Before the UFC existed, mixed martial arts was an underground sport that was barred in many places in the world.
However, UFC 1 in 1993 brought the sport to North America in a big way. Originally a no-holds-barred open-weight tournament where the finalists would fight three times in one night, the sport has evolved in many ways over the years.
Royce Gracie, the scrawney Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, caused three oversized opponents to tap that night, claiming the first UFC title. He did the same at the next event.
Initial criticism (most prominently from Senator John McCain) caused 36 states to ban the sport. To alleviate all the public pressure the UFC was forced to evolve and create weight classes and rules of combat that satisfied the athletic commissions.
None of it has stopped betting on UFC odds from becoming one of the most popular - and lucrative - new forms of wagering.
Today’s UFC is organized with seven weight classes and sanctioned almost everywhere it wants to put on a fight card.
In the early days the sport pitted martial artists and tough-guy competitors against each other to display one fighting discipline against another.
Jiu-jitsu, via the Gracie family, was the first dominant fighting style in the sport. No-holds-barred matches had been going on in Brazil for decades, and ground fighters like Royce Gracie helped build the sport by showing fans that technique could beat strength and size.
The next dominant fighting discipline in the UFC was wresting. Champions like Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Mark Kerr, Dan Henderson, and later Matt Hughes all used their wrestling skills to take opponents down and use a system of ground-and-pound to win fights.
Today’s UFC fighter must be trained in numerous disciplines to compete at the highest levels.
The modern era of the UFC was launched via the success of The Ultimate Fighter. The reality show displayed up-and-coming talent competing to win a six-figure UFC contact.
In the first season finals Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin had the fight of the year, bringing a huge new following to the sport.
UFC owners Zuffa LLC have been able to buy out much of their competition over the years. The Japanese Pride Fighting Championships were purchased for a reported $70 million in 2007.
In 2010 the UFC merged with the WEC to expand their divisions, and in 2011 Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, further strengthening their stable of fighters by adding all the Strikeforce talent under contract.
The newest addition to the UFC is currently in the works: Flyweights are now competing in a tournament that will crown the first 125-pound champion, expanding the organization to eight divisions.