fighter, which entered its 14th season in that September, moved to the FX network to air on Friday nights starting with season 15 in the Spring of 2012. Along with the network change, episodes are now edited and broadcast within a week of recording instead of a several-month delay, and elimination fights are aired live.[48]

Surging popularity and growth: mid–2000s

New York City Times Square ad for UFC 88: Breakthrough featuring Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans

With increased visibility, the UFC's pay-per-view buy numbers exploded. UFC 52, the first event after the first season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring eventual-UFC Hall of Famer Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell avenging his defeat to fellow eventual-Hall of Famer Randy Couture, drew a pay-per-view audience of 300,000,[49] doubling its previous benchmark of 150,000 set at UFC 40. Following the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's much-hyped match between Liddell and Couture 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: Hughes vs. Gracie—featuring Royce Gracie's first UFC fight in 11 years—and 775,000 buys for UFC 61 featuring the highly anticipated rematch between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz, the coaches of The Ultimate Fighter 3.[50] The organization hit a milestone with UFC 66, pitting Ortiz in a rematch against Liddell with over 1 million buys.[51]

The surge in popularity prompted the UFC to beef up its executive team. In March 2006, the UFC announced that it had hired Marc Ratner, former Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission,[52] as Vice President of Regulatory Affairs. Ratner, once an ally of Senator McCain's campaign against no holds barred fighting, became a catalyst for the emergence of sanctioned mixed martial arts in the United States. Ratner lobbied numerous athletic commissions[53] to help raise the UFC's media profile in an attempt to legalize mixed martial arts in jurisdictions inside and outside the United States that had yet to sanction the sport.

In December 2006, Zuffa acquired the northern California-based promotion World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in order to stop the International Fight League (IFL) from making a deal with Versus (now NBC Sports Network). At the time, the UFC had an exclusive deal with Spike, so the purchase of the WEC allowed Zuffa to block the IFL from Versus without violating their contract.[54] The WEC showcased lighter weight classes in MMA, whereas the UFC featured heavier weight classes.[55] Notable WEC fighters included Urijah Faber, Jamie Varner, Carlos Condit, Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Eddie Wineland, Miguel Angel Torres, Mike Thomas Brown, Leonard Garcia, Brian Bowles, Dominick Cruz, and José Aldo.

In December 2006, Zuffa also acquired their cross-town, Las Vegas rival World Fighting Alliance (WFA). In acquiring the WFA, they acquired the contracts of notable fighters including Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, and Martin Kampmann.

The sport's popularity was also noticed by the sports betting community as BodogLife.com, an online gambling site, stated in July 2007 that in 2007 UFC would surpass boxing for the first time in terms of betting revenues.[56] In fact, the UFC had already broken the pay-per-view industry's all-time records for a single year of business, generating over $222,766,000 in revenue in 2006, surpassing both WWE and boxing.[57]

The UFC continued its rapid rise from near obscurity with Roger Huerta gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and Chuck Liddell on the front of ESPN The Magazine in May 2007.[58]

Pride acquisition and integration

A fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Mark Coleman in the Japanese, ring-based Pride organization

On March 27, 2007, the UFC and their Japan-based rival the Pride Fighting Championships announced an agreement in which the majority owners of the UFC, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, would purchase the Pride brand.[59][60]

Initial intentions were for both organizations to be run separately but aligned together with plans to co-promote cards featuring the champions and top contenders from both organizations. However, after purchasing Pride, Dana White felt that the Pride model was not sustainable[61] and the organization would likely fold with many former Pride fighters such as Antônio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira, Maurício "Shogun" Rua, Dan Henderson, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović, Wanderlei Silva, and others already being realigned under the UFC brand.[62] On October 4, 2007, Pride Worldwide closed its Japanese office, laying off 20 people who were working there since the closing of its parent company Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE).[63]

On June 18, 2008, Lorenzo Fertitta accommodated the UFC's growth by announcing his resignation from Station Casinos in order to devote his energies to the international business development of Zuffa, particularly the UFC. The move proved to be pivotal, as Fertitta helped strike TV deals in China, France, Mexico, and Germany as well as open alternative revenue streams with a new UFC video game and UFC action figures, among other projects.[64]

Fighters exposed to the UFC audience—or who became prominent—in the post-Pride era include Anderson Silva, Jon Fitch, Lyoto Machida, Cain Velasquez, and Jon Jones, among others.

UFC 100 and continued popularity: late 2000s – mid-2010s

Popularity took another major surge in 2009 with UFC 100 and the 10 events preceding it including UFC 90, 91, 92, 94, and 98. UFC 100 was a massive success garnering 1.6 million buys[65] under the drawing power of former NCAA wrestling champion Brock Lesnar and his rematch with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir, Canadian Georges St-Pierre going head-to-head with Brazilian [66] Thiago Alves, and American Dan Henderson opposing British Michael Bisping at middleweight after the two were rival coaches on The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom.

UFC 100 was unique in that it drew significant interest from ESPN, which provided extensive coverage of the event in the days preceding and following it.[67] In fact, ESPN would eventually devote additional coverage of the UFC and other MMA news with the television debut of MMA Live on ESPN2 in May 2010.[68]

The buzz from UFC 100 was hampered significantly in the second half of 2009 after a rash of injuries and other health-related issues[69][70]—including Brock Lesnar's life-threatening bout with diverticulitis[71]—forcing the organization to continuously scramble and reshuffle its lineup for several events.

However, the momentum gradually began to pick up in the first quarter of 2010 after victories from defending champions Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, as well as Lyoto Machida's first career defeat to "Shogun" Rua for the UFC Light Heavyweight title. These fights segued into a very popular clash between former UFC Champions and rivals Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson—rival coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 10: Heavyweights—at UFC 114, featuring the UFC's first main event headlined by black fighters.[72] The event scored over 1 million pay per view buys[73] as Evans secured a unanimous decision victory.

UFC 129 shattered previous North American gate and attendance records.

This momentum carried into the summer of 2010 at UFC 116, which featured the return of Brock Lesnar defending his UFC Heavyweight title against the undefeated interim-champion Shane Carwin before 1.25 million PPV viewers.[74] Lesnar survived an early barrage of Carwin's punches in a contest that was nearly stopped by referee Josh Rosenthal.[75] However, Lesnar recovered in the second round to submit Carwin via arm-triangle choke to retain the undisputed UFC Heavyweight Championship. The event as a whole was critically acclaimed in the media[76][77][78] for living up to the hype with a number of exciting fights that were featured on the televised card.

After a dramatic fifth round, last minute victory by UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva over Chael Sonnen at UFC 117, Lesnar finally surrendered his belt to the undefeated Cain Velasquez via 1st-round TKO at UFC 121. The fight produced Velasquez's eighth knockout or technical knockout in his first nine MMA fights.[79]

UFC 129 featured Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is currently the largest UFC event in North American history,[80][81] which coincided with a two-day UFC Fan Expo at the Direct Energy Centre.[82][83] The event sold out 55,000 tickets for gate revenues exceeding $11 million,[84] shattering previous MMA attendance and gate records in North America.[84]

On November 5, 2016 the UFC had their first exhibition in New York City after years of being delayed by government officials and red tape with a dramatic first match, Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez.[85]

WEC merger

Anthony Pettis weighs in for the final WEC event

Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, purchased World Extreme Cagefighting in late 2006 and held the first WEC event under new ownership on January 20, 2007.[86] Soon thereafter the WEC made its home on the Versus Network with its first event debuting on that network in June 2007.[87]

On October 28, 2010, Zuffa announced that WEC would merge with the UFC. The WEC held its final card on December 16, 2010. As a result of the merger, the UFC absorbed WEC's bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight weight divisions and their respective fighters. The UFC also made the last WEC Featherweight and Bantamweight Champions, José Aldo and Dominick Cruz respectively, the inaugural UFC Champions of their new weight divisions.[88]

Reed Harris, who started World Extreme Cagefighting with Scott Adams, had mixed emotions on the merger. "It's kind of like when your kid goes off to college: at first you're not happy, but after you think about it for a while, you're really happy," Harris told MMAWeekly.com in an exclusive interview immediately following the announcement. "At the end of the day, I never imagined this thing would be where we're at today. I'm extremely proud and happy that I was involved with something that will now be part of what may be, some day, the largest sports organization in the world."[89]

Strikeforce purchase

The Strikeforce cage

On March 12, 2011, Dana White revealed that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce.[90] White went on to explain that Strikeforce will operate as an independent promotion, and that Scott Coker will continue to run the promotion. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker announced the return of Fedor Emelianenko on an unspecified July or August event and said that Zuffa-owned company would continue to co-promote with M-1 Global.[91] Following the purchase, the UFC signed many of Strikeforce's top stars and champions, such as Jason Miller, Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, and Cung Le. Under Zuffa's ownership, Strikeforce made minor changes, including adopting the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts in full, closing the promotion's men's weight classes below lightweight, and ceasing promotion of amateur undercard bouts. After an extension was reached to continue Strikeforce through 2012, the promotion's heavyweight division (sans Heavyweight Grand Prix finalists) was merged into the UFC, and the promotion's Challengers series was ended.

The final Strikeforce show was Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine on January 12, 2013, after which the promotion was dissolved and all fighter contracts were either ended or absorbed into the UFC.

Fox partnership

UFC on Fox Nielsen ratings
Event Date Rating Share Viewers Ref.
Velasquez vs. dos Santos November 12, 2011 3.1 5 5.7 million [92]
Evans vs. Davis January 28, 2012 2.6 5 4.7 million [93]
Diaz vs. Miller May 5, 2012 1.5 3 2.4 million [94]
Shogun vs. Vera August 4, 2012 1.4 3 2.4 million [95]
Henderson vs. Diaz December 8, 2012 2.5 5 4.4 million [96]
Johnson vs. Dodson January 26, 2013 2.4 5 4.2 million [97]
Henderson vs. Melendez April 20, 2013 2.2 4 3.7 million [98]
Johnson vs. Moraga July 27, 2013 1.5 3 2.4 million [99]
Johnson vs. Benavidez 2 December 14, 2013 1.8 3 2.8 million [100]
Henderson vs. Thomson January 25, 2014 1.9 3 3.2 million [101]
Werdum vs. Browne April 19, 2014 1.6 3 2.5 million [102]
Lawler vs. Brown July 26, 2014 1.5 3 2.5 million [103]
dos Santos vs. Miocic December 13, 2014 1.6 3 2.8 million [104]
Gustafsson vs. Johnson January 24, 2015 1.8 4 3.0 million [105]

On August 18, 2011, The Ultimate Fighting Championship and Fox announced a seven-year broadcast deal through the Fox Sports subsidiary, effectively ending the UFC's Spike TV and Versus (now NBC Sports Network) partnership. The deal includes four events on the main Fox network, 32 live Friday night fights per year on their cable network FX, 24 events following The Ultimate Fighter reality show and six separate Fight Night events.

The promotion's first broadcast television event – UFC on Fox: Velasquez vs. dos Santos – broke form by showcasing only one fight to television viewers. In the main event, Junior dos Santos abruptly dethroned then-undefeated UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez by knock-out at 1:04 in the first round. The telecast peaked with 8.8 million viewers tuning into the fight with an average audience of 5.7 million, making it by far the most watched MMA event of all-time and the most watched combat sports event since 2003's HBO bout between Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko.[106]

One of the other programming opportunities that emerged was a weekly UFC magazine-style show. When asked about the potential for a weekly magazine-style series, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta responded, "Not only weekly, but, potentially, multiple times per week you'll have a UFC magazine (show)."[107] The UFC maintained production control of its product, including the use of its broadcast team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Fox Sports produced the pre- and post-shows.

Women's MMA

Ronda Rousey was the first female UFC champion. She defended her 135-pound Bantamweight Championship from March 3, 2012 to November 15, 2015.

On November 16, 2012, the eve of UFC 154: St. Pierre vs. Condit, Dana White confirmed with Jim Rome the UFC would feature women's MMA with the signing of its first female fighter, Strikeforce bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.[108] She subsequently became the first female UFC champion, the first Olympic medalist with a UFC title, and the first woman to defend a UFC title. She would successfully defend her title six times over a grand total of 1,074 days, before she was defeated by Holly Holm on November 15, 2015, at UFC 193.

On December 11, 2013, the UFC purchased the contracts of 11 female fighters from Invicta Fighting Championships to launch their 115-pound Strawweight division. Eight of the Invicta fighters took part in the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, The Ultimate Fighter: Team Pettis vs. Team Melendez, along with eight additional fighters signed up for the tournament via open tryouts.[109] Season winner, Invicta FC's Strawweight Champion, Carla Esparza became the first UFC women's strawweight champion, defeating Rose Namajunas in the finale. Other fighters on the show included Felice Herrig, Tecia Torres, Bec Hyatt, Randa Markos, Jessica Penne, and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.[110]

International expansion

The first UFC event to be held outside the contiguous United States was UFC 8 in Puerto Rico, a US territory, in 1996. Subsequently, the UFC has visited 15 countries in Asia, Europe, Oceania, South America, and North America.

Canada has hosted events 18 times, starting with UFC 83 in 2008 and most recently in 2015 with UFC 186.[111] UFC's biggest event to date was also in Canada, as UFC 129 held at Rogers Centre featured a record-breaking attendance of 55,724.[112]

The United Kingdom has been home to 16 events. The first was UFC 38 held in London in 2002. UFC returned to the United Kingdom in 2007 with UFC 70, and visited Northern Ireland for UFC 72. The UK's most recent event was at England with UFC 204 in 2016. Ireland has held UFC 93 in 2009 and UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Brandao 5 years later.[113] In continental Europe, Germany has hosted 5 times, the first being UFC 99 in 2009, UFC 122 in 2010, UFC Fight Night: Munoz vs. Mousasi in 2014, UFC Fight Night: Jędrzejczyk vs. Penne in 2015 and the latest was UFC Fight Night: Arlovski vs. Barnett in 2016.[114] Sweden has hosted 3 times, starting with UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva in 2012, and recently with UFC on Fox: Gustafsson vs. Johnson in 2015.[115][116] Poland had its first event with UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop 2 in 2015.[117] There are also Fight Night events due to take place in 2016, in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Zagreb, Croatia.

The first Brazilian event was UFC Brazil: Ultimate Brazil, held in São Paulo in 1998. The promotion did not return to Brazil until 2011 for UFC 134, but since then, the country has hosted a further 20 events. Their most recent visit was UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Alves.[118][119] In 2014, Mexico became the second country in Latin America to host an event with UFC 180,[120] followed by a second event, UFC 188, in 2015.[121]

Seven UFC events have been held in Australia, beginning with UFC 110 in 2010 and most recently in December 2018 with UFC Fight Night 142.[122] New Zealand held its first event in 2014, UFC Fight Night: Te Huna vs. Marquardt.[123]

In Asia, the UFC has visited 5 countries. Japan had its first visit in 1997 for UFC Japan: Ultimate Japan. The UFC only returned to the country in 2012, with UFC 144. Their last visit was in 2014 for UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Nelson, the seventh event there.[124] The promotion has also featured 2 visits to the United Arab Emirates. The first was in 2010 for UFC 112 and the second in 2014 for UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson.[125] The promotion has also visited Macau in 3 occasions: China's special administrative region was first visited in 2012 with UFC on Fuel TV: Franklin vs. Le and last visited in 2014 for UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs. Le.[126] The promotion has also visited Singapore with UFC Fight Night: Saffiedine vs. Lim in 2014.[127] The Philippines was the most recent Asian country that the UFC has visited, with UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Faber in 2015.[128]

The Ultimate Fighter has had international editions as well: Brazil (since 2012), Australia (vs. United Kingdom - 2012), China (2013), Canada (vs. Australia - 2014), and Latin America (2014).

TRT ban

On February 27, 2014, the Nevada State Athletic Commission banned the use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). The UFC followed suit and banned the use of TRT for any of their events, including international markets where the UFC oversees regulatory efforts.[129]

Lawsuits over contractual treatment of fighters

In December 2014, an antitrust lawsuit was filed against Zuffa by several fighters, claiming the organization restricts fighters' control over their careers and earning potential.[130]

Throughout 2015, debate over venues and possible case dismissals ensued. Ultimately, the case moved to Nevada federal courts, where Zuffa was denied its motion to stay discovery for 15 years of its financial records.[131][132]

This has caused an ongoing debate and struggle over how UFC sensitive information should be handled, and who may view it. Especially concerning MMAFA founder, Rob Maysey who has taken the lead in representing the former athletes and has stated he hopes to achieve reforms similar to the Ali Act (2000).[133]

Later that year, a 12–16 month investigation began that is expected to last until sometime between September 2016 to January 2017.[134] Thus far, both sides have provided well over 100,000 documents.[135]

Endeavor era: 2016 – present

In May 2016, ESPN originally reported that the UFC's parent company Zuffa, LLC was in talks to sell the company for $3.5 billion to $4 billion. In 2015, the UFC had a reported EBITDA of $200–250 million. Because it was a privately owned company, no official comment was made from the UFC or Dana White regarding the sale. Companies initially interested in the sale were Dalian Wanda Group, China Media Capital, and WME–IMG (Endeavor).[136]

On July 9, 2016, it was officially announced that the UFC would be sold to a group led by WME–IMG, its owner Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and MSD Capital, for $4.025 billion. At the time, it marked the largest-ever acquisition in sports. Lorenzo Fertitta stated that the new ownership, "with whom we've built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC's global growth", and that they "share the same vision and passion for this organization and its athletes." Flash Entertainment (owned by the government of Abu Dhabi) retained its 10% minority stake in the company. White, who owned 9% of the UFC, stayed, having been given a stake in the new business.[137][138] Shortly after the sale, it was announced that White would remain president. As a result of the sale, Fertitta stepped down as chairman and CEO.[139] WME–IMG was renamed Endeavor in September 2017.[140][4][3] Three years into the Endeavor era, Dana White revealed in an interview that an undisclosed company bid $5 billion but Fertittas chose WME–IMG due to a connection they already made with Ari Emanuel.[141]

In October 2016, MMAJunkie obtained an UFC financial report released by Endeavor, detailing that the promotion had reached a year-to-year high of $609 million in revenue during 2015. 76% of the total was credited to "content" revenue, covering media rights, PPV buys and UFC Fight Pass subscriptions; in turn, 42% of content revenue was credited to pay-per-view buys, followed by U.S. and international media rights.[16]

ESPN partnership

In May 2018, UFC reached new U.S. media rights deals with Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International and ESPN Inc., succeeding those with 21st Century Fox, which began in January 2019. The five-year contracts are cumulatively valued at $300 million per-year for digital and linear rights, roughly doubling the amount paid by Fox in the final year of its previous contract, and include 42 events on ESPN platforms per-year. ESPN linear networks will televise preliminary cards for UFC PPV events, and 10 UFC on ESPN Fight Night events per-year. The subscription streaming service ESPN+ will broadcast 20 exclusive events per-year under the branding UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night; regardless of network, all Fight Night events will feature a full, 12-fight card, and their preliminaries will air exclusively on ESPN+. The ESPN+ service will also hold on-demand rights to UFC library and archive content, new seasons of Dana White's Contender Series, and other new original content. UFC Fight Pass will be purchasable as an add-on for ESPN+ to stream pay-per-view events.[142][143][144][145][146]

On March 18, 2019, it was announced that ESPN had reached a two-year extension of the contract. In addition, it was announced that in the United States, future UFC PPVs will only be sold through ESPN+ to its subscribers, and will no longer be sold via traditional television providers beginning with UFC 236. At the same time, the standard price for UFC PPVs was lowered to $59.99 (from $64.99), and new subscribers will also be able to purchase a bundle of a UFC PPV and a year of ESPN+.[147]

M-1 Global partnership

On July 18, 2018, it was announced that UFC has entered into a partnership with Russian MMA promoter M-1 Global. M-1 Global will serve as a farm league to scout Russian fighters for UFC and will participate in organizing UFC events in Russia. The deal also gives M-1 champions the opportunity to sign with UFC.[148][149][150] On September 15, 2018, the first UFC event in Russia was held at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow.

Filing Initial public offering (IPO)

On May 24, 2019 Endeavor Group (EDR) filed the initial public offering (IPO) paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The form detailed Endeavor's revenue was $3.61 billion in 2018 with a net income of $100.1 million after adjustments, and potential risks involved of being potentially sued (1) “over alleged long-term neurocognitive impairment arising from concussions”, (2) collective bargaining to unionize the MMA athletes and (3) "five related class-action lawsuits filed against it alleging that UFC violated Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 by monopolizing the alleged market for elite professional MMA athletes’ services".[151][152][153]

On September 26, 2019, Endeavor Group announced it cancelled its planned IPO that was set for September 27. Endeavor Group said in a statement "Endeavor will continue to evaluate the timing for the proposed offering as market conditions develop"[154] The Wall Street Journal reported the under performance of the recent IPO for Pelaton was a contributing factor.[155] As is an ongoing lawsuit with several former UFC fighters.[156]

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