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The UFC's big bet to keep fighters fighting

The UFC's big bet to keep fighters fighting
From Engadget - November 10, 2017

The UFC started with a 1993 fight in Denver, Colorado. The idea was to pit wildly different fighters -- say, a spindly kickboxer with a 600-pound sumo wrestler -- against each other to compare styles. Once labelled "human cockfighting" by Senator John McCain, you could count the number of rules in one hand. While regulations varied from event to event, usually only the most barbaric ways of inflicting pain like biting and eye-gouging were banned.

In 2001, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta bought the UFC for $2 million and the organization started angling for mainstream legitimacy. New rules were added -- no more kicking an opponent when they are down or head butting -- as well as weight classes and time limits. The company hosted fights in Brazil, Australia and Japan, and also launched a reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. UFC events started making a steady pay-per-view profit. Last year, New York, the last state where MMA was still illegal, lifted its ban. Then, the Fertittas announced they'd sold their company for $4 billion to the Ari Emanuel- and Patrick Whitesell-led Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG.

Today, mixed martial arts (MMA) rivals boxing as the world's most popular combat sport -- 25 percent of Americans are a fan of the former, while 28 percent follow the latter, according to a recent poll by The Washington Post and UMass Lowell. Each year the UFC, MMA's biggest promoter, puts on about 40 "cards" -- the list of matchups on a fight night -- beaming them to over 150 countries. Last weekend's card at UFC 217 brought in over a million pay-per-view buys, said the UFC's president and public face Dana White. Madison Square Garden ticket sales totaled $6.1 million.

MMA's authentic brutality has long been both a key selling point and criticism. The fights are the closest most people get to gawking at skilled, nearly-anything-goes combat.

Fight cards are both soap opera and athletic contest, and injuries disrupt the narratives that build for months ahead of each fight.

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