There are seminal moments for every sport that has been around for over 50 years. Football had its when the NFL merged with the AFL back in 1966. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 for baseball, and the sport — you could say society even — has never been the same since. Even the sport of golf took off with the popularity of Tiger Woods.
This is one of those.
Its hard to quantify just what this network television deal means not only to the UFC, but to the sport of MMA in general. The fact that the organization now joins the NFL, MLB and NASCAR as apart of Fox Sports is huge for the sport of MMA and its fans. However, that statement alone doesn’t do justice to the true magnitude of this news.
To really understand what this means for the UFC and the sport that it so loves and to fans like myself who have been around since 2004 or earlier in many cases, you must, first, understand the sport’s history. I’m speechless today because I know perfectly well how far it has come and what this will do for its future.
It all started in 1993 with a family (Gracie), a man with an idea (Art Davie) and a man with a large amount of capital (Robert Meyrowitz). The Gracie family led by Rorian Gracie operated a prominent jiu-jitsu training facility that produced videos of their students’ success at worldwide martial arts competitions.
It was Davie who came to Gracie with the idea of creating an 8-man tournament, involving men trained in all of the different martial arts disciplines (from jiu-jitsu to karate to wrestling to muay-thai to boxing) to discover who was the most skilled fighter in the World and which discipline was the best.
So a production company came up with the name of “Ultimate Fighting Championship” for this one-time event. After Royce Gracie, representing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, won the tournament, the group backing the event realized just how popular this idea was and soon there were plans for more.
In the beginning, the UFC was a sport with only limited rules such as no eye-gouging or biting. But as it grew, the promotion instituted weight classes and adopted far stricter rules that banned groin strikes, headbutting, fish hooking, hair pulling and even certain types of strikes like “soccer kicks” and knees to the head of a downed opponent.
By the late 1990’s there had been 32 UFC events held mostly in small towns in the southern parts of the United States amidst small crowds while garnering a few thousand more through pay-per-view. Then John McCain let the public know just what his thoughts were on the sport and within no time the sport found itself banned from PPV and close to bankruptcy.
That’s when two brothers who were the executives of Station Casinos stepped up and bought the company for $2 million and put a good friend, Dana White, in charge of day-to-day operations as President in 2001.
From there it has been one gradual step up the mountain — that was reaching mainstream America in the way that baseball or football has — after another until today when it broke through network television.
It has reached the mountaintop. For those fans out there like myself, who have followed the sport basically since its infancy, that statement is clearly not hyperbole.
The UFC now stands atop Annapurna, conquering the 10th tallest mountain in the world. But to climb atop the other nine, to finally ascend Everest, the UFC still has a way to go to be sure.
Yet now it has the necessary experience (read tools) to get it there.
What this deal does is give its athletes the mainstream exposure they deserve. Fighters like Georges St.-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar and Jon Jones will get the same recognition as elite football players like Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson or baseball players like Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter. They’ll now be on the same forum.
The sport will obviously now be in front of more eyes than ever before. This deal also gives the organization an extra $100 million a year to divvy up amongst its roster of fighters and put to use in expanding the sport globally.
From now on there’s going to be the pre-Fox days of the UFC and the post-Fox days of the UFC. That’s how monumental this day is.