Ten years ago you’d probably never even heard of mixed martial arts (MMA), but today it’s one of the most popular combat sports in the world. With pay-per-view events viewed by over 5 million people across 170 countries worldwide, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is quickly becoming one of the most profitable and bloodthirsty sports in television history.
What began in the nineties as a one-off elimination tournament to determine the world’s most superior martial art has grown into a multi-billion dollar sporting franchise. The UFC has revolutionised full contact combat sport and led to a resurgence of ancient fighting disciplines such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and karate.
A History of Violence
For as long as us humans have walked the earth, we’ve shared an unhealthy obsession for violence. Ancient Rome had its gladiators, Medieval England had its jousters and now the UFC has its mixed martial artists. While it might be a far cry from the barbarism that existed in the Coliseum, the thirst for blood in the Octagon is just as intense. In its short existence, the UFC has spawned some of the world’s toughest athletes and played host to some of the most memorable battles in sporting history. The rivalries of Sonnen and Silva, Shamrock and Ortiz, Hugh and Serra will be spoken of for years to come. These modern day gladiators have earned themselves a place in the UFC hall of fame and will no doubt continue to wage war on each other for as long as their bodies will endure.
Triumph Through Adversity
The UFC didn’t always enjoy the success it does today. Originally condemned for being too violent by the likes of Senator John McCain, the UFC had to rebrand itself and impose stricter rules in order to become respected as a competitive professional sport. It took a lot of flak from the critics and even bounced back from the brink of bankruptcy, but nineteen years after the first ever UFC pay-per-view event, the franchise stands at an estimated worth of 2.5 billion dollars.
A New Breed
The UFC is designed to keep fighters on their toes and fight fans on the edge of their seats. With fewer rounds and more lenient rules than a boxing match, MMA bouts are high-octane from start to finish.
Part of the UFC’s appeal lies in its diversity. Within one particular weight class you could have fighters from any number of different disciplines, whether it be boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, wrestling, karate, Muay Thai or Judo. The UFC gives fighters the freedom to be able to employ striking and grappling techniques both on their feet and on the ground, which makes strategy just as important as technical ability and brute strength. Size can be of minor importance where mixed martial arts is concerned. The smallest fighters can often be the most dangerous. Groundwork submissions can be the most deadly form of attack against bigger opponents who may be relying on staying on two feet. If their defence against more technical ground attacks is weak, the fight can be over in a matter of seconds.
Up and Comers
The UFC showcases the finest MMA talent on the planet. But where do these fighters come from? Some athletes transfer their talents directly from other combat sports such as professional wrestling (Ken Shamrock & Brock Lesnar) while others spend years making a name for themselves through their respective disciplines and fighting on the amateur MMA circuits. In 2005, the UFC launched a reality television show called The Ultimate Fighter, which is now in its sixteenth season. The show sees the hottest up and coming fighters on the MMA scene pitted against one another for a coveted six-figure UFC contract. Many of UFC’s household names gained success through TUF including the likes of Forrest Griffin and the UK’s very own, Michael Bisping.
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