MMA: Get to Know the Fastest Growing Sport in America

Derek BolenderSenior Analyst IJune 4, 2008

I was recently contacted by a fellow Bleacher Report writer named Jeffrey Klein about the sport of MMA.  Jeffrey ran across an article on the front page that I had written about an upcoming MMA fight. 

He informed me that he enjoyed the article but came away wanting to learn more about the sport of MMA. He was curious as to why the sport was getting so much attention and wanted to know why he should be interested. 

This article is the result of his request.  It is also directed towards other potential MMA fans that were subject to the recent downright awful display of MMA in the form of the EliteXC event broadcasted on CBS. 

That event was not a fair representation of the sport and gave most hardcore MMA fans a nightmare or two. 

In this article, I will start by giving you a brief MMA history and some key background information.  I will then move on to discuss some great fights and the best fighters in the world currently.

Finally, I will conclude discussing how you can learn more about the sport, and most importantly, discuss why you should love the sport of MMA.

A Brief MMA History:

MMA was introduced into the consciousness of the nation with the formation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. 

All fights took place in an eight sided octagon (still used today). The only two rules were: no biting and no eye gouging (like Pankration in ancient Greece). 

Fighters were specialized in a specific martial art.  They essentially wanted to see what would happen if a 300 pound sumo wrestler fought a 150 pound Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter.  It was bloody, brutal, and difficult to watch. 


As each UFC event passed, there was more and more backlash.  John McCain was outspoken against the sport, and many states in the United States decided to ban the “no holds barred” fighting. 

The UFC had no choice but to change their format.  This included adding weight classes, rules, time limits, equipment requirements, etc…by this time the UFC was hanging on by a thread financially.

In 2001, the UFC was purchased by Dana White and the Fertitta brothers Frank and Lorenzo and the entity Zuffa, LLC was created. Zuffa, LLC became the parent company of the UFC.  The UFC is still based in Las Vegas, NV today where the majority of their events take place.  

Over the past eight years, that management team has made the UFC what it is today by making it available on pay-per-view, securing large sponsorship deals with companies like Harley Davidson and Anheuser-Busch, purchasing other MMA organizations PRIDE and WEC to increase the talent pool of their fighters, and by using a relentless marketing strategy to sell their product.

The UFC is the king of MMA and holds the majority of the market share.  I will overwhelmingly discuss this organization above all others because they are the gold standard. 

Other current MMA organizations include DREAM, Affliction MMA, EliteXC, WEC, etc…

Additional MMA Background Info:

To be successful in MMA today, fighters need to be well rounded in each aspect of MMA.  The more well rounded the better chance a fighter has to be successful. 

Fighters use a combination of boxing, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, karate, kickboxing, etc…  These martial arts are used inside the octagon cage as the fighters go through a physical chess match with their opponent. 

Regular fights are three five minute rounds.  Championship fights are five five minute rounds.  There are also one minute resting periods in between each round. 

There are a number of ways to win a fight and also many rules that must be followed by the fighters.  To view both click here: http://www.ufc.com/index.cfm?fa=LearnUFC.Rules.

The MMA Fighters:

The UFC has five weight classes including lightweight (155 pound limit), welterweight (170), middleweight (185), light heavyweight (205), and heavyweight (265). 

In my opinion, the following are the top three fighters currently in the world in each weight class.  I have also included the MMA organization they represent in parenthesis. 

Heavyweight – 265 pounds

1) Fedor Emelianenko (Affliction MMA)

2) Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC) 

3) Randy Couture (UFC)

Light Heavyweight – 205 pounds

1) Quinton Jackson (UFC) - pictured above

2) Mauricio Rua (UFC)

3) Lyoto Machida (UFC)

Middleweight – 185 pounds

1) Anderson Silva (UFC)

2) Dan Henderson (UFC)

3) Rich Franklin (UFC)

Welterweight – 170 pounds

1) Georges St. Pierre (UFC)

2) Jon Fitch (UFC)

3) Josh Koscheck (UFC)

Lightweight – 155 pounds

1) B.J. Penn (UFC)

2) Takanori Gomi (World Victory Road)

3) Shinya Aoki (DREAM)

Anderson Silva (UFC), who I have listed as the No. 1 middleweight fighter in the world, is also widely considered the very best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. 

Silva has rattled off seven straight decisive victories over the entire upper echelon of UFC middleweights including Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt, Chris Leben, Travis Lutter, and Rich Franklin twice.

Silva is an explosive fighter who is equally as dangerous on his feet as he is on the ground.  He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.  He also has boxed professionally in the past prior to his MMA career.

UFC commentator Joe Rogan calls Silva a “ballet of violence,” due to his precision-like striking and effortless movements in the octagon. 

Chuck Liddell (UFC) and Randy Couture (UFC), in my opinion, are the most well liked MMA fighters today.  Both rose to fame along with the UFC the past few years, both are former champions, and both are beloved by millions of fans around the world.   

On the other hand, Kimbo Slice (EliteXC) is without a doubt the most hated fighter in MMA today.  He is a polarizing figure.  Judging by the level of publicity he gets, you would assume he is the best heavyweight fighter in the world.

In reality, however, he probably doesn’t crack the top 50.  To well-versed MMA fans, he is untested, unskilled, and nothing but a media and EliteXC creation.  

Great Fights in MMA History:

There are so many great fights in MMA history that it is hard to just pick a handful.  If I listed all of the best fights my list would be very long.  Here are just a handful of the best:

Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra - UFC 69 - Serra pulls off the greatest upset in UFC history to claim the UFC Welterweight Championship.

Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia - UFC 68 - Couture comes out of retirement at the age of 43 to reclaim the UFC Heavyweight Championship with a dominating performance over the 6’ 8”, 265 pound Sylvia.

Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar - TUF 1 Finale - Griffin and Bonnar go toe-to-toe for three rounds knocking each other senseless.  Some credit this fight as the reason for the immediate rise to mainstream by the UFC and the popularity of TUF series.

Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin - UFC 64 - Silva wins the UFC Middleweight Championship in only his second fight in the UFC with a dominating display of knees in the clinch.  This resulted in a broken nose for Franklin and a first round knockout for Silva over the long time champion. 

Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz II - UFC 66 - Liddell defends his UFC Light Heavyweight Title against the former champion Ortiz in one of the most anticipated rematches of all time.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Dan Henderson - PRIDE 33 - Henderson becomes the first man ever to hold belts in two separate weight classes at the same time in a major MMA organization.  Henderson uses a spinning backfist followed by a left hook to finish off Silva with a third round knockout.

How to Learn More about MMA:

Increasing your knowledge of the MMA organizations, fighters, rules, events, etc… can be done through a variety of different ways. 

1) Watch the upcoming MMA events on television.  Find out what channels broadcast the different MMA organizations, the dates and times of the events, and how much money (if any) it costs to watch. 

2) Research the fighters you will see in the upcoming events.  Find out what their strengths and weaknesses are, who they’ve won and lost to in the past, and how they’ve arrived at that particular point in their career.

3) Read Bleacher Report MMA articles.  There are many talented MMA writers on this site.

4) Watch past fights on YouTube (www.YouTube.com) and past events on DVD. 

5) Use websites like www.ufc.com, www.sherdog.com, www.mmamania.com, etc… to learn more about current news, rankings, potential fights, etc…

Why Follow MMA?:

About five years ago, I became a fan of MMA.  I happened to be at a friend’s house who had ordered a UFC event on pay-per-view.  I decided to sit down and watch and see what all the fuss was about.

What I saw that night was an exciting night of fast paced action in the octagon.  How was the fighter with a wrestling background going to be able to handle a K-1 level kick boxing striker? 

How was a fighter going to be able to be successful against an opponent who had an eight inch reach advantage?  I was nothing short of curious.

What I ended up seeing were multiple highlight reel knockouts, incredible athleticism and skill, pandemonium in the crowd, and extremely knowledgeable commentators breaking down the action.  I was officially hooked.

Since that night a learning process has taken place.  I am now constantly watching old fights, following trends, keeping up on current news, researching various martial arts, etc… 

I also find myself trying to recruit people to the world of MMA because I know how easily I fell in love with the sport. 

I encourage you to see for yourself.  It’s never too late to ride the wave of the fastest growing sport in America.