The Ultimate Fighting Championship features fighters in various divisions and classes competing in a unique mixed martial arts style inside a cage, nicknamed "The Octagon." The league faced much criticism and controversy when it first premiered in the early 1990s. With changes to its standards and regulations, it has become one of the most popular fighting leagues in existence.
With the exception of a few foul maneuvers, everything goes in a UFC match, making for one of the rawest and most exciting bouts in all of professional fighting.
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The concept for a tournament to discover the world's best fighting style was the brainchild of Art Davie, a southern California-based advertising executive. Davie met Rorion Gracie in 1991 while researching martial arts for a marketing client. Gracie operated a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school in Torrance, California and the Gracie family had a long history of vale-tudo matches precursor of mixed martial arts in Brazil. Davie became Gracie's student.
In 1992, inspired by the Gracies in Action video series produced by the Gracies featuring various martial arts masters being defeated using Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Davie proposed an eight-man, single-elimination tournament with a working title of War of the Worlds to Rorion Gracie and John Milius. The tournament would feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no holds barred combat to see which martial art was truly the best which replicated the excitement of the matches Davie saw on those videos. Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to be the event's creative director. Davie drafted the business plan and twenty-eight investors contributed the initial capital to start WOW Promotions with the intent to develop the tournament into a television franchise.
In 1993, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached pay-per-view producers TVKO (HBO), SET (Showtime) and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both TVKO and SET declined, but SEG a pioneer in pay-per-view television which had produced such off-beat events as a mixed-gender tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova became WOW's partner in May 1993. SEG contacted video and film art director Jason Cusson to design the trademarked "Octagon", a signature piece for the event. Cusson remained the Production Designer through UFC 27. SEG devised the name for the show as The Ultimate Fighting Championship. The two companies produced the first event at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Davie functioned as the show's booker and matchmaker. The television broadcast featured two kickboxers, Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier; a savate fighter, Gerard Gordeau; a karate expert, Zane Frazier; a shootfighter, Ken Shamrock; a shoot wrestler, Teila Tuli; a professional boxer, Art Jimmerson; and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Royce Gracie Rorion's younger brother who was hand-picked by Rorion himself to represent his family. The show was an instant success, drawing 86,592 television subscribers on pay-per-view to witness Royce Gracie take the first UFC crown. In April 1995, following UFC 5 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Davie and Gracie sold their interest in the franchise to SEG and disbanded WOW Promotions. Davie continued with SEG as the show's booker and matchmaker, as well as the commissioner of Ultimate Fighting, until December 1997.
A core proposition for the show was to find an answer for sports fans: "Can a wrestler beat a boxer. As was the case with most martial arts at the time, fighters were typically skilled in just one discipline (e.g., boxing, judo, or jujutsu) and had little experience against opponents with different skills.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 180 lb. fighter Royce Gracie and wrestler Dan Severn. With no weight classes, fighters often faced significantly larger or taller opponents. For example, Keith "The Giant Killer" Hackney faced Emmanuel Yarborough at UFC 3 with a 9 in (22 cm) height and 400 lb (180 kg) weight disadvantage. Many martial artists believed that technique could overcome these size disadvantages, and that a skilled fighter could use an opponent's size and strength against him; with the 170 lb (77 kg/12 st) Royce Gracie winning three of the first four UFC events, the UFC quickly proved that size does not always determine outcome.