In 1993, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship was held. Semaphore Entertainment Group was the television partner, after HBO and Showtime turned it down, and it was broadcast on pay-per-view and did very well. It was marketed as the war of the worlds, a no holds barred event. For once, everyone was going to see who was the best mixed martial artist.
Although the first UFC event was a success, they were faced with a mountain of problems. The sport was too violent for politicians and athletic commissions and ended up getting banned in most of the fifty states. There were no rules, fighters could headbutt, soccer kick a downed opponent, and even strike to the groin. This led to the sport being labeled “human cockfighting,” and Direct TV PPV was their only television partner. By that time, the owners of the UFC were looking for a way out. They were being pressured to add more rules and tone down the violence. However, they believed the violence was what led to the initial success of the UFC.
Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta (Station Casinos executives) and boxing promoter Dana White approached the owners of the UFC with an offer to buy them out. A deal was made and the two brothers became the owners, while Dana White took over as the ring leader. They started to work with athletic commissions and toned down the violence. They implemented weight classes, got rid of headbutting and strikes to the groin, etc. They got licensed in most of the fifty states and the cable television networks took them back. However, it was the Ultimate Fighter reality show that launched the sport which has now become one of the fastest growing sports in the world.