Opinion: The UFC 20 Years Later
By Jesse Heitz
This week, the most dominant promotion in Mixed Martial Arts, as well as the founding company of modern MMA, turned twenty years old. This is certainly a momentous occasion for our sport. A sport that has long struggled to gain a widespread audience and mainstream acceptance.
In an interview published by mmafighting.com, UFC President, Dana White, commented on their initial impressions of the sport itself and the tumultuous rise of the sport and its premier brand to prominence.
Dana White stated,
“We were like, ‘hell no, no way this is going to happen, no rules’ and this and that. We were ‘like, s—, that’s crazy.’ That was the first one. It wasn’t until the second one came out that I was like, ‘this is bulls—, boxers would kill these guys.’ Then Art Jimmerson, we were like, c’mon, that guy’s a nobody.”
“It became this thing where we hung on for so long because we thought, are we really that different from the rest of the world? We said, just think, if this thing was sold to the masses, people would love it like we do.”
Dana White’s instincts were 100 percent correct. The masses can’t get enough of MMA, even if many do mistakenly refer to it at “cage fighting” or simply “ultimate fighting”. Still, had it not been for the tireless dedication of Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, the UFC may very well have folded back in 2004-2005. It’s true that Pride might well have carried on as the flag bearer of the sport, but given that they themselves essentially folded a year or so later, who knows what would have become of the sport had the UFC been sold off or worse yet, closed their doors.
It seems crazy to think that we’re 20 years removed from the days Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, and Ken Shamrock, ruled the Octagon. The sport is now ruled by the likes of Georges “Rush” St-Pierre, Jon “Bones” Jones, and Cain Velasquez, some of the most impressive athletes in the world.
The days of fighting for the pride of one’s martial art, or simply for the love of fighting in and of itself, may well be waning, but today’s landscape, featured prominently in the UFC, are the greatest collection of fighters ever witnessed.
Under the direction of the UFC, the sport has grown from what was perceived as a ruthless blood sport into a respectable and streamlined combat sport. It has survived the onslaught of politicians and rival sports who sought to destroy it, only to thrive. Under the UFC’s direction, the sport has spanned the globe, establishing markets in places once thought impossible.
On this, the week of the UFC’s 20th anniversary, I’m left reflecting not only on the history of the promotion, its legendary fights, it’s evolution, but how the UFC and its survival affected the progress of the world’s fastest growing sport.