UFC 100 – it is a milestone few thought possible when the organization was fighting for its survival in the mid-1990s.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship was deemed too heinous for even pay-per-view and on its way to becoming but a footnote in American sports.
"I knew they were going to shut it down," said Guy Mezger, one of the early "ultimate fighters," who competed at UFC 4 and 5. "The reason that I fought in UFC 4 in the first place, I wanted to see how I would do in such a challenge because I thought they were going to shut this down, with it being a no-rules contest. And, we were right. The original Semaphore Entertainment Group held on for as long as they could, but they weren't willing to change with the times and the flow of, let's say, the politics, and they became nonexistent and Zuffa took over."
It's largely because of the change in ownership that the UFC will celebrate a seminal moment in its history on July 11 in Las Vegas with its 100th show. With the "UFC Fight Night" series added to the count, the promotion topped the century mark some time ago, but that's beside the point. UFC 100 takes on special significance because of what the organization – and the sport – has endured to get here.
"The sport had to shake its old renegade image, back in the head-butts and groin-shot days," Showtime MMA analyst Stephen Quadros, who served as a judge at UFC 8, told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "It had to clean itself up, but I've always believed in the athletes and the sport. It's already rivaling primetime sports like NASCAR and the NBA, and people know what mixed martial arts are today and what the UFC is."
It took 16 years to get to this point, and with the pace the UFC now schedules major shows, UFC 200 will arrive on a much faster timeline. So what will the UFC look like then, nine to 10 years from now? Will the promotion and MMA truly be mainstream, as much a part of the American sports lexicon as the NFL, college football or the NBA finals?
For all its strides thus far, MMA isn't there yet.
"It's not mainstream," Mezger said. "We get a lot of attention, it gets a lot of hype, but I don't think we're mainstream, mainly because you don't see GSP (Georges St. Pierre) with the multimillion dollar Nike contract, the Gatorade contract and selling Cadillacs."
The UFC's lack of a network TV deal is one of the main reasons that MMA still sits on the sporting fringe in the U.S. For hordes of casual fans, the UFC is MMA. The organization has the most recognized fighters, the biggest marketing budget and the promotional edge over its rivals. Most casual fans can't even spell Sengoku, much less articulate what it is. The UFC has a significant advantage over all competing promotions, enabling the UFC to draw more new fans to MMA than even EliteXC could with its breakthrough exposure on CBS. However, until the UFC establishes a consistent presence on national network TV, its growth will be tempered.
"I'm like the superhero coming in with the anti-bullsh*t." - Nick Diaz