Fronted by Kid Nate. Cross-posed at: Watchkalibrun.com
Unless you have been living under a rock this year, you would know that there is a presidential election occurring. The GOP vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin has forced some serious introspective examination within the feminist community, a community often split into four waves. This methodology works extremely well in describing the brief history of North American Mixed Martial Arts.
First Wave (1993-2000): Modern Mixed Martial Arts began on November 12th 1993 in Colorado. That’s right, it all started with UFC:1 and Royce Gracie. This period of MMA is simply put, a spectacle. The UFC was billed as (and still is), contemporary gladiatorial combat. Due to such an association the sport became cheap political fodder for John McCain and other politicians.
The UFC changed from the tournament to a more conventional pay-per view fight card format. Midway through this period the entrance of wrestlers such as Mark Coleman became prevalent. Coleman lead the way for other wrestlers such as Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Pat Militech and many more.
But the public turned away from the sport and supported the effort to ban MMA in many states. First wave MMA ends in the year 2000 with the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts penned by the New Jersey State Athletic commission. These rules would become the cornerstone of North American MMA.
Second Wave (2000-2005): After New Jersey passed the Unified Rules, Nevada was slated to quickly follow suit. However a member of the NSAC commission changed his vote at the eleventh hour, that member was Lorenzo Fertitta. Several months’ later The Fertitta brothers and Dana White purchased the UFC from SEG in 2001. Dana White took over day-to-day operations and retained many of the fighters. Over the next five years Zuffa and the UFC worked to expand the sport by primarily copying major Wrestling promotions business model. However they found little success and when compared to their chief foreign rival, Pride, the UFC appeared to be the second class organization. During this time the Randy Couture – Chuck Liddell trilogy kept the the UFC afloat.
In 2000 CBS took a chance on a reality show that was a success in Sweden. Survivor drew huge ratings and a slew of reality shows and Survivor clones followed. It wasn’t until 2005 that the UFC and Zuffa decided to attempt their own reality show to help the ailing organization. The show debuted in January 2005 and continued till April. Little did the UFC know but that had preempted a major networks own combat reality show, The Contender, by two months. Considering the lack of success The Contender and its contestants have had what made TUF different? Nothing really. Both shows had modest ratings for their perspective places on television (cable vs. network). The difference came in the finales. WhereThe Contender ended with controversy, TUF ended with a bang.
During the TUF finale fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, the ratings on Spike jumped exponentially as the two exchanged haymaker after haymaker. Instantly MMA was exposed to millions of individuals who had never seen anything like it. This event ushered in the next wave.
Third Wave (2005-2008): Aggressive expansion is the only way to describe this three-year period. The UFC held eight editions of the reality show TUF and over forty pay-per-view events, doubling the amount since 1993. The UFC wasn’t the only one expanding. MMA cropped up all over the United States. The IFL, EliteXC, Strikeforce, WEC, MMA Adrenaline, BoDog and many others appeared. Despite all the new arrivals the UFC was still the brand in North America. As the UFC grew, it bought out the only other powerful MMA organization and their chief rival, the Japanese born Pride.
The new wave of fighters that were coming through TUF some saw as protected or illegitimate. Many fans who followed the sport before TUF didn’t approve of such fighters being held above others who had paid their dues. A schism existed between the new and the old. The hardcore fans didn’t see these new fighters as legitimate as the second wave and first wave veterans. That would all change in the middle of 2008
Fourth Wave (2008-????) The end of the third wave came with the first TUF alum to win a title. Forrest Griffin’s razor slim victory over Quinton Jackson showed that the reality stars could compete and win against the old guard. This fight is analogous to Super Bowl III where the Jets beat the Colts showing the nation that the AFL could compete with the NFL.
Another upset quickly followed that first TUF victory. Rashad Evans, an alum from season two, defeated long time UFC veteran and fan favorite Chuck Liddell. The result solidified the ability of TUF fighters and the twilight of the previous generation.
Not all news has been good though. The period of aggressive expansion is over, and the UFC appears to have plateaued in popularity, at least for the moment. MMA is still banned in seven states including New York and the crown jewel of American fight venues, Madison Square Garden are still out of reach. Other MMA organizations have died or been bought out as the sport still scrapes for mainstream acceptance. One truth is that MMA schools and training facilities have spread across the country ensuring a grass roots survival even if not widely accepted as part of the sports landscape.