The UFC began as an eight-man, single elimination tournament featuring fighters of different styles. While it was intended to be a one-off event, the success of the pay-per-view led to additional events being held.
Initially, the fights were billed as having no rules. There were no weight classes, but the belief was that technique could overcome a size/strength disadvantage. But in time, rules were added and fighters were divided into weight classes to help level the playing field a little.
The brutality led to many states making MMA events illegal. This forced the UFC to work with state athletic commissions to revamp the rules. Rather than win by physically dominating, it became more important to utilize technique and skill.
But the company did not start to thrive until Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, along with their partner Dana White, purchased the struggling company.
However, while the UFC did better under their guidance, it was still struggling financially. Since fights were on pay-per-view, many people simply did not know much about it.
The turnaround began with the creation of the hit reality series The Ultimate Fighter. The access helped get viewers invested in fighters and more interested in watching pay-per-view events.