1. Las Vegas, NV, USA
New York City may be one of the biggest city in America. Los Angeles may have the glitz, glamour and celebrities of Hollywood. Japan and England may be classic fight locations internationally. Atlantic City, NJ, may have played host to plenty of early UFC events (with the New Jersey Athletic Commission helping to set up what we now know as the Unified Rules of MMA). But there’s no other fight city quite like Las Vegas.
Las Vegas was not always considered the fight capital of the world, but it played a role in helping to revitalize boxing as the 1960s and greats like Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali rolled in. Today, there are plenty of Vegas venues — from the Mandalay Bay to the MGM Grand Garden, from the Thomas & Mack Center and Caesars Palace to the modern-day T-Mobile Arena — have hosted some of combat sports’ most memorable fights, rivalries and moments.
Las Vegas also plays a most integral part in the UFC’s history. The promotion was near bankruptcy and nonexistence when it was bought by a company called Zuffa, owned and operated by the Fertitta brothers, in early 2001. Based out of Las Vegas, the Fertittas used Lorenzo’s past experiences with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as well as the recently adopted Unified Rules of MMA, to get the sport legalized in the state. With all that, the UFC’s first event in Las Vegas was UFC 33 in September 2001. And yes, while UFC 33 is often regarded as one of the worst UFC pay-per-views of all time, it marked the beginning of the UFC’s new home, with Las Vegas now having hosted over 120 UFC events since, which includes the shortly upcoming UFC 239, with many flocking out to see the action.
With the UFC still facing financial difficulties, Las Vegas also served as the base location for the show that would put UFC on the map — The Ultimate Fighter. Contestants would train at the UFC Training Center, where the show’s fights also took place, adjacent to the UFC’s headquarters, and live together at a nearby house. The show is credited as having saved the UFC, and many fans say TUF is where their fandom started. Since then, the UFC has opened its Performance Institute and recently opened the UFC APEX, which features high-standard production and office space, as well as serving as the home for Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
In addition, Las Vegas is traditionally the home of the TUF Finales, as well as UFC’s International Fight Week each July, which includes a big UFC pay-per-view card, the UFC Hall of Fame induction ceremony and more festivities.
There are also plenty of known MMA facilities across Las Vegas, including Randy Couture’s Xtreme Couture and Wanderlei Silva’s Wand Team. Even PRIDE managed to hold two events in Las Vegas prior to its folding — its only two events on U.S. soil. And after Zuffa’s purchases of other MMA promotions, those promotions, including Strikeforce and the WEC, managed to hold several cards in Vegas.
Maybe Las Vegas was not the original fight capital of the world. Maybe Nevada was not the first state to legalize MMA. Maybe it wasn’t the Nevada State Athletic Commission who developed the Unified Rules. But if it were not for the city of Las Vegas, maybe the UFC — and MMA as we know it today — would be quite different, if it even existed at all.