The biggest MMA promotions of the past. What were they, and what happened? We discuss this all below.
Pride Fighting Championships (1997-2007)
Founded in 1997 by Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Hiromichi, Momose, and Naoto Morishita, Pride FC is widely regarded as 'The Golden Era' of MMA in many fans' hearts. It was a Japanese MMA promotion that saw some of the greatest fighters of all time face off in spectacle matches. The most attended MMA event ever was at Pride Shockwave Dynamite! with a reported attendance of 91,107, nearly double the UFC's record of 57,127 at UFC 243.
Pride rules differed from the UFC, with its notorious soccer kicks, famous gloves, and scoring system that judged fights based on their entirety rather than round by round. Some of Pride's most notable fighters include Fedor Emelianenko, Rampage Jackson, Mirko Cro Cop, and other UFC Hall of Famers such as Chuck Liddell, Minotauro Nogueira, Kevin Randleman, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, Kazushi Sakuraba, Don Frye, and Dan Henderson.
Pride was seemingly growing into a monopoly over MMA before its fall. Then, the promotion began to see trouble at its head with financial issues arising and top executives being found dead, with ties to the Yakuza (Japanese mob) suspected as causes. On March 27th, 2007, Pride FC officially announced that it would be bought by Zuffa LLC and the Fertitta brothers, marking the UFC's acquisition of all fighters under contract and subsequent merging of promotions.
Affliction Entertainment (2008-2009)
Though Affliction lasted just two events, its place in MMA history is well-cemented. Founded by the Affliction Apparel company, it was a moshpit of MMA superstars collected from around the globe to challenge the UFC's power over the MMA world following its acquisition of Pride. Major shareholder and former U.S. President Donald Trump played a large part in the promotion's success, as well as the name value of the shows.
Some of its most notable fighters included Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett, Gegard Mousasi, and Vitor Belfort. Unfortunately, the promotion canceled its 3rd event just days before the show date due to Josh Barnett's positive test for banned drugs and soon after fell apart, citing low Pay-Per-View sales as the main reason.
World Extreme Cagefighting (2001-2010)
The WEC, as it's affectionately known, is one of the pioneering MMA promotions. It was the only major promotion during its time that gave the smaller weight classes a chance to shine in the spotlight and did so when the UFC had no division lower than 155 lbs. As a result, the WEC champion had total claims to be the best fighter in the world, and many of its fighters went on to become the UFC GOATs of their respective divisions.
Some notable fighters that competed in the WEC were Anthony Pettis, Carlos Condit, Chael Sonnen, Johny Hendricks, Benson Henderson, Tyron Woodley, Demetrious Johnson, Miguel Torres, and Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone.
The father-promotion of Bellator, Scott Coker's Strikeforce was the only place that rivaled the UFC in the 2010s. This is due mainly to its Grand Prix style, which had been abandoned by many MMA promotions, and its pioneering of Women's Mixed Martial Arts. Dana White had been an avid protestor to WMMA for many years, and long before he held a women's fight, Strikeforce had already crowned champions. You might recognize Cris Cyborg, Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey, and Miesha Tate.
Despite that star-studded lineup of females, they weren't the greatest to come from Strikeforce. The promotion gave birth to massive stars such as Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler, and Daniel Cormier, as well as hosting fighters like Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson. However, in the end, they, too, succumbed to the vice grip the UFC had over MMA and were eventually bought out.
Another brief stint in the pot, EliteXC, was a flash in the pan for MMA fans worldwide, but it left a mark forever in the history books. Like the aforementioned Strikeforce, EliteXC did very much for Women's MMA at a time when others would not. It helped grow stars like Gina Carano and launch the career of Cris Cyborg, giving them chances they would never find elsewhere.
EliteXC was the starting point of streetfighting legend Kimbo Slice and secured TV deals on CBS and Showtime during an era where MMA was hard-pressed to find publicity. They held other stars such as Robbie Lawler, Nick Diaz, Bigfoot Silva, and Jake Shields. Things began to fall apart after their star Kimbo Slice was finished in 14 seconds by Seth Petruzelli. To make matters worse, Petruzelli referenced that he had been incentivized to strike with Kimbo and not grapple, which caused the Florida State Athletic Commission to investigate the promotion, which soon after fell apart.
Rumble on the Rock (2002-2013)
Rumble on the Rock was a Hawaiian home of fights that lasted for over a decade. Known for its famed days with UFC Hall of Famer and double champion B.J. Penn, it was a stacked promotion with talent rivaling the best in the world.
Its tournament style of fighting ensured that you earned your way to the top, and only the best could claim to be so. One of the most notable matches during their run was Jake Shields vs. Carlos Condit, two of the best Welterweight in the world going at it. Some of its most notable fighters include B.J. Penn, Frank Trigg, Carlos Condit, Yushin
DREAM's beginnings were founded from the ashes of Pride FC. Its first event wasn't actually called DREAM; it was Yarennoka! A collaboration between Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE), Shooto, M1-Global, and Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG).
This event was wildly popular, and demand for more soon rolled in. Due to this, FEG and DSE came together and produced DREAM, a newfound name for the former MMA promotion Hero. DREAM's ambitions didn't stop with their fighters; instead, they wanted to branch out to every part of the globe. Alliances with EliteXC, Strikeforce, M1-Global, and ONE Championship lead to worldwide success and stars fighting under their banner.
Some names you might recognize from DREAM are Fedor Emelianenko, Gegard Mousasi, Kazushi Sakuraba, Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, and Mirko Crop Cop. Unfortunately, after several partnerships and business ventures failed to come to fruition, FEG declared bankruptcy, and the promotion soon went out of business.
This wasn't the end, though, as the famed Kickboxing league Glory sports International offered funding for one last event on the Japanese new year and a farewell sendoff to what many saw as the dying breaths of Pride FC.
We hope you've learned something new about MMA's history and the people and promotions that helped build it into what it is today.