Ultimate Fighting Championship is a U.S.-based mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, currently recognized as the major MMA promotion in North America.
The UFC organization follows a rich history and tradition of competitive MMA dating back to the Olympic Games in Athens . About 80 years ago, a Brazilian form of MMA known as Vale Tudo (anything goes) sparked local interest in the sport.
Then, the UFC organization brought MMA to the world. The goal was to find “the Ultimate Fighting Champion” with a concept to have a tournament of the best athletes skilled in the various disciplines of all martial arts, including Karate, jiu-jitsu, boxing, Kickboxing, grappling, wrestling, sumo and other combat sports. The winner of the tournament would be crowned the champion.
Started by Art Davie & Rorion Gracie – WOW Promotions as a tournament to find the world’s best fighter, no matter their style, the UFC was to be based upon a version of Brazilian vale tudo fighting. Often violent and brutal with minimal rules, the UFC’s brand of vale tudo, initially known as no holds barred fighting, allowed fighters of various disciplines to prove which martial arts style prevailed above others in realistic, unregulated situations. Early UFC fights, while accomplishing the goal of determining which style was best, were less sport than spectacle, which led to accusations of brutality and “human cockfighting” by opponents. Political pressures eventually led the UFC into the underground, as pay-per-view providers nixed UFC programming, nearly extinguishing the UFC’s public visibility.
As political pressure mounted, the UFC reformed itself, slowly embracing stricter rules, becoming sanctioned by athletic commissions, and marketing itself as a legitimate sporting event. Dropping the no holds barred label and carrying the banner of mixed martial arts, the UFC has emerged from its political isolation to become more socially acceptable, regaining its position in pay-per-view television. With a cable television deal with Fox Sports Net and now Spike TV, and legalization of MMA in California, a hotbed for MMA fandom, the UFC is currently undergoing a remarkable surge in popularity, along with heightened media coverage. UFC programming can now be seen in the United States, as well as in Britain, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil.
The UFC is currently based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and owned and operated by casino operators Frank Ferttita III and Lorenzo Ferttita under the name Zuffa, LLC.
The concept for a tournament to discover the world’s best fighter was the brainchild of Art Davie, a Southern California based advertising executive. Davie met Rorion Gracie in 1991 while researching martial arts for a marketing client. Gracie operated a jiu-jitsu school in Torrance, California and the Gracie family had a long history of mixed martial arts matches in Brazil. Davie became Gracie’s student.
In 1992, Davie proposed an eight-man, single-elimination tournament with a working title of War of the Worlds to Rorion Gracie and John Milius. The tournament would feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no holds barred combat. Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to be 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.
In 1992, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached Showtime, HBO and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both HBO and Showtime declined but SEG, a pioneer in Pay-Per-View TV who had produced a mixed tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, became WOW’s partner in May 1993. SEG devised the name for the show: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. The two companies produced the first event at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Davie functioned as the show’s booker and matchmaker.
The television broadcast featured two kickboxers (Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier), a savate black belt (Gerard Gordeau), a karate expert (Zane Frazier), a shootfighter (Ken Shamrock), a sumo wrestler (Teila Tuli), a professional boxer (Art Jimmerson), and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt (Royce Gracie). The show was an instant success, drawing 86,592 television subscribers on Pay-Per-View TV. 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 as the show’s booker and matchmaker, as well as the Commissioner of Ultimate Fighting, until December 1997.