Well, what a day, huh? The Fox Broadcasting Company and the UFC are wed, and with the marriage comes the undeniable fact that MMA – with its exponentially greater exposure to the masses – can now be considered truly mainstream. “Huge” is a good word to describe this turn of events, although another fitting one is “milestone”. Which, to me, merits a brief stroll down memory lane to recall some of MMA’s other milestones. Because though our sport’s history may be short, a lot of big things have happened in a relatively short amount of time. So let’s see how they all stack up against one another, shall we?
-The UFC debuts on pay-per-view, 1993 – It was raw, it was fresh and it was new, and with its near total lack of rules and pure spectacle, the UFC as it first appeared on pay-per-view was like a snarling savage beast compared to the refined “sipping tea while reading the newspaper” product we know now. But damn was it massive hit. So massive, in fact, that the memory of its capacity for revenue generation was enough to sustain it when it was suddenly banned in nearly every state with an athletic commission and from pay-per-view.
-The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, 2000 – How do you tame a savage beast? Apparently with a host of rules that turn spectacle into sport. Truth be told, the UFC had already incorporated rules into Octagon combat, but the real milestone was when athletic commissions began drafting and adopting a uniform set of rules for such competitions. (Bonus trivia fact: California was the first to pen the Unified Rules, but due to lack of funding was unable to implement them; New Jersey gets credit for that.)
-Zuffa buys the UFC, 2001 – The “dark years” grew much lighter when Semaphore Entertainment Group sold the UFC to Zuffa, who in turn worked their magic to get the sport sanctioned inNevada and back on pay-per-view. They also breathed some much needed life into the ailing organization, which in turn revitalized the sport.
-The UFC on cable TV, 2002 – The folks over at “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” have the honor of airing the first live MMA fight on television, which was UFC 37.5 (literally thrown together right after UFC 37 and after UFC 38 had been announced, hence the “.5” moniker). It was cool watching Robbie Lawler and Steve Berger throw down, but the needle didn’t really move that much in terms of public recognition.
-SpikeTV and “The Ultimate Fighter”, 2005 – You want public recognition? Thanks to a reality series and one historic bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, BAM! You got it. The union between SpikeTV and the UFC, through the TUF vehicle and later on through insane amounts of other related programming, was enough to leave an indelible imprint on the world at large. Since then, it’s impossible to ride the subway without seeing at least one person wearing a TapouT shirt – and for a sport that practically no one knew or talked about five years before, and could’ve easily withered and died, that’s not a bad thing at all.
-EliteXC airs on CBS, 2008 – Gary Shaw’s upstart MMA promotion may have royally crapped the bed at the end, but his EliteXC baby gets credit for the first MMA event to air live on primetime on a major broadcasting network. Since then, CBS has of course been lukewarm to the prospect of airing more shows (post-fight riots on Strikeforce didn’t help). You can’t say history wasn’t made on that May night in 2008, though.
-The UFC and FOX, 2011 – When the broadcasting platform that handles Major League Baseball, National League Football and NASCAR holds a press conference announcing they’ve partnered with the UFC, it’s a big deal. Not so much because of the increased exposure and growth it affords, but because guess what? The UFC can no longer be called a fringe fad that will inevitably die out. It’s a full-fledged sport, and based on the MLB, NFL and NASCAR company it keeps, it’s one of the big boys now. Believe that!