When first launched in 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship looked completely different to what we see today, emphasising shock value to sporting integrity.
Operating with the slightly exaggerated tagline ‘there are no rules’ (the UFC initially outlawed biting and eye-gouging), the purpose of the UFC in its infancy was to determine which was the most effective martial art by any means necessary.
Could a boxer beat a wrestler? What happens when a karate specialist takes on a jiu-jitsu practitioner? There would be no time limit, no holds barred, no gloves (unless a fighter wanted them), there would also be an absence of many leading martial artists at the time, refusing to participate, but an eight-man tournament was nevertheless put together.
Despite many high-profile names not appearing, it did have Royce Gracie, one of the best-known Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners, and Ken Shamrock, known as The World’s Most Dangerous Man.
The pair met in the semi-finals, but as he did in the quarter-final and final, Gracie would win by submission, making him the winner of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament.
So successful was the event that it sparked subsequent tournaments, with Gracie winning UFC 2 and UFC 4, drawing with Shamrock in the UFC 5 final due to the newly-introduced time limit.
The Superfight Championship was also introduced at UFC 5, giving the opportunity for tournament winners to challenge for the title. With Shamrock and Gracie drawing, Shamrock faced Dan Severn at UFC 6, becoming the inaugural champion.
Although the UFC fought to increase its legitimacy with the introduction of more rules and regulations, it had established a powerful enemy in Senator John McCain. McCain deemed the sport barbaric and akin to human cockfighting – frankly, the way the sport was promoted at the time, it was hard to argue – and 36 states complied with the request to ban it.
UFC was pulled from most PPV providers, and the numbers that had been built up in its first few years would take more than a decade to recover.
Semaphore Entertainment Group, who’d been involved with the UFC from its outset, were on the brink of bankruptcy, prompting Dana White along with business partners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to step in and buy them out.
Struggling to make a splash following the takeover, White made a fight with light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz (who was managed by White) and long-time rival Ken Shamrock, who was making his return to the Octagon. The show’s PPV buy rate was around triple of what they’d been achieving, and the organisation began to hit the mainstream.
Despite the success of UFC 40, it wasn’t for more than two years that The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC’s foray into reality TV, was launched, and this time the landscape really would change for good.
The finale of the show’s first season saw Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar compete for a six-figure contract with the UFC. So good was the fight – perhaps the UFC’s best-ever at that point – White offered both fighters contracts, and the UFC went from strength to strength.
UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor occupies number one spot, with 2,400,000 buys, almost double second place - UFC 202: Diaz vs. McGregor 2.
In fact, Conor McGregor occupies the top seven places with a combined 11,000,000 buys.
UFC 91: Couture vs. Lesnar was the organisation's first PPV to exceed 1,000,000 buys, as former WWE star Brock Lesnar competed for the UFC title against Randy Couture.
A referee was permitted to step in and stop a fight from UFC 3 onwards.
Though the UFC wasn’t officially banned, it was banned from being held in 36 states in 1997.
Time limits weren’t technically introduced at UFC 1, though there were unlimited five-minute rounds. Time limits of 30 minutes were then introduced at UFC 5, being reduced over time.
UFC 12 saw heavyweights and lightweights separated, though lightweights were those at 200lbs and under, closer to the light heavyweight (205lbs) limit today. This division was rebranded middleweight for UFC 14, with the present-day weight classes being introduced at UFC 31.
You can find a schedule of upcoming UFC events here.
The UFC uses a 10-point must scoring system, first introduced at UFC 21, more details of which can be found here.
All of the current UFC champions and weight classes can be found here.