The UFC has been around since the 90s, back when their contests were dubbed “human cockfighting” by U.S. politicians.
Under the guidance of Dana White and the Fertitta Brothers, the promotion evolved with rules, weight classes, athletic commission oversight, and all the things a legitimate combat sports promotion needs.
A deal with Spike TV soon followed, as the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 1 pulled in more than enough ratings to secure the promotion’s future. Forest Griffin’s clash with Stephan Bonnar was a display of heart and will from two kind, funny, and skilled athletes slugging it out for a contract with the promotion.
The reality show had introduced the public to these athletes, portraying them as normal people rather than thugs or savages. Griffin won the bout, but UFC president Dana White was so impressed, he gave both men contracts.
The controlled spectacle of combat and sportsmanship put the promotion on the map. Now with sponsorships and corporate partnerships, the UFC has become a phenomenon.
One thing that set the promotion apart from team sports was that rival promotions could arise. Smaller promotions like Elite XC and World Extreme Cage Fighting enjoyed some success before folding, with the UFC snatching up most of their best fighters and putting together a decade’s worth of memorable clashes.
UFC programming, which used to premiere exclusively on a network targeted at young adult males, has now gained enough steam to be featured on mainstream sports television. Both ESPN and Fox now feature MMA, though the UFC gets most of the spotlight. There are a few rival promotions in the works, but none with the resources to match – or the stringent rules to maintain.
The UFC is now owned by WME, a talent agency that provides resources for entertainers and athletes across all platforms. With this move has come even more mainstream involvement, more super fights, and a higher level of drug testing.
Some have argued the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has testing procedures which are too stringent. While the private organization does handle drug testing for the Olympics, other mainstream sports are not subject to such stringent procedures.
Since USADA came along, multiple former champions have tested positive. Most recently, UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones tested positive for Turinabol after his UFC 214 win over Daniel Cormier.
Bellator MMA currently runs on Spike TV, the UFC’s old stomping ground. With many claiming USADA’s procedures are excessive when compared to those in other sports, Bellator could be able to gain ground as the clear frontrunner in the MMA world.
Bellator has the familiar UFC style, featuring insider interviews, highlight shows, and reality programming. Constant suspensions and cancellations make being a UFC fan risky these days. What Bellator lacks in resources, it makes up for in flexibility. It might not take the number one spot, but it could see more success.
Bellator’s last major card featured former UFC title contender Chael Sonnen vs. UFC and PRIDE legend Wanderlei Silva. Drug testing was handled by the state athletic commission, a methodology the UFC previously employed.
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