Mixed martial arts has exploded into mainstream America over the past decade. This intricate evolution of the sport has been elevated to monumental peaks by the influence and workings of a few pivotal pieces.
Showcasing a variety of combat sport disciplines, including boxing, kickboxing, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the sport's largest promotion and is now synonymous with the term MMA.
Available to millions of fight fans worldwide, the UFC hosts spectacular fight venues in a multitude of countries, including England, Germany, Japan, Australia, Dubai, Canada and the United States, just to name a few.
The growth of the sport has resulted in a syndicated reality television show, The Ultimate Fighter, video games for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo and fighters gracing the front covers of global magazines, including Sports Illustrated and Men's Health, as well as multimillion-dollar agreements with network television, including Versus and most recently Fox.
This foundation for growth and subsequent explosion has been the result of the hard work, dedication, devotion and commitment to the sport of many people.
Those who have sacrificed and given their all to the UFC can be proud of their efforts. These dedicated individuals have aided in the sport's global presence.
Of these diligent individuals, five key people have served as the most influential figures in the UFC today.
Thank you to these five, as well as the thousands who have provided us fans with endless hours of enjoyment and awe-inspiring moments.
Whether a pundit scrutinizes Greg Jackson's fight strategy and his sometimes conservative approach inside the Octagon is irrelevant. Jackson Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, New Mexico obtains results.
According to Sherdog.com, 81 percent of those competitors who train with Jackson are victorious.
These victorious fighters who train with Jackson Submission Fighting include current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, current welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, heavyweight competitor Shane Carwin and current No. 1 contender for the welterweight title Carlos Condit, just to name a few.
Jackson and his philosophy inside the cage are indisputable; the man is a wizard with respect to fight strategy and properly prepares each and every practitioner for success inside the Octagon.
With Greg Jackson and his impact on the sport of mixed martial arts, the stable of fighters who train at Jackson Submission Fighting have achieved all-time highs and have catapulted the sport of MMA and the UFC to a new level of success and mainstream popularity.
UFC light heavyweight veteran and former champion "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz is more than just a fighter; he is a crossover public figure representing the sport like no other competitor.
Ortiz parlayed his success inside the Octagon into the creation of the Punishment Athletic line in 1999. Branding his company on the foundation of ultimate fighting, outside of TapouT, no other clothing line has paralleled the success of the UFC like Punishment Athletics.
Ortiz's business savvy and creativity in his apparel spoke to the fans of the UFC and embodied the spirit of the fight game as well as the attitude of the millions of supporters.
With revenue ranging from $500,000 to $1 million annually, Punishment Athletics is not the most successful apparel line affiliated with mixed martial arts.
However, even without the high-grossing income, Ortiz and his company opened the door for the multitude of apparel lines to follow, including Affliction, One More Round, Jaco and many more.
Fight fans will always want their specific brand of clothing. Punishment Athletics and, more importantly, Tito Ortiz were among the first to provide these fans with a specific identity that is separate from the other sports promotions in this country.
Hall of Fame fighters Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture placed the UFC and the entire sport on their backs and elevated MMA to newfound heights during the turn of the century.
Because of their legwork and charisma, Liddell and Couture opened the door of mass appeal for the next generation of MMA superstars.
Current UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre walked through that door and has not looked back.
Eliminating the debate regarding St-Pierre's fighting style, what is without question is the worldwide popularity and mass marketing that GSP provides.
Athletic, physically attractive, charismatic and approachable, St-Pierre serves as the first crossover figure within the sport to garner Fortune 500 fame and sponsorship.
Reaching an agreement with the hugely popular apparel line Under Armour, GSP is the only fighter to share advertisement placement with athletes of the big four sports.
“I see him [Georges St. Pierre] representing the brand across the board,” said Under Armour senior vice president Steve Battista. “I think he’s got an appeal that transcends mixed martial arts. I think he represents a whole new style of training and, really, whole new mentality about his sport.”
Just as Liddell and Couture opened the advertising door for St-Pierre to walk through, GSP has now pioneered the next level in global presence, enabling the next generation to benefit from his stardom.
I can see "The All-American" Brian Stann in a promotional sponsorship with the American-made backbone of the motorcycle industry, Harley-Davidson. This future is possible for Stann because of St-Pierre.
Georges St-Pierre serves as the new face of the UFC. His talents, athleticism and charm appeal to millions of fans worldwide and his impact on the sport will be felt for decades to come.
The last two influential figures in the UFC today could easily be interchangeable. Their impact on and proliferation of the sport have been monumental over the years.
UFC president Dana White is like no other president in any sport. His brash, arrogant, speak-his-mind approach does not follow the typical reserved, politically correct mindset taken by other sports promotions' presidents.
White's attitude towards the growth of the UFC is similar to that of Mark Cuban's growth of the Dallas Mavericks. With a championship banner now hanging in the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, White's steadfast commitment to his business model is destined for greatness, just as Cuban's was.
White's vision began in 2001 with the purchase of the Ultimate Fighting Championship by the Fertitta brothers, who created Zuffa LLC and placed White in charge of everyday operations.
Faced with the prospect of folding, the UFC stepped outside the bounds of pay-per-view and made a transition into television.
After being featured in a reality television series, American Casino, and seeing how well the series worked as a promotional vehicle, the Fertitta brothers developed the idea of the UFC having its own reality series.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) was born, and mainstream America would witness the rise and growth of future MMA superstars every week on Spike TV.
Because of the proliferation of TUF, pay-per-view numbers exploded in the United States, and the sport itself became mainstream.
Adding to the UFC growth was the purchase of Pride Fighting Championship, the WEC, Strikeforce and now the marriage with Fox.
Controlling every facet of this growth and having a firm grasp on the reins of the UFC and its rise in popularity has been Dana White.
Without White, the sport would not have reached the level it has today, and the UFC would not be synonymous with ultimate fighting.
In less than a decade, White has built the UFC from a rival brand with a net worth of $2 million to the sole king of the castle within mixed martial arts drawing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue yearly.
There is no end in sight in terms of the popularity of the UFC, and White can be proud of his work and efforts to enable this massive growth.
Helio Gracie is the mastermind behind Gracie jiu-jitsu.
Father to famed son and UFC Hall of Fame competitor Royce Gracie, Helio developed what fight fans and worldwide MMA practitioners refer to as Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Jiu-jitsu teaches that "a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant by using leverage and proper technique—most notably by applying joint locks and choke holds to defeat the other person."
Jiu-jitsu revolutionized ultimate fighting. Until Royce Gracie arrived inside the Octagon and transcended the sport with his brilliantly executed holds, mixed martial arts was a clear separation between stand-up strikers and wrestlers.
The ground game, as jiu-jitsu is now commonly referred to as, was nothing more than a ground-and-pound attack or a control scenario by a wrestler when the sport first began.
The application of BJJ allowed for amazing submissions to take place, turning the tide in a fight instantly.
Without Helio Gracie and his Gracie jiu-jitsu, Anderson Silva would have never learned the triangle choke to submit Chael Sonnen. Nor would Frank Mir have executed the armbar that snapped Tim Sylvia's forearm in their matchup. Additionally, any and all bouts that have ended by rear-naked choke would not have occurred.
The sport of jiu-jitsu is commonplace within the training of all competitors. However, without the forward thinking and creativity of Helio Gracie, this entire facet of the fight game would not exist.
We would still be watching strikers versus grapplers, and the ground game would be nonexistent.
Helio and his entire family have revolutionized the sport of MMA, and the introduction of jiu-jitsu is why the Gracie family is the most influential presence within the UFC today.
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