Lets go back and look at the history of Mixed Martial Arts and how it all began. Art Davie proposed to John Milius and Rorion Gracie an eight-man single-elimination tournament called “War of the Worlds”. The tournament was inspired by the Gracies in Action video-series produced by the Gracie family of Brazil which featured Gracie jiu-jitsu students defeating martial-arts masters of various disciplines such as karate, kung fu, and kickboxing. The tournament would also feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no-holds-barred combat to determine the best martial art and would aim to replicate the excitement of the matches Davie saw on the videos. Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to act as the event’s creative director. Davie drafted the business plan and twenty-eight investors contributed the initial capital to start WOW Promotions with the intent to develop the tournament into a television franchise.
In 1993, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached pay-per-view producers TVKO (HBO), SET (Showtime), and Campbell McLaren at the Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both TVKO and SET declined, but SEG – a pioneer in pay-per-view television which had produced such offbeat events as a gender versus gender tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova – became WOW’s partner in May 1993. SEG contacted video and film art director Jason Cusson to design the trademarked “Octagon”, a signature piece for the event. Cusson remained the Production Designer through UFC 27. SEG devised the name for the show as The Ultimate Fighting Championship.
WOW Promotions and SEG produced the first event, later called UFC 1, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Art Davie functioned as the show’s booker and matchmaker. The show proposed to find an answer for sports fans’ questions such as: “Can a wrestler beat a boxer?” As with most martial arts at the time, fighters typically had skills in just one discipline and had little experience against opponents with different skills. The television broadcast featured kickboxers Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier, savate fighter Gerard Gordeau, karate expert Zane Frazier, shootfighter Ken Shamrock, sumo wrestler Teila Tuli, boxer Art Jimmerson, and 175 lb (79 kg) Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Royce Gracie—younger brother of UFC co-founder Rorion, whom Rorion handpicked to represent his family in the competition. Royce Gracie’s submission skills proved the most effective in the inaugural tournament, earning him the first ever UFC tournament championship after submitting Jimmerson, Shamrock, and Gordeau in succession. The show proved extremely successful with 86,592 television subscribers on pay-per-view.
It’s disputed whether the promoters intended for the event to become a precursor to a series of future events. “That show was only supposed to be a one-off”, eventual UFC president Dana White said. “It did so well on pay-per-view they decided to do another, and another. Never in a million years did these guys think they were creating a sport.” Art Davie, in his 2014 book Is This Legal?, an account of the creation of the first UFC event, disputes the perception that the UFC was seen by WOW Promotions and SEG as a one-off, since SEG offered a five-year joint development deal to WOW. He says, “Clearly, both Campbell and Meyrowitz shared my unwavering belief that War of the Worlds[note 1] would be a continuing series of fighting tournaments—a franchise, rather than a one-night stand.” With no weight classes, fighters often faced significantly larger or taller opponents. Keith “The Giant Killer” Hackney faced Emmanuel Yarbrough at UFC 3 with a 9 in (23 cm) height and 400 pounds (180 kg) weight disadvantage. Many martial artists believed that technique could overcome these size disadvantages, and that a skilled fighter could use an opponent’s size and strength against him. With the 175 lb (79 kg) Royce Gracie winning three of the first four events, the UFC quickly proved that size does not always determine the outcome of the fight.
With increased visibility, the UFC’s pay-per-view buy numbers exploded. UFC 52, the first event after the first season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring eventual-UFC Hall of Famer Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell avenging his defeat to fellow eventual-Hall of Famer Randy Couture, drew a pay-per-view audience of 300,000, doubling its previous benchmark of 150,000 set at UFC 40. Following the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC’s much-hyped match between Liddell and Couture drew an estimated 410,000 pay-per-view buys at UFC 57.