10 Best MMA Promotions of All Time
Fans tune into MMA for the fighters, but somebody has to let those fans know about the events and bring them in to generate interest in the competitors.
That role is obviously filled by the promoters. Some have been more successful than others, with a select few promotions being considered major organizations and others having trouble staying afloat more than a couple years.
While Elite XC and International Fight League received plenty of attention, promotions like them didn't last long. Lesser-known companies have had more success by simply being good feeder leagues for the UFC, Bellator MMA and others.
Here are the 10 best MMA promotions in MMA history.
Years of Operation: 4.5
Events Held: 21
Most Notable Fighters: Gegard Mousasi, Bibiano Fernandes, Shinya Aoki
It was built to be a Pride FC reincarnation. While Japan-based Dream didn't come near reaching that lofty goal, it was a solid MMA promotion for several years (2008-12).
Dream was never the top organization in the world, and it probably didn't ever sniff second. However, Dream kept MMA rolling in Japan while the UFC prepared to make a push in Asia.
Strikeforce champions Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi won titles inside the Dream ring. Also, Bibiano Fernandes and Shinya Aoki strengthened their strong resumes under the Dream banner.
9. Cage Rage Championships
Years of Operation: 6
Events Held: 43
Most Notable Fighters: Anderson Silva, Paul Daley, Michael Bisping
For whatever reason, European MMA promotions have had trouble breaking through over the years.
Today, BAMMA, Cage Warriors and Poland's KSW are attempting to change that trend. However, none of them have come as close as Cage Rage Championships did before closing its doors in 2008.
Based in the United Kingdom, Cage Rage hosted fights featuring eventual UFC champion Anderson Silva, Paul Daley and Michael Bisping. All three were champions with the organization, which was also home to Brad Pickett, Chris Lytle and many others.
8. King of the Cage
Years of Operation: 14.5
Events Held: 349
Most Notable Fighters: Urijah Faber, Joe Stevenson, Diego Sanchez
Before Urijah Faber left to join the WEC roster, King of the Cage was more than a regional promotion. Still, it remains the most established proving ground for prospects in the United States.
In addition to Faber, KOTC gave us UFC title challengers Joe Stevenson and Diego Sanchez. More recently, Daniel Cormier, Bobby Green and Tim Means developed into champions under the KOTC banner before graduating to bigger promotions.
At UFC 173, Cormier wasn't the only main card fighter to have KOTC ties. Welterweight contenders Robbie Lawler and Jake Ellenberger both stepped into the KOTC cage years ago.
Years of Operation: 20.5
Events Held: 285
Most Notable Fighters: Bas Rutten, Josh Barnett, Ken Shamrock
Pancrase goes way back, but it is still around as a Japanese MMA organization in one form or another.
At one time, Pancrase was home to some of the best fighters in MMA. Bas Rutten, Josh Barnett and Ken Shamrock were all openweight champions with the promotion, which has also been home to Frank Shamrock, Nate Marquardt and many others.
Nowadays, Pancrase is not producing many high-level competitors. However, the organization will always be a noteworthy piece in MMA history.
Years of Operation: 25
Events Held: 396
Most Notable Fighters: Anderson Silva, Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki
It's been a quarter-century since Shooto held its first event, but the organization is still plugging away.
While the promotion hasn't had a big American TV deal, it has found a way to develop Japanese and Brazilian talent as well as any company around. MMA legends Anderson Silva and Takanori Gomi were both Shooto champions earlier in their careers. Shinya Aoki, Jake Shields and many other recognizable fighters also wore Shooto gold.
Shooto continues to fly under the radar and doesn't appear to intend on challenging the bigger MMA organizations any time soon, but it will likely harvest solid prospects for many more years.
5. Bellator MMA
Years of Operation: 5
Events Held: 118
Most Notable Fighters: Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, Ben Askren
Once Strikeforce was purchased by the UFC and folded into the top promotion in MMA, Bellator MMA was left standing as the next biggest organization around. Bellator MMA wasn't immediately equipped to challenge the UFC and its market share, but it is quickly developing into a strong second option.
Former UFC champions Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz are bringing eyeballs to a less heralded, but very talented Bellator MMA roster. Eddie Alvarez is considered one of the best lightweights in the world, and he tops a strong 155-pound division that also includes Michael Chandler and Will Brooks.
Alexander Shlemenko has been dominant in the middleweight division since Hector Lombard departed and became a UFC contender. Also, 135-pound champion Eduardo Dantas is making a strong case that he is one of the better bantamweights in MMA.
Years of Operation: 15.5
Events Held: 64
Most Notable Fighters: Gilbert Melendez, Nick Diaz, Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino
When Pride FC became no more, Strikeforce emerged as the main competitor to the biggest MMA promotion in the world. The UFC owned a more noticeable lead over Strikeforce than it did when Pride FC was around.
Still, Strikeforce had some very strong divisions. Most notably, the promotion's heavyweight and female divisions were arguably the deepest in MMA. The Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix didn't work out how the organization would have liked, but it was still one of the more entertaining events MMA has seen, and Strikeforce's women's bantamweight division ultimately produced UFC star Ronda Rousey.
Gilbert Melendez and Nick Diaz didn't have enough competition in their divisions, but the dominant champions added some serious value to Strikeforce before the company was purchased by the UFC and folded in January 2013.
3. World Extreme Cagefighting
Years of Operation: 9.5
Events Held: 53
Most Notable Fighters: Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber
For years, World Extreme Cagefighting did some of the lighter weight classes better than anybody.
While the UFC was having difficulty getting its lightweight division going, WEC was having much success with a 145-pound class headed by Urijah Faber. In Miguel Torres, WEC also owned one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in MMA for a short period.
Although it was absorbed by the UFC in December 2010, WEC lives on through current UFC champions Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo and Demetrious Johnson. Many top UFC contenders are also WEC products.
2. Pride Fighting Championships
Years of Operation: 9.5
Events Held: 69
Most Notable Fighters: Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson
Outside the next promotion to be named, Pride Fighting Championships is the only organization that can argue it was the primary home to the greatest fighter in MMA history.
Although Anderson Silva did fight under the Pride FC banner, I am obviously referring to Fedor Emelianenko. The Last Emperor defended his Pride FC title three times, beating other legends such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic inside the Japanese promotion's ring.
Pride FC was eventually purchased by and merged with the final organization on this list in 2007, but it had quite a run over nearly a decade and was considered by many to be the top promotion in MMA at times.
1. Ultimate Fighting Championship
Years of Operation: 20.5
Events Held: 274
Most Notable Fighters: Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been the world leader in MMA for many years. It has grown to the point that some even call the promotion a monopoly.
When an organization becomes as big as the UFC has, it will have some detractors. However, MMA would not be where it is today without the company created by Campbell McLaren, Art Davie, Rorion Gracie and Bob Meyrowitz in November 1993.
Now under the supervision of Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White, the UFC is nearly to MMA what the NFL is to football. The organization has promoted the best ever, Silva, and has been home to almost all the greats to have competed in MMA over the years.