It's official: UFC has been sold for $4 billion. The new owners: talent agency William Morris Endeavor-IMG, private equity firms Silver Lake and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the private investment firm of Michael Dell. It's by far the richest sale in the history of sports. What's more impressive is that the sellers, brothers/casino operators Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, bought the league for a mere $2 million in 2001. (Yes, they sold it for 2,000 times what they paid for it!) But as proof that you can't build a sports empire without a little insanity, it's worth looking back at the 10 craziest moments in this league's absurd—and ultimately lucrative—history.
Fear the Glove, November 12, 1993: UFC 1 didn’t worry about things like weight classes or attire. Bringing together fighters ranging from tiny martial artists to a sumo wrestler, its most iconic moment is likely boxer Art Jimmerson versus Brazilian mixed martial artist Royce Gracie. Struggling to adapt to the sport, Jimmerson went into the ring wearing one glove. The completely barehanded Gracie submitted him and went on to win the title.
Skills vs. Speedo, November 12, 1993/April 7, 1995: Quickly it became clear there were two paths to UFC glory: Have a ridiculous amount of combat expertise to compensate for your lack of size (like Royce and the rest of the Gracie clan) or be jacked and insist on way too small shorts (like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn). Gracie and Shamrock battled twice, with Gracie winning the first and the second an epic draw, showing success was possible whatever your wardrobe.
Learning to Play the Corporate Game, April 9, 2005: Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar’s The Ultimate Fighter bout is when everything changed for the UFC. For one, they no longer had to pay the Spike network to air the show. Which made it all the more endearing to watch how awkwardly they handled their sponsors, with UFC President Dana White urging Griffin not to ride the dirt bike he won and Griffin promising to “pawn” the watch they gave him.
Knocking Everyone Out (Including Himself), June 23, 2007: Gray Maynard is renowned for a trilogy of fights with Frankie Edgar and for knocking himself out. In fairness, he knocked out opponent Roy Emerson too, as an awesomely bizarre body slam inspires an almost philosophical conversation afterward between Maynard and announcer Joe Rogan about exactly what constitutes consciousness.
B.J.’s Taste for Blood, January 19, 2008: Having taken out Joe Stevenson, MMA icon B.J. Penn decided to savor his exceptionally bloody victory by licking his gloves. And that’s how you have a career record of 16-10-2, yet always inspire a healthy amount of respect and outright terror in the Octagon.
The Kicker, July 6, 2013/December 28, 2013: OK, much of this isn’t “wacky” so much as “horrific.” The first fight between longtime champ Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman was bizarre, as Silva inexplicably clowned around until Weidman knocked him out to give Silva his first loss in seven years. The second was somehow even stranger, as Silva went to kick Weidman’s leg, Weidman blocked it, and… the photo says it all.
Look of a Champ, November 16, 2013: Georges St-Pierre kept his title with a “win” over Johnny Hendricks in a decision his own boss said made him “sick.” After the fight St-Pierre began a retirement that has lasted nearly three years, but not before showing off a face that didn’t appear all that victorious.
No Shake for You! December 28, 2013: Miesha Tate’s second fight with Ronda Rousey went much as the first did, with Rousey winning by submission. This time, however, Rousey’s refusal to shake Tate’s hand established her as not just the biggest female fighter in MMA, but the biggest villain too. Tate now holds the title while Rousey’s career is in limbo after a devastating knockout by Holly Holm, proving even Fast and Furious stars aren’t above karma.
Lawler-MacDonald: Everything’s A-OK! July 11, 2015: The second fight between champ Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald is arguably the most exciting in UFC history, but its greatest moment came long after MacDonald finally went down in the final round, when the two damaged men bonded in the hospital, reminding us it’s all good fun. Good, incredibly brutal fun.
McGregor Steals Aldo’s Belt (Version One), March 31, 2015: Having ruled his weight class for years, perhaps it made sense José Aldo got a bit complacent with his belt. The result was an unexpectedly electrifying Dublin press conference as manic Irishman Conor McGregor swiped it from right underneath Aldo’s nose, an event that would be repeated later in the year, only this time faster since McGregor’s KO required just 13 seconds.
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