In some cases, the fighter who has scored the takedown can simply control his opponent's upper body and unleash a cascade of punches and elbow strikes that lead to a stoppage. This is called the ground-and-pound style. But other fighters are masters of submission holds. Even from their backs, these men can use their legs to squeeze an opponent's arm or neck with such force that he must quit. Or they might wriggle around to his back and slip their arms around his neck for a match-ending chokehold.
Today's best fighters are hybrids. They come from solid wrestling backgrounds but can also kick and punch. And most have received at least a smattering of jiu-jitsu training.
The UFC ran its first show in 1993. That pay per view posed simple, almost childlike, questions: If you threw two fighters in an octagonal cage, would the karate man beat the wrestler? How would a 180-pound grappler fare against a 500-pound sumo?
As it turned out, 86,000 people paid for the answer. The show was supposed to be a one-shot deal but given its success, the promoters ran another and another. The audience grew to a peak of 260,000 pay-per-view buys for a 1995 event. The company's marketing in those days touted an absence of rules and a surfeit of blood. Fans lapped it up, but the UFC caught the attention of the wrong man in McCain.
"They did a real Christians and Lions promotion," said Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which has covered UFC from its inception. "And that bit them real bad down the line."
McCain is a longtime boxing fan but hated to see a sport in which a man could stomp on the head of a supine opponent. He called the UFC un-American and began a quest to eradicate it.
The company responded to McCain's criticism by adding weight classes and five-minute rounds and banning more vicious aspects of fighting such as knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent. But these gestures could not stave off the political pressure. Pay-per-view companies and cable distributors stopped carrying the UFC, and its future as anything more than an underground sport seemed in doubt.
Enter Dana White, a frustrated boxing lover who made a fine living as a bellman at a Boston hotel but saw little upside, financial or inspirational, in that line of work. The restless White moved to Las Vegas, where he had lived as a kid. He opened three more gyms there and started palling around with Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, childhood acquaintances who just happened to be the scions of casino owners. White also got to know fighters such as Liddell and Tito Ortiz.
He had watched the early UFC pay per views and enjoyed the concept. Lorenzo Fertitta had learned about the sport from his seat on the Nevada State Athletic Commission and also saw potential. So when then-owner Robert Meyrowitz asked the Fertittas and White to buy a stake in his company in 2000, they instead bought the whole UFC for $2 million.
That got them the name, a rickety old octagon and little else. But White and the Fertittas set out to create a real American sport to replace what many perceived as a freak show.
"We wanted people to know what great athletes these guys are," White said. "They aren't just barbarians who want to go in there and kill each other."
Many of the necessary rule changes were already in place. But White embraced regulation with almost religious fervor, believing that the UFC would only be accepted if subject to as many rules as boxing. He liked to say McCain was more a savior than a destroyer, forcing mixed martial arts to get its house in order. A key first step to business success came when the Nevada Commission sanctioned UFC. That meant the company could stage its shows in a town set up to support big fights.
The first such event under the new regime came when Ortiz, a cocky, bleach-blond takedown specialist, defended his light heavyweight crown against Ken Shamrock, a star from UFC's earliest days who had also made a name as a pro wrestler. Ortiz and Shamrock bore true hatred for each other and with their showdown, UFC began to perfect a superbout formula that had worked for decades in boxing and pro wrestling.
White found his true vehicle to wider appeal in The Ultimate Fighter. UFC had been trying for years to create a cable program. And Spike TV, which carried World Wrestling Entertainment's Monday Night Raw and other programs geared to young men, seemed an obvious destination.
"I finally just said we're pulling an all-nighter," White remembered. "So we went into my office at 10 p.m. and came out at 4 a.m. with the basic concept for the show."
The company tossed 16 aspiring fighters in a house and put them on teams, one captained by UFC legend Randy Couture and the other by Liddell. Each episode ended in a fight - loser go home. The Ultimate Fighter immediately clicked as a blend of reality-TV soap opera and dangerous combat.