UFC 20th Anniversary: Where the Major Sports Were at 20

Alex NeelyContributor IIIOctober 18, 2013

Nov 17, 2012; Montreal, QC, Canada; A wide view of the octagon as Alessio Sakara fights Patrick Cote during their Middleweight bout at UFC 154 at the Bell Centre. Sakara was disqualified for an illegal hit and Cote won. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

WOW Promotions and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG) produced the first event, later dubbed UFC 1: The Beginning, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colo., on Nov. 12, 1993.

UFC 1—which proposed to find which fighting style was the greatest in the world—was witnessed live by 2,800 and on pay-per-view by 86,000. 

The card used an eight-man tournament, with the winner receiving $50,000. On paper, it featured 10 fighters in four tournament bouts and one alternate. The tournament had no weight-class specification and consisted of single-round fights to the finish.

The match could only end by submission, knockout, throwing in the towel or referee stoppage. Despite the promotional theme of "no rules," there were limitations on fighters, including no biting and no eye gouging. 

At the end of UFC 1, Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Royce Gracie won the tournament, embraced the check and began one of MMA's most legendary careers.

Now, only weeks away from UFC's 20th anniversary, to say the MMA landscape has changed would be an understatement. The UFC has evolved at an exponential, almost unbelievable rate.

Today, UFC fights can be found on PPV in the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Italy. UFC programming can also be found on Fox, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, as well as 150 different countries in 22 different languages. 

Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos 1 on Fox is currently the highest-rated UFC fight with 5.7 million viewers. UFC 100 is the most successful PPV show with a 1.6 million buyrate. UFC 129 shattered gate and attendance records in North America with 55,724 tickets sold and gate revenues exceeding $11 million.

This is the UFC we know today—one with a fight card nearly every week. It's a global empire.

But, it's easy to forget when a fight decision does not go with your opinion, or an upcoming fight card lacks star power, or the UFC can't seem to sign a certain fighter.

At these times, try, if only for a moment, to think of where all of the other major sports were at their 20th anniversary.


Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball held its 20th anniversary in 1889. 

MLB consisted of 16 teams with names like the Boston Beaneaters, Philadelphia Quakers and Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The New York Yankees would not enter the league for another 12 years.

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms and St. Louis Browns played in front of the largest crowd in American Association—now known as the American Leaguehistory. A crowd of 22,122 fans filled Washington Park to watch the Bridegrooms defeat the Browns.

On Oct. 29, the New York Giants won their second consecutive World Series by defeating the Brooklyn Bridegrooms 3-2.

Six days later, the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, known today as the Major League Baseball Player's Association, started the process for a strike. The result was a new star-studded league known as the Players League, which only lasted one season.

In an attempt to prevent their players from leaving, MLB teams would spend the rest of 1889 in and out of court battles.


National Football League

The 20th anniversary of the National Football League was its 1939-40 season.

The NFL hit a true benchmark in 1939 when it had its first broadcast game. NBC, in an experimental showing to viewers in Albany and New York, broadcast a Brooklyn Dodgers-Philadelphia Eagles game.

In 1939, the NFL consisted of eight teams, with team names like the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cardinals.

The championship game, which was not yet known as the Super Bowl and would not be until 1967, was between Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. The Packers won 27-0.


National Basketball Association

The National Basketball Association celebrated its 20th anniversary in the 1965-66 season.

In 1965, the NBA had only nine teams, with forgotten names like the Cincinnati Royals and St. Louis Hawks. The Chicago Bulls would not join the league for another year. Two years later, the NBA would experience its biggest economic threat when the American Basketball Association was born.

Wilt Chamberlain, who won the season's Most Valuable Player award, was the season leader in points per game, field-goal percentage and rebounds. 

In the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for their eighth consecutive title.


National Hockey League

The National Hockey League celebrated its 20th anniversary in the 1936-37 season.

Due to economic effects from the Great Depression, the NHL lost two teams prior to the season, setting a total of eight teams. 

The New York Americans started the year in first place, but several of their players came down with influenza, forcing a losing skid. Other players experienced season-ending ailments on the ice, like Howie Morenz, who suffered a fractured leg, and Eddie Shore, who suffered a broken vertebra. 

The Stanley Cup Final featured the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. The Red Wings won 3-2.