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Ultmiate Fighting Championship Controversy and Reform

The UFC was off to a rough beginning as the violent nature of the burgeoning sport quickly drew the attention of the US authorities and all UFC events were banned in 36 American states. To a fledgling new sport, a nationwide ban would have been a death sentence if it remained uncontested and concessions not made with respect to the rules of the sport.

Before reform, John McCain prominently opposed the UFC.Senator John McCain (R-AZ) saw a tape of the first UFC events and immediately found it abhorrent. McCain himself led a campaign to ban UFC, calling it "human cockfighting," and sending letters to the governors of all fifty U.S. states asking them to ban the event. As a result, the UFC was dropped from the major cable pay-per-view distributor Viewer's Choice, and individual cable carriers such as TCI Cable.

Thirty-six states enacted laws that banned "no-holds-barred" fighting, including New York, which enacted the ban on the eve of UFC 12, forcing a relocation of the event to Dothan, Alabama. The UFC continued to air on DirecTV PPV, though its audience remained minuscule compared to the larger cable pay-per-view platforms of the era.

In response to the criticism, the UFC increased its cooperation with state athletic commissions and redesigned its rules to remove the less palatable elements of fights —while retaining the core elements of striking and grappling. UFC 12 saw the introduction of weight-classes. From UFC 14 gloves became mandatory and kicks to a downed opponent, hair pulling, fish-hooking, headbutting, and groin strikes were banned. UFC 15 saw more limitations on permissible striking areas: strikes to the back of the neck and head, and small joint manipulations were banned. With five-minute rounds introduced at UFC 21, the UFC gradually re-branded itself as a sport rather than a spectacle.

As the UFC continued to work with state athletic commissions, events took place in smaller U.S. markets, including Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama. SEG could not secure home-video releases for UFC 23 through UFC 29. With other mixed martial arts promotions working towards U.S. sanctioning, the International Fighting Championships secured the first U.S. sanctioned mixed martial arts event, which occurred in New Jersey on September 30, 2000. Just two months later, the UFC held its first sanctioned event, UFC 28, under the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board's "Unified Rules".

McCain's opinion of the sport has changed since reform. He stated: "The sport has grown up. The rules have been adopted to give its athletes better protections and to ensure fairer competition."

As the sport's rules started to evolve, so too did its field of competitors. Notable fighters to emerge in this era include Mark Coleman, Vitor Belfort, Tito Ortiz, Frank Shamrock (adopted brother of Ken), Randy Couture, Mikey Burnett, Pat Miletich, Chuck Liddell, Pedro Rizzo, Jeremy Horn, Pete Williams, Jens Pulver, Evan Tanner, Wanderlei Silva, Matt Hughes, Anderson Silva and Andrei Arlovski, among others.