Kazuyuki Fujita, Lorenzo Fertitta and Hidehiko Yoshida. Pic by SHERDOG.COM -click for source- Credit: Stephen Martinez

The Ultimate Fighting Championship held their first event, twenty years ago in Denver, Colorado. To commemorate the occasion, I decided to cover the dramatic twenty year history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This includes the ups and downs, the hard work and perseverance, the heart breakers, and fulfilled dreams that have taken place these past 20 years in the Octagon.

The UFC’s beginning and struggle to survive

The Ultimate Fighting Championship started out in 1993 as a series of tournaments that brought out early Hall of Famers like Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Dan Severn. While it was an intriguing concept and caught on initially, it was called a spectacle by some prominent politicians including Senator John McCain.

The ban was so bad that parent company Semaphore Entertainment Group was on the verge of bankruptcy. While the pressure did prompt rule changes, it was a little too late for SEG. Ultimately SEG looked for a buyer for the promotion.

Early Zuffa era and The Ultimate Fighter

In January 2001, Station Casinos owners Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta bought the UFC for $2 million and installed Dana White as president of the promotion and the newly created parent company Zuffa LLC. White was a childhood friend of the Fertitta brothers and had experience in the industry as a fighter manager.

There was some initial success after the Zuffa purchase with fight cards like UFC 40 which featured a bout between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz. However, the UFC still didn’t turn around until the creation of The Ultimate Fighter reality show on Spike TV in 2004. The show finally launched the UFC’s success and also started a six year partnership between the UFC and Spike.

Buyout of Rival Promotions

Part of the UFC’s success during this time can be attributed to the buyout of several rival promotions by Zuffa. In 2006 Zuffa purchased the World Extreme Cagefighting and the World Fighting Alliance promotions, the former of which was run as a separate promotion and the latter of which was folded immediately into the UFC.

Then in March of 2007, Zuffa bought out Pride Fighting Championships. Pride had been arguably the top MMA promotion in the world up to that point and had thrived in Japan while the UFC struggled primarily in the United States. Finally the WEC merged into the UFC in 2010 and in March 2011, Zuffa bought rival promotion Strikeforce and merged into the UFC in January of this year.

Fox Partners with the UFC

On August 18, 2011 it was announced that the UFC had signed a deal with Fox to broadcast events and UFC programming on various Fox Networks starting in 2012. The deal included four fights a year on basic Fox television and broadcasting The Ultimate Fighter initially on FX.

When Fox Sports 1 and 2 were formed earlier this year, all UFC programming was transferred to those two channels. The Fox era has also seen the emergence of women’s MMA in the UFC and the first time women participated in The Ultimate Fighter. The Fox deal was initially for seven years but the way things are going it looks like it may last longer then the projected 2019 end date.

What are you doing to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the UFC? Feel free to leave a comment!