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UFC

20 Years of UFC: The belts, deals and people that got us from UFC 100 to today

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UFC president Dana White with Anthony Pettis, current UFC lightweight champion.
Nick Coletsos

The UFC takes its time with nostalgia trips. This weekend’s UFC 167, dubbed the 20th anniversary card, marks the first time since UFC 100 in 2009 that the promotion has paused to honor its past. The ground covered between the two celebratory events makes up roughly a quarter of the UFC’s history, and it’s been full of change and growth. To look back, we’ve picked 10 of the organization’s most important moments from UFC 100 through UFC 167, which takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena November 16.

Brendan Schaub misses a right hand on Roy Nelson during the main event of the Ultimate Fighter Championship Saturday night at the Palms. Nelson won the fight and the six-figure contract with the UFC.

The Kimbo Experiment

September 30, 2009

The question after UFC 100 was how the company could sustain its momentum and attract new viewers. The UFC found a unique answer in backyard brawler Kimbo Slice, who appeared in the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.

Slice didn’t last long, getting knocked out by local veteran Roy Nelson in the first round of the tournament, but his appearance shattered ratings records. Nelson went on to win the competition and has registered six knockouts in the octagon over the past four years.

The End of the WEC

December 16, 2010

The UFC gave a not-so-subtle hint at expansion efforts by announcing it would fold sister-promotion WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) and merge the fighters into its own roster starting in 2011.

That included two new weight classes for the UFC, featherweight and bantamweight, and a budding set of lightweights to add to an already deep division. WEC 53 in Phoenix doubled as a going-away and coming-out party, and the promotion signed off with one of the best cards in MMA history, including current UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis beating Benson Henderson for the first of two times with a running kick off the cage.

“No one else does the things this kid can do,” UFC President Dana White gushes about Pettis. “The way I’m looking at this is, we’re celebrating the past with the 20th anniversary weekend but also looking ahead. And he’s the future.”

Bones’ Belt

March 19, 2011

Speaking of the future, 26-year-old Jon “Bones” Jones looks like one fighter who will carry the UFC for years to come. He’s unanimously the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world after winning seven straight light heavyweight championship bouts with five of them by stoppage. Jones’ reign started when he silenced cries that he got a title shot too young by brutalizing and eventually knocking out Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey, when Jones was just 23.

Fox Fighting

August 18, 2011

Junior dos Santos, right, of Brazil, fights Cain Velasquez in the UFC mixed martial arts heavyweight title bout Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Anaheim, Calif. Dos Santos won by knockout in the first round.

Junior dos Santos, right, of Brazil, fights Cain Velasquez in the UFC mixed martial arts heavyweight title bout Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Anaheim, Calif. Dos Santos won by knockout in the first round.

White often reminisces about the days when the UFC couldn’t even get on pay-per-view, so it was surreal to see the fight company prez sitting onstage in LA alongside Fox executives announcing a partnership to bring the UFC to network television.

“There’s been a lot of big milestones we’ve had over the last 10 years in building this company and growing this sport,” White said at the time. “But I have to be totally honest when I say this is the biggest.”

The UFC’s Fox debut came three months later, when Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in the first round of a heavyweight title fight. Velasquez avenged the loss with victories over dos Santos in each of the next two years.

Global Growth

August 27, 2011

The UFC will stage 13 events in Brazil alone next year. It’s hard to believe the promotion hadn’t visited Brazil in 13 years before UFC 134.

On that card, Anderson Silva defended his middleweight title against Yushin Okami. The sold-out success signified the UFC’s international popularity, and the UFC went on to visit Canada, England, Japan, China, Sweden and Australia. In 2014, the UFC will break into Germany, Poland, Turkey, Ireland and Scotland.

Chael Sonnen lands an elbow to the head of Anderson Silva during their bout at UFC 148 Saturday, July 7, 2012 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Chael Sonnen lands an elbow to the head of Anderson Silva during their bout at UFC 148 Saturday, July 7, 2012 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Silva vs. Sonnen

July 7, 2012

Last year went down as a disappointment for the UFC overall, as injuries and other factors prevented a slew of major fights. At least UFC 148 went off without a hitch. In the biggest fight card since UFC 100, Silva defeated nemesis Chael Sonnen with a second-round knockout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Thousands of fans descended upon Las Vegas for the event, which also featured a fan expo and the first annual “International Fight Week.”

Card cancelation

September 1, 2012

It can’t all be good times and good fights. The period since UFC 100 has also included what White called the low point of his time as president of the company, when he had to cancel an event for the first time in UFC history. UFC 151 was scrapped just eight days before it was scheduled at the Mandalay Bay Events Center when light heavyweight top contender Dan Henderson injured himself in training and Jones turned down a proposal for a last-minute fight with Chael Sonnen that would have saved the event.

Women arrive in the octagon

February 23, 2013

Ronda Rousey, top, punches Liz Carmouche during their UFC 157 women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first womens bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Ronda Rousey, top, punches Liz Carmouche during their UFC 157 women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first womens bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

UFC 157 in Anaheim, California, was the moment when never became now. White had long maintained that he’d never include women in the UFC, but former Olympic judo athlete Ronda Rousey single-handedly changed his mind.

The most media attention in UFC history, according to White, accompanied Rousey’s debut earlier this year, where she submitted Liz Carmouche with an armbar in the first round. It was Rousey’s seventh career fight, and the seventh to end in the same fashion.

Silva’s streak ends

July 6, 2013

No fighter is invincible, not even the greatest one in UFC and mixed martial arts history. After an unbeaten run of 17 fights over seven years in the octagon, Anderson Silva finally met his match at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the main event of UFC 162. Chris Weidman, a 29-year-old from New York, took advantage of the 38-year-old Brazilian’s hands-down taunting with a left hand that knocked out “The Spider” in the second round. Silva’s record for most consecutive title defenses died that night at 10.

Chael Sonnen  looks on after his win against Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, of Brazil, in their UFC on Fox Sports 1 mixed martial arts light heavyweight bout in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 17,2013.  Sonnen won via first-round tapout via guillotine choke. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Chael Sonnen looks on after his win against Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, of Brazil, in their UFC on Fox Sports 1 mixed martial arts light heavyweight bout in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 17,2013. Sonnen won via first-round tapout via guillotine choke. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Channel launch

August 17, 2013

Lingering doubts about the UFC’s viability as a mainstream sports league were squashed this summer, when it was announced as a cornerstone of a new sports channel with long-term aspirations to compete with ESPN. Fox Sports 1 launched with six hours of striking, grappling and overall combat as its first live event. UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston, which featured Sonnen submitting Shogun Rua in the main event, ushered in a new era in which mixed martial arts is covered consistently alongside sports like football and baseball.

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