A Beginner's Guide to MMA

This comprehensive guide to the UFC and mixed martial arts goes through everything you need to know about the pinnacle of combat sports. Click or tap on the headings to expand a section's information and use the menu on the right (at the top on mobile) to navigate between different topics.

The UFC's Beginning

The UFC held their first event back in 1993 in a small arena in Denver. Rorian Gracie, a member of the Gracie family famous for developing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wanted to prove that his family's martial art was the most effective form of self-defense in the world.

 

A grappling martial art, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (or BJJ) utilizes leverage and physical vulnerabilities to allow smaller people to neutralize larger foes, and the Gracie family had already improved on and adapted their style over the years by challenging other martial artists (such as karate black belts, wrestlers, etc) in their own gyms to fights.

 

Rorian, along with his partners Art Davie and Bob Meyrowitz, created the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a means to prove BJJ's martial arts superiority - a one-night tournament that could be viewed on pay-per-view which pitted eight men of various martial arts backgrounds against each other, with the winner earning himself a $50,000 grand prize. 

 

There were next to no rules back then - this was pure no-holds-barred fighting. The two rules they did have were no biting and no eye gouging; everything else was permitted. Fighters were free to use any techniques they wished, and the bout would only be stopped if the ref saw a fighter knocked out cold, someone submitted ("tapped" out), or their corner threw in the towel.

 

There was no time limit, no gloves (although gloves were permitted if a fighter wanted to wear them), no weight limits, and no way out once the cage door closed other than getting knocked out or quitting. 

 

To emphasize the effectiveness of their martial art, the Gracie family had Royce Gracie represent them in the tournament - a roughly 170 pound, scrawny, unimposing and unathletic individual that was also a black belt in his family's martial art.

 

The tournament featured a professional world top-10 ranked boxer, a high level collegiate wrestler, a pro kickboxer, and even a pro sumo wrestler. The fights took place in the Octagon, an eight-sided fenced enclosure that was really just meant to keep the fighters in the ring without having the issues a boxing ring presented (being trapped in a corner, falling out of the ring or being tangled in the ropes), and also played up the violent nature of the event.

 

Royce Gracie, the smallest and least imposing individual in the field, easily took out his competition and won the tournament to the shock of many, introducing the world outside of Brazil to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the effectiveness of submission grappling. Gracie forced men outweighing him by vast amounts to tap out in pain or fear, effectively providing the best commercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu imaginable.

The incredible spectacle immediately found a following and was a massive success on pay-per-view and later home video, paving the way for subsequent tournaments. Royce went on to win the next tournament as well, and at UFC 3, he defeated his first opponent before being forced to withdraw due to exhaustion. He then also won UFC 4 before taking time off from the sport.

The Rise of MMA

As the UFC continued to stage events in the mid- to late-90's, they slowly added rules as they went (usually after mishaps or problems in the cage). Some of these changes included adding time limits, obvious rules like not allowing groin strikes and banning people from throwing their opponent over the cage (one fighter literally tried to do that).

 

As people started to learn what worked and what didn't in real fights from the traditional martial arts such as kung fu, karate, wrestling, and boxing, fighters began to start training in multiple disciplines to defend themselves in unfamiliar positions and add to their arsenal, as well as discarding things from traditional martial arts that didn't work in a real fight (some martial arts proved to be next to useless against resisting opposition, like kung fu for example).

Back then, bouts were often just referred to as "UFC fights" or "no-holds-barred" matches. Soon, since having people fight multiple times in one night was difficult (as you can imagine, injuries often occurred in bouts forcing fighters to withdraw from their next matchups, or they were just so fatigued they had little left for subsequent fights), the UFC started to adopt more of a boxing model, with fighters having one fight in an event and the UFC advertising them as "superfights", though they would often still hold tournaments as well.

 

The UFC also started adding weight classes, realizing that if fighters are similarly skilled, the bigger one has a huge advantage. As it started to gain steam and become more popular, the UFC heavily played up the violence factor and even claimed in promotional materials that it was a fight to the death; while it was effective advertising at first, it came back to bite them in the ass pretty quickly.

Initially, politicians like John McCain and media outlets lambasted the UFC, labelling it as "human cock-fighting" and barbaric while campaigning to have the sport banned in each state. The negative press actually drove up interest, but soon enough that turned into disaster as more and more states banned the UFC and later even pay-per-view providers refused to air it, relegating the UFC to small providers and VHS releases that severely impacted their revenue. 

 

After more rule changes and legal issues, the government finally became involved to regulate the sport instead of banning it, much like they do in boxing. Boxing had been unregulated in the past, but as things such as cheating (loaded gloves especially), not having doctors at events and other issues contributed to multiple deaths, the government eventually stepped in and regulated boxing, forcing promoters and boxers to adhere to a set of rules to ensure safety and fairness.

 

Over time, UFC fights became regulated by state athletic commissions (where the sport was allowed), and the phrase "mixed martial arts" was coined to describe the sport; thus MMA as we know it today was born.

Rules continued to be added and protocols put in place to ensure safety, and slowly MMA fights morphed into what we see today - professional athletes competing in a regulated and relatively safe sport. Even in the wild west of the 90's where almost everything was allowed, major MMA promotions like the UFC never once had a death or life-threatening injury occur in the cage.

 

Nowadays, fighters must complete pre-fight medicals and brain scans prior to competing, doctors are always present cageside, there are many rules to prevent serious injuries, and fighters get medically suspended from competing for a certain period after a bout so that they have to allow themselves time to recover before competing again (which is particularly important in regards to brain trauma).

Despite the advancements in regulation, the years of negative press and legal battles had put the UFC's owners in debt and the business was nearly dead. Bob Meyrowitz eventually sold the UFC in 2001 for $2 million to Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, owners of Station Casinos which were centred in Nevada.

 

Their friend Dana White, who had convinced them to buy the company for its potential, was named president (he was a manager of fighters at the time, and is still the president of the UFC to this day) and at first, they were bleeding money just like the previous owners. At one point Zuffa (the company the Fertittas created that ran the UFC) was around $50 million in debt and the Fertittas considered pulling the plug.

 

However, as a last ditch effort to turn the company around in 2005, they launched The Ultimate Fighter - a reality TV series which featured real fights and cast the athletes of the sport in a new light. The show took off and ushered in a new era of the UFC, which quickly turned MMA into the fastest growing sport in the world.

 

Zuffa would later sell the UFC to investment groups and WME-IMG (a talent and management company, they represent tons of actors and athletes) for over $4 billion in 2017.

UFC Event/Card Setup

UFC events all have a similar setup, but it can get confusing for new viewers. Essentially, they all have three components - "early" prelims, prelims, and the main card. Each is broken down below.

 

Every event falls into one of two categories: a numbered Pay-Per-View (PPV) event, where the main portion of the event is behind a paywall (currently $65 US in HD), or free events where the entire event is shown on TV (currently on ESPN/ESPN+ in the US, or TSN/Fight Pass in Canada).

The Main Card (either televised or on PPV)


The UFC typically holds 12-13 Pay-Per-View events a year, roughly one every month. Every PPV has 5 fights on it, lasts roughly 2-3 hours, and is numbered (UFC 1, 2, 3, etc.). The UFC also holds many more televised cards every year, and those range from 4-6 fights on the main card.

 

The top fight of the night, which is the one most heavily promoted and the one "everyone wants to see", is called the Main Event. The fight second from the top, and is often heavily promoted as well, is called the Co-Main event.

The Prelims (televised or on ESPN+/Fight Pass)


Every UFC event in recent years will have four or six bouts on the prelimary card, which lasts for two or three hours and serves as a lead-in to the main card. They usually use these fights to promote the main draws later that night, or to get people to buy the main card if it's a PPV event. Essentially, the top draws and top fighters are on the main card, while up-and-comers, prospects, or the middle-of-the-pack guys are on the prelims.

Early Prelims (on ESPN+ or Fight Pass)


These are for the hardcore fans - often they'll feature newcomers to the UFC, which can mean anything from them being the future of the sport to them being regional-tier fighters that aren't going to last long in the big show.

 

Fight Pass (or ESPN+ in the US) shows these so there are no commercials, which is definitely a bonus. Since they are on a subscription service, the UFC will sometimes put a really good bout (that could be on the main card, or at least a featured bout on the televised prelims) on the early prelims as well.

 

Most UFC cards have between 11-13 fights, so depending on the event, Fight Pass/ESPN+ will typically show 2-4 bouts on the early prelims.

Fighter Pay

Here are the basics: every professional fighter makes a set amount of money for stepping in to the cage and fighting, called their show money. Typically, they'll also be given a win bonus, which is exactly what it says it is, and is often for the the same amount as their show money. A fighter's total paycheck is called a purse (the term comes from boxing, so blame them for the girly-sounding name).

 

So for instance, Fighter A fights on Saturday in the UFC. He makes $10,000 to fight. if he wins, he makes another $10,000, for a total purse of $20,000. They also make some sponsorship money, which comes from the fighters wearing Reebok branded items (shorts, walkout shirts before they enter the cage, etc), which ranges based on how many fights they've had in the UFC, from $3500 to $40,000. So the very minimum a fighter would make in the UFC today would be $13,500 ($10k to show, $3500 in Reebok sponsorship money). Pay increases as someone has more fights, has a bigger name in the sport (especially if they came from another promotion as a champion or big-name prospect), or keeps performing well.

Other organizations follow this pay structure as well, though without the sponsorship payment, instead allowing fighters to have their own sponsors on their shorts, banners before the fight starts, etc. to supplement their pay (which can be lucrative for popular fighters). Signing bonuses are also sometimes offered to fighters signing with a new promotion or signing an extension/new contract.

 

Fighters on Pay-Per-View may also be eligible to receive PPV bonuses, where if the PPV sells over a certain amount, they'll earn a certain dollar amount per buy. That's generally reserved for champions or people with high-profile names (former champs, stars, etc).

 

While some of the pay might seem high for one night's work, a typical fight camp (involving their coaches, sparring partners, nutritionists, etc) lasts for 6-10 weeks and most fighters only compete 2-3 times a year, sometimes less due to injuries. Injuries more often than not occur during training camps rather than fights; often fighters will be forced to pull out of a bout before it happens, meaning they don't get paid at all and may have already spent months preparing for a fight when they got injured.

 

You also lose part of your purse if you miss weight - weight cutting, which is talked about more later in this guide, is an issue and if a fighter misses their contractually agreed upon weight, the opposing fighter may decide not to compete against them. Typically, if a fighter misses weight, 20-30% of their purse goes to their opponent to incentivize them to still take the fight against a potentially bigger opponent, though higher amounts have been taken from repeat or egregious offenders.

The UFC also awards performance bonuses for each and every event (this is specific to the UFC; other promotions typically don’t do this in any combat sport) - at the end of the night, the UFC picks 4 fighters to receive $50,000 bonuses:


Fight of the Night: The best fight of the night; both fighters get $50,000.
Performances of the Night: Two fighters who had the best showing that night get the bonus; typically awarded to the most impressive finishes of the night.

 

Sometimes if there's a lot of really good finishes and a fight doesn't stand out above the rest, they'll award four performance bonuses and not pick a Fight of the Night.

Hierarchy

Just like in most sports, there is a ranking system in place, but given the relatively few fights each athlete partakes in any given year (typically between one and three bouts) and how much a fighter's style factors into results, these are incredibly subjective. There is no effective point-based system in place to evaluate fighters, and so much of MMA's rankings are dependent on subjective evaluations of a fighter's results and quality of opposition.

 

The UFC posts top 15 rankings in each weight class that are voted on by journalists and pundits (a remarkably small and limited pool that regularly posts bizaare rankings) that get updated after every event. The top spot is automatically filled by the champion of that weight class. Other MMA publications and websites publish their own rankings which include fighters in every organization.

 

In a more practical sense, the prize every fighter is looking for is a world championship belt, which belongs to the best fighter in each weight class. Because of MMA's promotional system, each promotion has their own championship belts, though generally the UFC's champions are regarded as the undisputed #1 fighters in each weight class. Think of a UFC belt as the SuperBowl of MMA, while other promotion's belts are regarded as a Grey Cup or something similar.

That isn't to say that all of the best fighters compete in the UFC however - there are plenty of fighters in organizations like Bellator that would do well and could even potentially earn titles in the UFC (as we've seen in the past), there simply isn't any other organization with the depth of talent on its roster that the UFC has.

 

To focus on the UFC for simplicity, after the champion you have the top contender in that weight class - this could be someone that has run through other top opponents en route to a title shot, a former champion that just lost their title to the new champ, or even someone who has lost to the current champ multiple times but beats everyone else in their way. 

 

The next few spots are also contenders, and sometimes there is no clear top contender, but rather several fighters that each can make their case as to why they are the top fighter in the division besides the champion. Typically champions will have to defend their belt against one of the top few contenders, but given that MMA is business-driven, that isn't always the case. 

 

As you move down the rankings, you'll come across a variety of different kinds of fighters - prospects developing their skills as they move up the rankings, journeymen who hover around a certain spot in the rankings for extended periods, breakout fighters that quickly find themselves in a high ranking after a big upset or surprising streak, former champions that pass their prime and slowly drop in the rankings, etc. 

 

You'll regularly see broadcasts (whether it's the UFC, Bellator, or otherwise) talk about rankings and the UFC even adds a fighter's numbered ranking to their graphics - while it should give you an idea of where the fighter fits in terms of skill, note that because of how subjective rankings are (and how flawed the rankings promotions use are) it really doesn't have much bearing on how a fight plays out. 

 

Another thing to note is "pound-for-pound" rankings. These are even more subjective, and were essentially created by the boxing media decades ago in an attempt to describe the skill level of Sugar Ray Robinson compared to larger fighters.

 

Essentially pound-for-pound rankings are a subjective ranking that posits a simple question - "if all the fighters were the same size, who is the best?". Pound-for-pound lists focus on skillset and accomplishments, but exact criteria vary by person and it's impossible to measure or prove. 

Some other terms you'll likely hear in MMA:


GOAT: Greatest Of All Time. This term gets thrown around a lot, but is often hyperbole. There are multiple fighters who can claim to be the GOAT at the moment, and there is no real consensus view on who the "GOAT" in MMA is. 


Journeyman: essentially someone who's in the middle of the pack and has a lot of experience, who can regularly beat lower competition but doesn't ever break through to the top level. Journeymen often have fought for many different promotions and are solid tests for an up and coming fighter.


Gatekeeper: This is a term used for someone who is near the top, and will beat most anyone ranked below them, but can't quite match the top few guys (or girls) in the world. If someone can beat a gatekeeper for the division, they essentially passed the test and are one of those elite few in the top of the division that are contenders for the title - if they lose, they either aren't that caliber or still have things to work on to make it to that next level.


Tomato Can/Can/Bum: A term used by fans to describe fighters that "suck". Often a "can" is someone with a mediocre record that's put against stiff competition in order to make the better fighter look good. The UFC doesn't have many of these or at least not for long as they get cut, but other promotions typically have quite a few - often a promoter will throw a "can" in with a promising prospect or a popular fighter in need of a win just to make their fighter look good. Fighters that make their name from fighting these kinds of fighters and padding their records are sometimes referred to as "can-crushers". 

Training Camps

Though fighting is an individual sport, training camps in MMA typically consist of a team of fighters or aspiring fighters, with multiple coaches (usually a head coach that oversees the program as a whole, and separate coaches for BJJ, wrestling, and striking) as well as a strength and conditioning program.

 

MMA fighters tend to train in the disciplines separately throughout the week, along with having mixed sessions to bring together those disciplines and implement those elements into their overall game.

 

Fight camps are typically geared toward the fighter’s upcoming opponent (seeking to exploit weaknesses or improve areas where they think the opponent will be strong in) and the more successful a fighter is, the more individual attention they’ll receive from the coaches and staff.

 

Some of the top fighters who can afford it will copy boxing’s more specific training model and bring in coaches and a team specifically to focus on them, with hand-picked sparring partners flown out and everyone on the team focusing just on getting that specific fighter ready, rather than the team-based style most gyms operate on. Given the costs involved, that’s reserved only for those that can afford such a luxury - Georges St. Pierre, Brock Lesnar, and Conor McGregor are all examples of fighters who have done this for their fight camps in MMA, and in boxing it’s very common for elite fighters.

 

For the majority however, fighters will often start out at a smaller local MMA gym, then as their career progresses they’ll relocate to one of the top gyms to get more advanced and experienced coaching and sparring partners. Some fighters start off training at one of these camps however, often coming from another background with accolades (such as collegiate wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions) either initially to coach fighters in their specific discipline or to transition into MMA themselves.

 

Fighters will also sometimes change camps if they feel they need to change things up or that their progress has stagnated (often as a result of a losing streak). Sometimes this can create tension, whether it be because a new fighter in the same weight class was getting more attention (it can become dramatic) or if they start blaming coaches or staff for their performances or talking bad about teammates/coaches in the media (sometimes rightly, sometimes not so much). 

 

Some of the top gyms in MMA that you’ll surely hear mentioned after watching a couple of UFC events, along with a few of their most notable fighters in the UFC (these are just a few, there are many others):

 

Alliance MMA San Diego, CA

Dominick Cruz, Alex Gustafsson, Jeremy Stephens

 

American Kickboxing Academy San Jose, CA

Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Khabib Nurmagomedov

 

American Top Team Coconut Creek, FL

Jorge Masvidal, Yoel Romero, Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jędrzejczyk

 

Jackson-Wink MMA Albuquerque, NM

Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, Alistair Overeem, Holly Holm

 

Kings MMA Huntington Beach, CA

Fabricio Werdum, Lyoto Machida, Shogun Rua, Rafael Dos Anjos

 

Nova União Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jose Aldo, Renan Barao

 

Roufusport Milwaukee, WI

Anthony Pettis, Sergio Pettis, Paul Felder

 

SBG Ireland Dublin, Ireland

Conor McGregor, Gunnar Nelson

 

Serra-Longo Fight Team Long Island, NY

Chris Weidman, Al Iaquinta, Aljamain Sterling

 

Team Alpha Male Sacramento, CA

Cody Garbrandt, Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez

 

Tristar Montreal, QC

Georges St. Pierre, Rory MacDonald

A common misconception about fighters is that they fight all the time. In reality, most MMA fighters only compete 2-3 times a year. There are many reasons for this, but it mostly revolves around injuries and allowing the body to rest after getting into top physical condition for a fight. 

Training camps for fighters tend to be between 2-3 months, although most modern successful fighters train year-round and stay in shape even when they aren't actively training for a specific fight. 

 

When a fighter is first starting out, they tend to begin their career with a lot of fights in a short period - so long as they aren’t hurt or losing fights, after years of training prior to competing they’ll look to gain experience and fight time in short order. At the lowest levels pay is also very low (many start out making less than a thousand bucks for a fight) so fighters need to compete a lot in order to survive if they don't have a regular job at the same time.

 

In the early days of the sport, fighters would often train for bouts by having full-on fights in the gym and would even knock each other out regularly. As time went on, smarter approaches to training have been implemented and generally, though hard sparring is still needed, damaging head shots are avoided by most teams in order to protect the fighters and their long-term health.

Injuries however are still frequent given the gruelling nature of training camps, with knee and shoulder injuries being the most common reasons fighters are forced out of signed matchups. As such, recovery and rest have become vital areas of focus for many major camps, utilizing technology such as cryotherapy and biometric monitoring to help athletes recover and prevent injuries as much as possible.

Important UFC Programming

Besides the live events, the UFC's programming has seen several highly influential series over the years and lots of content for new fans and hardcore fans alike.

UFC Fight Pass

Essentially Netflix for fight fans. Fight Pass has every UFC fight ever put on available on demand to stream on pretty much any device. For $10 a month (or $100 a year), you get access to the exclusive Fight Pass prelims for every UFC card, the entire UFC library (all UFC fights are added for replay, however for PPV events, the PPV fights are added one month after the PPV date), as well as exclusive events streamed live.

 

Subscriptions also include a wealth of original UFC programming like weekly talk shows, sit-down interviews, documentaries, past seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, and Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series.

 

In the US, most of the UFC programming and fights are available on ESPN+ (which is only $5 a month) but for international fans, Fight Pass is still unbeatable. In Canada for instance, many of the UFC's fights are shown live on TSN, but early prelims and certain international cards are only available through Fight Pass.

 

In addition to the dearth of UFC content, many smaller promotions have deals with the UFC to show their events live on Fight Pass, such as Invicta (an all-female promotion that always puts on good cards) and LFA. All combat sports are showcased on the service though, not just MMA - kickboxing (including Glory, the premier kickboxing promotion at the moment), Muay Thai, boxing, submission grappling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and even Lethwei (similar to Muay Thai but with the inclusion of head butts and no gloves) events are shown live and available for replay on the service. There is quite literally several live events on the service for any given week.

 

For new fans, it's an essential service to check out, and for hardcore combat sports fans the plethora of live fights and ridiculously large back catalog is unbeatable. Fight Pass also gives you access to the entire library of fights and programming from other organizations that the UFC has purchased, including PRIDE FC, which had hundreds of fights and put on some legendary events and had some incredible fighters, StrikeForce, Affliction, EliteXC, Pancrase, and more.

The Ultimate Fighter

The Ultimate Fighter TV series was a hail mary attempt to save the floundering UFC in the mid-2000's. Their idea - take the basic concept of a reality show but instead of taking everyday people or celebrities, the show would feature legitimate MMA fighters. Not only that, but those fighters would compete and actually fight for real in a tournament, with the winner earning a lucrative contract with the UFC.

 

For the first season eight fighters in two weight classes (light heavyweight/205 pounds, and middleweight/185 pounds, 16 fighters total) would compete in two tournaments to determine who is the "Ultimate Fighter" in each class.

 

These fighters were prospects and up-and-coming talent from the regional scene (many of whom were on the UFC's radar already). Instead of simply signing them, the UFC had them compete on the show for a chance at a six-figure (which was a lot for an MMA fighter back then) contract with the UFC, on top of a car and some other gifts from sponsors. 

 

The 16 fighters were placed in a large house in Vegas for 6 weeks and had no contact with the outside world - no TV, no internet, no phones, no loved ones. The fighters got to train in a special UFC gym made for the show, with two of the best fighters in the world serving as coaches along with their elite coaching staff. The fighters would fight each other in two 8-man tournaments, with the two finalists in each weight class determined at the end of the show.

 

Then, months later after the weekly series was aired on TV, there would be a live UFC card that would feature the two final matchups, as well as a main event featuring established UFC stars. A week later, the two coaches of the season would fight each other on PPV, using the show as a brilliant promotional campaign. It was an ambitious, risky, and costly gamble for the UFC, who after pitching the series to multiple networks, had to finance the show themselves in order to get it aired. 

 

The show offered a unique look at the characters and mindsets of fighters, who had never been exposed in such fashion to the world before, and combined with the lack of outside communication and distractions like TV, made for various hijinks and entertainment along with some great fights.

 

The historic first season aired on Spike and pulled in impressive numbers, but it was the live Finale event which really caused a stir. At the time, fights being televised for free was pretty much unheard of; even boxing matches were on PPV, or at the very least on paid subscriptions like ESPN, not basic cable.

 

During the final bout of the light heavyweight tournament, the best fight in MMA history (at the time) occurred between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin, who slugged it out for 15 minutes and received a massive standing ovation from the crowd. Viewership surged during the bout as word of mouth spread; the fight was so good, president Dana White gave both fighters the 6-figure contract despite Griffin being declared the winner.

 

The Ultimate Fighter was immediately greenlit for another season and would produce 28 seasons over the next 13 years before declining viewership led the series to die off. Various changes were made to the show's format and tournaments over the years, and the series has helped kickstart many fighter's careers and turned many cast members into UFC stars and household names, including much of that first season's revered cast. 

 

Several UFC champions got their start in the Ultimate Fighter house, and several foreign-language versions were produced to cultivate talent and kickstart interest in the sport in other regions, such as TUF: Brazil, TUF: Latin America, and TUF: China.

 

Unfortunately, the formula was eventually exhausted and when the UFC began its latest broadcast partnership with ESPN, the declining series was put on the shelf and essentially replaced with Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series.

 

It was still a great show in its time and for new fans, it's a great way to get into the sport and see the human side of the fighters.

Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series

Started as a pet project by UFC president Dana White, the first season of the contender series debuted in 2017 on UFC Fight Pass, with the top regional talent fighting in the UFC's gym for a spot on the UFC's roster. Every Tuesday night during a season, 10 fighters face off in hopes of not only winning their bout, but impressing Dana White and the UFC's matchmakers in the process

 

The fights are streamed live on Fight Pass and it showcases some of the top prospects and rising talent in MMA, with Dana White awarding the most impressive performance(s) each week with a UFC contract. Basically, a fighter needs to not just win in the contender series, but to win impressively, as five fights occur every week and only the best performances will earn a contract. The added incentive and added publicity the fighters receive ensures the fighters look to finish the fight and to win emphatically, leading to events filled with excitement and violence. 

 

The events have almost invariably been great, and being exclusively on Fight Pass with no commercials, the event is extremely well produced with a brisk pace. Often multiple contracts are awarded each week as there are plenty of awesome performances to choose from, and already several fighters from the show have made waves in the UFC since their performances on the series.

The response to the series has been overwhelmingly positive and it has essentially become the new vehicle for cultivating new UFC talent, replacing The Ultimate Fighter. A Brazilian version of the series was also created.


Dana White's Looking for a Fight

This show has been around for several "seasons" but is released very sporadically, with episodes only popping up once in a while (understandably as UFC president Dana White's schedule is nuts).

 

Basically, Looking for a Fight follows the trio of Dana White, Matt Serra (former UFC welterweight champion from Brooklyn, he owns one of the greatest upsets in UFC history with his knockout of GSP) and Din Thomas (another former UFC fighter, now a top coach at one of the best MMA gyms, American Top Team) as they visit different cities throughout the States, sampling local restaurants and tourism spots before watching a regional MMA event.

 

Typically, Dana White will have a few guys fighting on the regional event on his radar thanks to UFC matchmakers, and should they perform well, he sometimes offers them a contract to fight in the UFC (or, more recently, a spot on the Tuesday Night Contender Series). Although you'll sometimes see some highlights from interesting talent before they debut in the UFC, the show is more focused on the comedic aspect of the show's characters as Matt Serra and Din Thomas are hilarious, and Dana often gets them to do really silly or weird stuff for the show (such as making them perform stand-up comedy at a club, join a metal band on stage, ride a bull, etc).

 

It's a fun show to watch regardless of whether you're a big MMA fan or not, and it's available on Youtube for free as well.

UFC Embedded

Embedded is a slickly produced series that the UFC has released for every pay-per-view event in the last few years. The short 5-10 minute episodes follow fighters on the upcoming card during fight week and are released thoughout the week of the PPV event, following the top fighters on the card from the last few days of their training right up until the weigh-ins the day before the event.

For fans that want to get a glimpse into what fighters do during the last few days before a big fight it's a great watch and highlights the personalities of the athletes as well as showing some behind-the-scenes footage and insights into the events. The series is entirely free on Youtube and episodes are released throughout the week of every PPV event.

General Timeline

A lot has happened in the quarter century in which the sport of mixed martial arts has been around - thousands of fighters have stepped into Octagons, rings, differently-shaped cages, and even pits with raised padded walls to compete under various rules in the crazy sport that is MMA.

 

Although now it’s (mostly) treated as a regular sport in much the same way boxing is and has (for the most part) well understood rules and regulations, that hasn’t always been the case, nor has the UFC always been the raging success that it has been for the last 15 years.

 

In this abbreviated, high-level timeline of MMA’s history, you’ll find a quick overview of the sport’s development and its flagship promotion's evolution over the years.

1993

The UFC is founded by Rorian Gracie, Art Davie, and Bob Meyrowitz, with the inaugural UFC tournament taking place in Denver Colorado on November 11. Touting a one-night last-man-standing bracket with a $50,000 winner-takes-all grand prize, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Royce Gracie claimed victory by defeating three opponents that night. Only 2 rules were present - no biting and no eye gouging.

 

1995

Time limits were implemented, followed by the addition of judges to declare a winner of a bout should a match reach that time limit.

 

1996

In a campaign spearheaded by US Senator John McCain, major cable providers in the US banished the UFC from their platforms, leaving their events supported only by small providers and VHS releases. The ban majorly impacted the UFC's pay-per-view business model.

 

1997

The UFC implemented weight classes for the first time; one for fighters over 200 pounds, and one for fighters under. The UFC’s first heavyweight championship title was created shortly after at UFC 12, which Mark Coleman won by defeating Dan Severn via submission.

Padded gloves (near identical to those used today) became required in the UFC.

PRIDE FC, which would become the UFC’s biggest and most successful rival, debuted in Japan.

The UFC implemented various new rules, including a ban on headbutts, groin strikes, hair pulling, strikes to the back of the head/neck, and knees/kicks to a downed opponent.

 

1998

Jeff Blatnick, a former Olympic Gold Medalist wrestler, coined the term “Mixed Martial Arts” to describe the sport, which had been commonly known as "Vale Tudo" or no-holds-barred fighting in the past.

The UFC moved away from its one-night tournament format to a more traditional, boxing-style event format.

 

1999

The UFC implemented rounds for the first time, with main card bouts 3 and championship fights 5 x five-minute rounds, (preliminary bouts were just 2 rounds) and implemented boxing’s 10-point must scoring system for judging. The winner of the round was to be determined based on effective striking, grappling, octagon control and aggressiveness.

 

2000

PRIDE held its first ever Grand Prix tournament, similar to kickboxing's K-1 World Grand Prix annual tournaments which were immensely popular in Japan.

New Jersey became the first state to regulate mixed martial arts, with UFC 28 being the first UFC event ever sanctioned by a governing body. Weight classes were revised into more modern forms.

 

2001

Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta purchased the struggling UFC brand from Semaphore Entertainment Group (Bob Meyrowitz's company) for $2 million at the behest of their longtime friend Dana White. Zuffa LLC is formed and served as the UFC's parent company, with Dana White named president of the UFC.

Weight classes were further revised to meet the current standards for lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight.

Nevada (whose athletic commission was regarded as the premier authority at the time) sanctioned MMA events for the first time.

 

2003 

Chuck Liddell, top UFC contender and close friend of Dana White, went to PRIDE to compete in their 2003 PRIDE Middleweight (under 199 pounds in Japan) Grand Prix - Liddell lost in the semi-finals.

Zuffa created the UFC Hall of Fame.

 

2005

The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's last ditch attempt to save the struggling company, debuted on Spike TV in the US.

After a massively successful season, The Ultimate Fighter’s live finale aired live on Spike TV, the first UFC event to be broadcast live and free on cable television.

A second season of The Ultimate Fighter aired later that year, and the UFC started hosting “fight night” events regularly on Spike TV.

 

2006 

Media coverage of PRIDE in Japan turned to its deep links to the Yakuza, severely impacting their business dealings which forced a major cable network in Japan to drop PRIDE’s contract.

PRIDE staged an event on US soil for the first time in the promotion's history.

Zuffa LLC. acquired the World Fighting Alliance, a smaller regional promotion that had several stars in the sport under contract.

Zuffa LLC. acquired the WEC, a popular regional promotion. The UFC absorbed many of the fighters in its higher weight classes and continued to run the WEC as a separate entity to showcase fighters in lighter weight classes.

UFC 66: Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz II, broke the million-buy pay-per-view barrier for the first time in UFC history.

 

2007

Zuffa LLC. acquired PRIDE and all of its assets in a deal reportedly worth roughly $70 million US. The intent was to continue running PRIDE as a separate entity, but issues with the Yakuza and Japanese business forced Zuffa to shutter the organization and absorb much of its roster into the UFC.

 

2009

The first modern UFC videogame, UFC Undisputed 2009 debuted on consoles to massive success.

The historic UFC 100 event took place on July 11, breaking previous pay-per-view records and ushering in a new era of success for the company.

 

2010

The WEC held its first (and only) pay-per-view event on April 24, which sold well above expectations.

The WEC merged with the UFC at the end of the year, absorbing many of its lightweights and adding the WEC’s bantamweight and featherweight divisions to the UFC stable.

 

2011

Zuffa LLC. acquired StrikeForce, a major promotion in the US that aired on ShowTime - the company continued to host their events as usual and remained largely unchanged by the new owners.

UFC signed a new television deal with Fox, ending their partnership with Spike TV at the end of 2011.

The UFC held its first event on a major cable network. UFC on Fox 1 was held on November 12 as a special event prior to the official start of the UFC's Fox partnership, with just a single fight airing on Fox for the one-hour broadcast. The hour set an MMA record with 5.7 million viewers in the US, peaking at 8.8 million viewers during Junior Dos Santos' surprise 64-second knockout of Cain Velasquez. 

 

2012

The UFC's partnership with Fox officially began.

The Ultimate Fighter Brazil aired on Brazilian cable network Globo TV, the first of many international seasons of the flagship show.

The UFC added the flyweight division to its roster.

The UFC announced that StrikeForce will merge with the UFC at the start of 2013, with the UFC absorbing much of the StrikeForce roster and the women’s bantamweight division would also be added to its stable.

 

2013

The first women’s bout in UFC history took place, with StrikeForce champion Ronda Rousey (who was promoted to become the inaugural UFC women's bantamweight champion) defeating Liz Carmouche by first round armbar.

UFC Fight Pass was launched, a subscription-based streaming service featuring the UFC's (and purchased company's) entire catalogues along with live prelims and events.

 

2014

The UFC added an additional women’s weight class, strawweight, to its stable. The new weight class was featured on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, with the winner of the show (Carla Esparza) being crowned the inaugural women’s strawweight champion during the show's live finale. 

 

2015

The UFC began their partnership with USADA in order to combat performance enhancing drugs in the sport. USADA is an anti-doping drug testing agency which oversaw and implemented random drug testing for all athletes on the UFC roster beginning on July 1. 

The UFC began their partnership with Reebok, banning fighter's own sponsors from being worn. The UFC and Reebok created a series of “uniforms” for the fighters to wear during events.

 

2016

New York finally ended its near 20-year ban on MMA, becoming the last state to legalize MMA in the US. The Speaker of the House in the New York Assembly had previously vetoed bringing a resolution to legalize MMA in the state to a vote on multiple occasions, but was removed from office after corruption charges from an unrelated case were brought against him.

The UFC and all of its assets were officially sold to a group of investors led by talent agency WME-IMG for over $4 billion US, the biggest sports acquisition in history at the time. Dana White remained with the company to continue serving as UFC president.

UFC 202: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II, broke the previous UFC pay-per-view record set at UFC 100.

The UFC’s first event in New York City, UFC 205, featured Conor McGregor becoming the first concurrent multi-division champion in UFC history as he knocked out Eddie Alvarez to become the UFC lightweight champion (in addition to holding the title at featherweight).

 

2017

The UFC added the women’s featherweight division to its stable.

Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series debuted on UFC Fight Pass and became an immediate hit, essentially replacing the stagnant The Ultimate Fighter series.

UFC champion Conor McGregor participated in one of the biggest events in combat sports history in a crossover boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. The pay-per-view event earned over 4 million pay-per-view buys in North America.

The UFC added the women’s flyweight division to its stable, again using a season of The Ultimate Fighter to crown its inaugural champion, much like the strawweight division.

 

2018

Conor McGregor returned to MMA to face rival Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, losing in lopsided fashion before Khabib hopped over the cage and initiated a brawl in the crowd with Conor’s corner. The event broke 2 million pay-per-view buys for the first time in UFC history, with an estimated 2.2 million buys.

The UFC announced a new television deal with ESPN in the US, ending their 7-year partnership with Fox at the end of the year.

 

2019

The UFC on ESPN deal officially began.

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