The UFC is the sports phenomenon of the 21st century. The first ‘Ultimate Fighting Championship’ happened back in 1993, but it wasn’t until former boxing promoter Dana White and his backers the Fertitta brothers bought the company in 2001 that the ‘mixed martial arts’ competition charged into the mainstream. Now it’s a billion dollar business – so says the May 2008 cover story of US business magazine Forbes – and, perhaps more importantly, it’s made lamping some other bloke socially acceptable again.

Then there are the athletes themselves. These guys train all day, six days a week, rarely drink and practise an honourable brand of sportsmanship unseen since Victorian-era cricket. Even the audience have their moments of class; it’s the only sport in the world where you’ll find an American crowd cheering louder for a hard-fighting Eastern European than a home-grown blue-eye (“Two guys beating the hell out of each other is the same in any language,” says White).

Of course the UFC is still mostly misunderstood by the media, banned in several US states and countries, and your girlfriend seems to have this mysterious love/hate relationship with it. But really, we prefer things that way. So FHM travelled to UFC headquarters in Las Vegas, to Widnes’ Wolfslair gym – home of several of the UK’s top fighters – and to London’s top-rated Bob Breen Academy, to showcase the UFC superstars in some of this summer’s finest sportswear.

 

Rampage

Quinton Jackson

Age: 30

Fights out of: Memphis, US

Division: Light heavyweight

Strengths: Technical excellence; raw power; vast charisma

Accolades: UFC light heavyweight champion. Veteran of legendary Japanese PRIDE Fighting Championship. Very funny man. Says: “Fighters are human beings like everyone else. Most fighters I know are the nicest people. We’re martial artists, not barbarians. We might fight in a cage but we don’t live in one.”

 

The Axe Murderer

Wanderlei Silva

Age: 30

Fights out of: Las Vegas, US; originally from Curitiba, Brazil

Division: Light heavyweight

Strengths: Intimidating; natural fighter; crowd favourite

Accolades: Two-time Pride middleweight champion. Pride Grand Prix winner (infamous tournament involving several fights in one night). Notable victories against several UFC superstars. Says: “How can I be known as a gentleman outside of the cage and an animal inside? It’s sport, it’s business and I do what I have to do.”

 

Hands Of Stone

Sam Stout

Age: 24

Fights out of: Ontario, Canada

Division: Lightweight

Strengths: Knockout power; expert kickboxer

Accolades: North American Thai boxing champion. Five-time defending TKO champion. Trainee paramedic. Says: “I used to play all the sports, hockey, football… and just get into a scrap. So I thought ‘Why not just do fighting?”

 

The Muscle Shark

Sean Sherk

Age: 34

Fights out of: Minnesota, US

Division: Lightweight

Strengths: Pocket battleship; incredible conditioning; fine wrestler

Accolades: Former UFC Lightweight Champion. Pride veteran. Says: “I had to take a break from fighting to look after my family. I laid wooden floors. But the UFC took off and here I am again.”

 

Terry

Terry Etim

Age: 22

Fights out of: Liverpool, UK

Division: Lightweight

Strengths: Well-rounded; dedicated; workhorse

Accolades: Cage Gladiators Lightweight Champion. Says: “I saw the UFC on TV and started training almost constantly. That was four years ago. When the call came through I thought it was a wind-up.”

 

UFC President

Dana White

Age: 38

Fights out of: Las Vegas, US

Division: Runs the show

Strengths: Sharp brain; industrious; direct

Accolades: Has made the UFC into a business valued at $1 billion. Says: “I think the whole world’s become completely pussified. And one of the greatest things about our organisation is that it’s going against that in the most positive of ways.”

 

The Texas Crazy Horse

Heath Herring

Age: 30

Fights out of: Las Vegas, US

Division: Heavyweight

Strengths: Skilful and agile for a big guy; cerebral; courageous

Accolades: Top-flight contender. Has fought many mixed martial arts greats including Fedor ‘The Russian Experiment’ Emelianenko and Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic. Says: “Right now I’m reading Constantine’s Bible. It’s about how early Christianity was shaped by the politicians of the time. I’m one of those people who has three books on the go at once.”

 

Relentless

Paul Taylor

Age: 28

Fights out of: Walsall, UK

Division: Welterweight

Strengths: Aggressive; resourceful; high endurance

Accolades: Twice winner of coveted UFC ‘Fight Of The Night’ award. First fighter to be sponsored by Gio Goi. Says: “Do I think fighting’s a British thing? I think it’s more the die-hard attitude underlying our society. You have to stick up for what’s yours. From a sport point of view, for a small nation, we’re making a name in the world.”

 

Tellys

Paul Kelly

Age: 23

Fights out of: Liverpool, UK

Division: Welterweight

Strengths: Solid psychology; pure MMA background; especially violent

Accolades: UFC ‘Fight Of The Night’ for his debut. Amusing nickname derived from simian celebration and strong Scouse accent: “The guys in the gym said I looked like I was lugging two TVs out of a house and it stuck.” Says: “I won’t leave off. I go balls out. But I love doing it. It’s fun. I always make sure my opponent gets a hug.”

 

The Count

Michael Bisping

Age: 29

Fights out of: Manchester, UK

Division: Middleweight

Strengths: Renaissance fighter; hostile; experienced

Accolades: Winner of Ultimate Fighter 3. Cage Rage, Cage Warriors and FX3 champion. Britain’s eminent martial artist. Says: “The term ‘poster boy’ gets thrown around a lot. I never thought I’d get there. But I’ve set out to achieve what I wanted, with a little luck along the way.”

 

Styling: Sharmadean Reid

Photographic assistance: Finn Taylor