Today in MMA History: UFC 100 helps MMA hit new highs

When you look back at UFC 100 now, nine years later, what seems so unusual about it was not just the size and scope of the event – it’s that it all happened more or less exactly the way it was supposed to.

That’s not something we can say about every major event these days. In the age of the “injury bug” and early morning visits from USADA collectors, UFC fight cards are very much subject to change.

But on July 11, 2009, the UFC gave fans exactly what it had promised: a huge event that felt like a celebration of the best the promotion and maybe even the entire sport had to offer. Fans responded in kind, buying a reported 1.6 million pay-per-views, shattering previous UFC records and nudging MMA viewership toward marks set by boxing mega-fights (via Twitter):

All this just to commemorate a benchmark that was entirely artificial.

UFC 100 wasn’t the 100th event in UFC history. It wasn’t even the 100th pay-per-view, since the early days of the UFC saw some events identified by number and others only by name, such as “Ultimate Japan” or “Ultimate Brazil.” (The eighth UFC event was even dubbed “Ultimate Ultimate,” which captured a certain essence of ’90s hyperbole, and also led to the 13th event, dubbed “Ultimate Ultimate 2.”)

The good news was, the timing of this event really worked out. The UFC had come to regard early July as a great time for a big event in the fiery Las Vegas desert, as tourists flocked to town and other major sports were mostly on hiatus.

The UFC attempted to capitalize on this by scheduling its first “fan expo” to coincide with UFC 100 that July, drawing somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people to a conventional hall in Mandalay Bay for a combination trade show and grappling tournament.

The timing worked out well for the fighters, too. Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, arguably the biggest star in the sport at the time, had been originally slated for a rematch with interim champ Frank Mir at UFC 98 a few months earlier. Knee surgery kept Mir from making that date, but it allowed the UFC to reschedule the heavyweight title fight for UFC 100, where it served as the main event.

In the co-main, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, a pretty popular fighter himself, returned to defend his title against knockout artist Thiago Alves. It marked the first and last time that a title bout featuring St-Pierre wasn’t the main event of a UFC PPV.

The rest of the card was sprinkled with various types of goodies for longtime fans. On the main card, Dan Henderson knocked out Michael Bisping to put a cap on their “Ultimate Fighter” coaching rivalry. Henderson even admitted to adding an extra unnecessary blow while Bisping was out cold “just to shut him up.”

It was such an iconic moment in Henderson’s career, the lasting image would serve as a kind of personal logo for Henderson in later years (via Twitter):

Elsewhere on the card, former DREAM and K-1 Hero’s standout Yoshihiro Akiyama made his UFC and North American debut with a split-decision win over Alan Belcher.

Jon Fitch became yet another AKA fighter to take on Brazilian police commando Paulo Thiago (though unlike the others, Fitch actually beat him).

In the final fight of the prelims, 44-year-old Mark Coleman won a ragged decision over Stephan Bonnar for what would prove to be the final victory of his storied career.

But the event wasn’t just about the UFC’s past or present. There was also a look to the future, as future light heavyweight champ Jon Jones submitted Jake O’Brien on the prelims.

The other thing that made UFC 100 feel momentous was that the UFC treated it as such. Performance bonuses for the event were worth $100,000 each, twice as much as they currently go for nine years later. UFC President Dana White even said he would BASE jump off Mandalay Bay if the event surpassed 1.5 million pay-per-view buys. (It did; he didn’t.)

In fact, the only real negative for the UFC came at the very end, when Lesnar celebrated his TKO victory over Mir by vowing to drink a Coors Light – “that’s a Coors Light, because Bud Light won’t pay me nothing” – and maybe even “get on top of” his wife as well.

Bud Light, the UFC’s official beer sponsor, was reportedly displeased. There was no immediate word on how Lesnar’s wife felt about the plan.

What fans would come to wonder in the years following this event was whether it represented a high water mark for MMA and the UFC. While the PPV record set by UFC 100 would eventually be slightly edged out by Conor McGregor’s win over Nate Diaz at UFC 202, in many ways MMA seemed to be at a cultural high point during that summer in 2009 when fighters like Lesnar and GSP were at the height of their powers.

UFC 200, by comparison, sold about half a million fewer PPV buys five years later. Although, in another sign of the changing times, that event also suffered from a last-minute change to the main event, thanks to an out-of-competition USADA drug test that nabbed Jones just before he could rematch Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title.

There’s another thing no one had to worry about back at UFC 100. For better or worse.

For more on UFC 100, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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