Mixed martial arts 101
Breaking down the different MMA organizations
Posted: Friday July 6, 2007 12:25PM; Updated: Friday July 6, 2007 4:52PM
Casual MMA fans would be surprised to know just how many promotions run MMA events worldwide. Here is a primer on the many mixed martial arts organizations that run fight cards.
The most well-known fighting entity in the United States, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is synonymous with mixed martial arts to many. Founded in 1993, the company was first built as a blood sport to settle which fighting discipline was the strongest. Over time, it evolved into more of a sport with stricter rules, weight classes and judges. The promotion was successful on pay-per-view in the mid '90s, but the way the events were promoted led to a backlash. UFC was banned in many states and lost most of its pay-per-view clearance.
In 2001, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the company and used their connections to gain greater pay-per-view clearance. The company ran its biggest events in Las Vegas and gained greater mainstream popularity with The Ultimate Fighter television show on Spike TV. In 2006 its pay-per-view buy rates exploded. The company broke its all time pay-per-view record on five separate occasions last year. The promotion is now a global phenomenon and is expanding its operations to run events in many new markets. Many of the sport's biggest stars including Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture and Matt Hughes fight for UFC.
While UFC is the most well-known fighting organization among American fans, it is the Pride Fighting Championships promotion that has had the greatest long-term success. Founded in 1997, it was initially built around Japanese pro wrestler Nobuhiko Takada taking on Brazilian jiujitsu legend Rickson Gracie. Takada was never the fighter his pro wrestling fans thought he was, and the promotion had financial problems.
Those problems went away with the rise of a charismatic Japanese fighter who could back up his popularity in the ring. Kazushi Sakuraba became Pride's greatest star by carrying the mantle for Japanese pro wrestling against the Gracie family. Sakuraba scored wins over four members of the Gracie family, including a famous 90-minute win over the legendary Royce Gracie.
Pride's calling card became its Grand Prix tournaments, which featured star-studded lineups of elite fighters. The promotion regularly sold out the Saitama Super Arena and was a successful entity on Japanese television. Recently, however, the promotion was brought to its knees by scandal. Allegations that Pride's ownership group was affiliated with the yakuza -- Japanese mob -- cost Pride its highly valued television deal in Japan.
Unable to secure another outlet, Pride piled up losses and was forced to sell to the Fertittas (of UFC) earlier this year. The future of Pride remains in doubt with new ownership. Many of Pride's best fighters are being brought to the UFC.