Mixed martial arts in its current form is still a sport very much in its infancy, having only been formally established in 1993. But in its short 21-year history, the sport has seen massive growth both here in the United States and abroad. The sport’s essence, though, has been around for hundreds of years in the form of Pankration in ancient Greece, London’s Bartitsu and Brazil’s early vale tudo contests, and because it takes aspects from all styles of fighting, MMA has a universal appeal.

It is much more than appeal that has fostered MMA’s growth to this point, though. The sport has greatly benefited from the blood, sweat and tears of great athletes along the way, in addition to excellent strategic moves made by executive management and, of course, some good luck.

The sport would not be where it is today had these 10 events not taken place:

No. 10 – Ronda Rousey Signs with the UFC

It wasn’t that long ago that UFC President Dana White was saying that there would never be a women’s division in the UFC. That all changed when the UFC purchased then-rival promotion Strikeforce. Strikeforce, in addition to building the second-best promotion in the world, had done a great job of establishing two women’s divisions—the 145-pound featherweight class and the 135-pound bantamweight division.

In November 2012, Ronda Rousey, who started her career as a featherweight before dropping to bantamweight and capturing the Strikeforce championship, became the first female fighter to sign with the UFC. Given her status as the reigning Strikeforce champ, she was immediately crowned the UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Rousey solidified the title in her first defense at UFC 157 in February 2013 when she submitted Liz Carmouche in the first round via her patented armbar.

No. 9 – UFC 100

On July 11, 2009, the UFC hit a major milestone with UFC 100. Although this was not the promotion’s 100th event—the promotion had also hosted many Fight Nights—it was the promotion’s 100th marquee event, and all of the stops were pulled out to make it memorable. The card featured two title fights, a TUF coaches’ fight and more big names than we have seen on a card since.

Everything came together for the UFC during this event. The fans came out in droves to view it, too, and it landed over 1.5 million pay-per-view buys. UFC 100 is now the benchmark by which all other marquee MMA events are judged.

No. 8 – Fedor Emelianenko Loses

Before Anderson Silva ruled the UFC middleweight division with an iron fist and before Jon Jones was even old enough to drive, Fedor Emelianenko ruled the MMA landscape. After suffering a controversial loss due to a cut in December 2000, Emelianenko rattled off 27 wins and one no-contest in 28 bouts while beating a who’s who of MMA legends in the process, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Mark Hunt.

In a sport where most anything can happen, there was but one constant: Emelianenko was going to win. That all changed on June 26, 2010, when Emelianenko faced submission specialist Fabricio Werdum. Early in the first round, Werdum baited Emelianenko into his guard and, shortly thereafter, he locked in a triangle that forced Emelianenko to tap.

No. 7 – Pride FC 1

On October 11, 1997, Japan, through Pride FC, embarked into the world of MMA promotion. It was glorious. Japanese culture quickly embraced MMA, and instantly Pride had a larger fan base and deeper pockets than its North American rival, the UFC. Pride was able to attract many of the sport’s biggest stars because the organization offered more lucrative contracts and the endorsement opportunities in Japan were far more plentiful.

Pride FC cards were truly events with all the pageantry of pro wrestling and the skills of martial art masters from around the world. Pride set the standard for production, and it forced the UFC to quickly grow and evolve to keep pace.

No. 6 – The UFC Buys Pride

Pride was a truly great promotion, and its events will always be remembered by MMA fans worldwide. But in 2007, Pride’s parent company, Dream Stage Entertainment, sold the promotion to Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC.

Initially, Zuffa brass claimed the plan was to keep Pride alive and running as a separate entity, but that never came to fruition. Instead, the UFC signed and integrated most of Pride’s former stars into the company and created the greatest promotion the world has ever seen. Before the purchase of Pride, the UFC was neck and neck with Pride as far as talent goes. Once the deal was done, however, the UFC became the undisputed champion of MMA promotions.

No. 5 – The UFC Partners with Fox

Fox was not the first major network to dip its toes into the MMA pond, but it was the first to do so with the world’s premier MMA promotion, the UFC. The UFC had long been shopping for a network deal that would bring the sport to the masses, but the promotion wanted to maintain production control, and that proved to be a major stumbling block over the years.

The UFC’s deal with Fox has opened the door to the mainstream public. Now all the UFC has to do is deliver great fights. The deal is still very young, but, outside of its most recent showing, the numbers have been good. As the UFC fine tunes its product for network television, things will only get better.

No. 4 – The Ultimate Fighter

Prior to the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC was $40 million in the hole. The company was hemorrhaging money at that point, and it needed something big to turn things around. What better way to capture the attention of the masses than a reality show? The problem was no network was willing to take the investment risk of producing a show centered on a fringe sport like MMA. So, the UFC took the burden on alone and shelled out the money to cover all of the production costs for the first season.

Spike TV aired the first episode on January 17, 2005, and it was an instant hit. The first season culminated in the sport’s first-ever free live MMA broadcast that featured the epic TUF light heavyweight final between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. That fight subsequently catapulted the UFC and the sport of MMA to where it is today.

No. 3 – The Unified Rules of MMA

Prior to the development of the Unified Rules of MMA, the UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole in the United States were struggling to gain acceptance as a true sporting event. The UFC was desperately trying to shake the stigma of being referred to as “human cockfighting.” There was a time that it seemed likely MMA would be outlawed.

In April 2001, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board held a meeting to set a standard for MMA regulation. With the help of several other regulatory bodies and various MMA promoters, including the UFC, a uniform set of rules was developed to govern the burgeoning sport. This set of rules saved the sport from extinction and opened the door for nationwide sanctioning.

No. 2 – Zuffa Purchases the UFC

In 2000, the UFC was dying. Years of battling for sanctioning had drained SEG’s resources, and the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Dana White was managing fighters at the time and heard that the UFC was on the market. White approached the Fertitta brothers, and less than a month later, in January 2001, Zuffa owned the UFC.

As a former commissioner for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Lorenzo Fertitta was able to quickly pave the way for the company to secure sanctioning in Nevada, and the UFC was back up and running. Although there have been plenty of struggles along the way, Zuffa has provided the financial stability and oversight to break down barriers and succeed.

No. 1 – UFC 1

On November 12, 1993, at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, modern MMA was born. What started off as a “style vs. style” competition to see what martial art was best has now morphed and evolved into a style all its own, combining bits and pieces from every hand-to-hand combat discipline.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship was only supposed to be a one-time event, but yet from it a whole new sporting event was created.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.