This nearly 2-hour documentary originally aired on FOX Sports 1 in late 2013 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the UFC, which culminated with UFC 167. It was touted as a comprehensive production wherein "over 60 interviews were conducted over a 4 month period." The result is truly as close to a thorough account of the rise of the UFC and mixed martial arts produced to date. It is structured in a chronological format with no narrator but instead relies on those interviewed to layout the story in their own words. The first half is almost entirely dedicated the to the controversial days of the UFC with interviews from practically every key person involved in the creation of the UFC including founders Art Davie and Rorion Gracie. This is one of the strengths of the documentary as those who helped create the UFC are finally given the recognition they deserve as true pioneers and not the shameless bloodsport promoters the press branded them as for years. There is quite a bit of archival footage shown from the early UFC shows, even some that are quite cringe-worthy to say the least. To the documentary's credit, it does not shy away from the more controversial aspects of those early years for the sake of presenting a more sanitized view of the past. In fact, it methodically lays out how and why rules and regulations were eventually needed for the sport to continue past its initial shock value. Not surprisingly, only those fighters who are still in good standing with the UFC were interviewed. This means there are no new insights from Randy Couture, Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott, and some of the other veteran UFC stars who have since parted ways with the organization. Tito Ortiz was interviewed but one has to assume that this would not have been the case had he defected to Bellator a few months earlier. Despite the omissions, we are still treated to new interviews from many of the early participants including Royce Gracie, Kimo Leopoldo, Mark Coleman, and Big John McCarthy, just to name a few. Even Senator John McCain, who successfully led the charge to get the UFC banned in many states, was newly interviewed! There are also interviews with several longtime MMA reporters who offer some objective and personal recollections of the sport.
A fair amount of coverage is given to the mounting political pressures that the UFC faced, which inevitably led to Dana White along with Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchasing the company in the early 2000s. But even then, the documentary doesn't gloss over the mounting obstacles that the new management had to overcome in trying to get the sport regulated and legalized, while fighting the stigma of it being "human cockfighting." Indeed, there is no denying the countless amount of time and money that the new owners put into re-branding the company as more than just a no-holds-barred fight organization. Even UFC 33, the card that was to be the "coming out party" for the newly re-branded UFC is unanimously acknowledged as a colossal dud on almost all levels. This leads to a rocky partnership with SpikeTV to get free fights on TV via the The Ultimate Fighter reality show, which the UFC funded entirely. Luckily, the gamble paid off thanks to the epic main event between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, which not only set ratings records but is still widely considered to be the most important fight in UFC history. The Ultimate Fighter not only turned around the fortunes of the UFC, but also paved the way for numerous milestones including the epic UFC 100 and the partnership with FOX.
The documentary also addresses the UFC's various acquisitions of rival fight promotions such as Pride and Strikeforce, which inevitably led to the addition of female fighters with Ronda Rousey being crowned the first ever UFC women's champion. As expected, there is some self-promotion, especially toward the end as the UFC talks about its global expansion and the almost limitless potential for the future. But this is forgivable given how much of the documentary is presented in a fairly unapologetic manner that makes it entertaining, enlightening, and even emotional at times. Overall, this is a must-own documentary that wonderfully celebrates the ups and downs of a company that, by most accounts, should not have survived past its initial headline-grabbing controversies. But as Dana White aptly states in the documentary, "Fighting is in our DNA, we get it and we like it!"