In November, 1993 the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, hosted UFC 1: The Beginning. The Arena, capable of seating 17,000, only sold 2,800 seats for the event which had a dismal 86,000 PPV purchases.
Despite poor sales and attendance, the controversial event had lucrative potential; a second tournament was scheduled to air in March, 1994.
UFC 2: No Way Out took place at the Mammoth Gardens in Denver. The Gardens with a capacity of 11,000, only sold 2,000 tickets, but PPV purchases skyrocketed to 300,000.
It was quickly picked up by major PPV distributors like Viewers Choice and TCI Cable.
UFCs 3, 4, and 5 were all mini PPV hits, and really brought the organization and sport of MMA into the spotlight. However, not all the attention it gained was posotive.
After a brief Campaign held by senator John McCain asking governors to put a stop to no-holds-barred fighting, the UFC was banned in 36 states.
They were dropped by major cable and PPV providers, and forced to hold events in states like Wyoming and Iowa, where there was very little public appeal for the sport.
However, after negotiations with state athletic commissions, the UFC revamped their product; adding rules, weight classes, and safety measures.
In 2000 the dust cleared and the controversy was mostly forgotten. Most state athletic commissions granted the UFC sanctioning and John McCain was even quoted as saying “The sport has grown up. The rules have been adopted to give its athletes better protections and to ensure fairer competition.”
Casino Moguls Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta along with boxing promoter Dana White, purchased the UFC in 2001 for $2 million, and created Zuffa, LLC as the parent company, making White the president. Shortly thereafter, the UFC returned to PPV television, just in time for UFC 33.
UFC 33, took place in September, 2001 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Zuffa had hardly capitalized on their purchase with a disappointing $816,660 gate revenue and 75,000 PPV buys; 11,000 less than UFC 1.
However, over the next few years, with the guidance of White and corporate muscle of Zuffa, PPV numbers grew and the UFC gradually brought once more, the sport of MMA into the spotlight.
In 2005 Zuffa struck a deal with Spike TV to air The Ultimate Fighter series. The show was an instant success, and Spike agreed to pick up the show. The series, which will begin it’s tenth season in September, proved to be a huge promotional success.
PPV numbers exploded. 280,000 viewers purchased the UFC 52 PPV; the first UFC event to air after season one of the contender. The event was a far cry from the PPV disaster of UFC 33.
In 2006, only a year later, the UFC set the all time PPV annual revenue record, generating over $222,766,000; Surpassing both boxing and WWE PPV revenue for that year.
Earlier this month, UFC 100 was held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. However, in sharp contrast to UFC 33 only 8 yeas ago, the event grossed $5,128,490 at the gate and set a record 1,500,000 PPV purchases.
Last year the UFC generated over $250 million, 90% of all MMA revenue. This year, that statistic is expected to take a substantial jump with the release of their video game UFC 2009 Undisputed and record high PPV numbers.
In less than a decade, Dana White and Zuffa transformed the UFC from a struggling business, experiencing financial deficits of more than $35 million only a few years ago, into a billion dollar corporation; synonymous with the entire sport of MMA.