As we approach Ultimate Fighting Championship's twentieth anniversary next month, it seems an appropriate time to look back on the storied history of the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) organization.
Perhaps just as intriguing as charting UFC's rise from a taboo, vulgarian start-up -- categorized by many at the time as purveyors of "human cockfighting" -- into the mainstream promotional juggernaut it is today, is an examination of what could have been.
For all of UFC's blockbuster successes over the years, there have been numerous missed opportunities along the way. These have stemmed from myriad causes: irreconcilable differences between ZUFFA managment and talent, unfavorable timing, injuries, and occasional instances of butter-fingered promotional ball-dropping on UFC's part.
Then again, for humanities' sake, it may be for the best that one didn't happen. A victory by the philistine pro wrestler would likely have led to a rash of suicides among thousands of devout fanboys who begin each day by prostrating themselves before their copies of the PRIDE: Shockwave 2004 and PRIDE: Final Conflict 2005 DVDs they use as makeshift shrines to the "Last Emperor."
Speaking of Lesnar, what if UFC's undisputed pay-per-view (PPV) king hadn't had his athletic prime cut short due to a gastrointestinal disorder that made it impossible for him to train at a championship level?
All of these hypothetical questions represent some serious money left on the table, but they all pale in comparison to an idea so revolutionary, a concept so amazing, that if UFC had implemented it lo those 20 years ago, the company would have assuredly been drawing blockbuster PPV numbers from the get-go.
Read this account from UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie and weep, fans of privately held companies one has no financial stake in making as much money as humanly possible (via Fighter's Only):
We thought of a moat with alligators. We thought of an arena with sharks around. We seriously thought about an electric fence. But we couldn't in case one guy pushed the other into the moat and he'd get chewed up. We laughed at it, but in Hollywood your mind travels and we just thought of every different possibility... Eventually I settled on the Octagon.
The mind truly reels at the possibilities.
Sick of fighters clinching up against the cage? 2,000 volts of electricity flowing through that mo' fo ought to take away any temptation grappling-centric fighters have to wall and stall their opponents on the fence.
Scores of martial arts aficionados nationwide may have flocked to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) classes after the svelte Royce Gracie subbed the much larger Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau at UFC 1, but imagine if he had slapped a rear naked choke on a great white and gotten the beast to tap its pectoral fin on the canvas? We're talking Gracie Jiu Jitsu being a required subject for grades 2 in public schools across the nation, people.
As if that isn't enough, 10 seconds spent conjuring up the mental image of ring announcer Bruce Buffer clad in a full suit of armor and reciting the phrase, "Three judges scoring the bout at moat-side are..." before each fight will surely convince you the incipient UFC's decision to house its No Holds Barred (NHB) contests in an octagonal cage instead of an electrified hog-pen, surrounded by an aquatic ditch filled with carnivorous animals, was one of histories' most regrettable missed opportunities.
Oh, well. I guess UFC brass will just have to content themselves with running a multi-billion dollar company that is far and away the industry leader in MMA.
Somehow I'm sure they'll manage.