While it might seem like mixed martial arts has long been popular, the truth of the matter is that MMA has only been around since the early 1990s and for many years struggled to gain popularity. There are many pivotal moments in the history of the sport, such as UFC 1, which was held in 1993. Since that time, there have been many landmark moments and the following are just the tip of the iceberg.
Clearly UFC 1, back in 1993, was a pivotal event in mixed martial art history, but while it is noteworthy, viewership was low. About 86,000 buys were recorded for this live event which was broadcast via pay-per-view. It took more than 15 years to garner more than one million pay-per-view buys, and this momentous goal was reached at 2008’s UFC 91, which featured a great bout between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar.
John McCain once referred to MMA as “human cockfighting,” but MMA is not simply an expansion of a grisly Tyler Durden dream. There are real rules to the sport and all legitimate MMA organizations have always implemented at least a few rules. The United Rules of Mixed Martials Arts govern the sport and not only set up a structure for bouts, but also help to protect fighters from injuries. While it’s true that these rules were not official throughout the country until 2009, state athletic commissions and MMA organizations did have rules, and while some might prefer a huge free-for-all in the cage, rules attach legitimacy to a sport and adopting these rules has only helped the sport progress.
While it took quite a bit of time to build an audience for MMA, a few TV shows helped make the sport more successful and mainstream. Spike TV began airing episodes of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005 and viewers soon became hooked, and not just the ones that already were following MMA. It helped that the first two coaches were highly popular veterans of the sport – Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.
The introduction of women into the sport has been a slow process, and while women have competed for organizations such as Strikeforce and Bellator for several years, it took UFC much longer to get with the program and allow sanctioned MMA events for women. The 2009 Strikeforce bout between Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (now Justino) not only proved that people were interested in watching women fight, but that the ladies were great fighters.
It took Dana White and the UFC 30 years to include women on the fight card, but when they finally did, it was in a big way. During UFC 157 in February, 2013, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche went head to head during the main fight of the night, which had a total gate of more than $1.3 million. Since then, Rousey has brought in some other big gates in her fights, with perhaps the largest grossing fight expected if and when Rousey finally meets Cyborg.