When the National Football League turned 20, they had no Super Bowl, only 15 teams, and had a ban on African-American players. When Major League baseball turned 20, the organization had yet to bridge the gap between the NL and AL, had very little national media attention, and the television had yet to be invented to broadcast the sport across a grand platform. Baseball wasn’t America’s pastime yet, and the MLB was set to go through a dead-ball era in the following years, where scores were low and audience attention was even lower. When the National Basketball Association turned 20, it had seen the all time point record being set for years to come by Wilt Chamberlain, though the NBA had yet to televise their games, leading to no known footage of the record setting game. The association only had 9 teams and were facing stiff competition to be the number one basketball association in America, being challenged by the ABA.
The UFC has just turned 20. So what has the UFC done that these major sports leagues hadn’t managed to do in their early years? It took the UFC only a couple of years to make national headlines, though these were for all the wrong reasons. Human-cock fighting, as it was called, the UFC was given the red tape by most states just years into its existence. Advance 13 years later, and the MMA organization is holding events on live cable TV, has its own reality show, and is beginning to have its fighters shown in mainstream media as athletes, instead of animals. It took the NFL 14 years to get rid of a ban on African-American players, the NBA roughly 15 years to stand alone as number one against the ABA, and the MLB 19 years to get out of there “dead-ball” era. How then did the UFC go from being on life support to being a multibillion dollar organization in just over a single decade?
By now, you know the story of how the UFC was saved by Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, losing millions of dollars on the organization after purchasing it from SEG for two million dollars, just to turn it into the UFC into the fastest rising sports organization in the world. You’ve heard how The Ultimate Fighter brought attention to the sport with Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar giving the final shock to the UFC, waking it off its death bed, and sky rocketing it into a global franchise. Years later the UFC would sign a deal with FOX, putting the final stake in the ground to show doubters that the UFC and MMA were here to stay.
The things that the UFC did to advance the sport is one of the main reasons for its quickly growing popularity, but we must not forget that the UFC did what no other sports organization could do in its first year of activity. The UFC put on its first show, the first MMA event, but before the first bell sounded, already had thousands of fans of the sport. Before the first punch was thrown, the UFC had already figured out a sport that everyone who has ever been attracted to a fight, whether in a hockey game, a bar, a boxing match or on the street. Fighting draws an audience like nothing else, and that is the biggest reason for the UFC’s success.
So much credit is given to Dana and the Fertittas, but remember that a huge part of the success of the UFC is the sport itself. People love a good fight. Whether you are old, young, male, female, strong, weak, black, white, Hispanic, no matter what type of person you are, the allure of a good fight excites us all. The UFC has turned this allure into a respectable sport with rules, but the fight is still a fight. The UFC has reached its level of popularity, and it only took 20 years, because of the sport. What separated the UFC from every other MMA organization was a business strategy, but once MMA was introduced to the masses as a sport, it wasn’t going away. The sport of MMA in modern times has turned 20, and we should celebrate everything about the sport, with less focus on the organization that created it and popularized it. 20 years ago, Royce Gracie created the greatest, most pure form of sport, and we as fans of the sport should be excited for the infinite growth potential that the sport contains. Happy 20th MMA!