Cagewriter - Mixed Martial Arts

As we hit the end of the decade, Yahoo! Sports is taking a look back at the biggest and best of the past ten years. Today, the ten biggest stories from MMA.

10. Chuck Liddell, superstar: This decade, Liddell became more than a superstar within the sport. He became the guy that your mom or girlfriend -- who know nothing about MMA -- asks about. He was on "Dancing with the Stars," is tailed by paparazzi, been "Punk'd" by Ashton Kutcher and voiced a character on "The Simpsons." 

9. Randy Couture's "retirement" ends with triumphant win over Tim Sylvia: After Couture lost to Liddell for the second time, Couture announced his retirement. He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, but his time away from the Octagon didn't last long. Couture came back to reclaim the UFC heavyweight championship from Tim Sylvia in front of a raucous crowd in Columbus, Ohio.

8. Strikeforce wins the race for Fedor Emelianenko: After Affliction's fight promotion fell apart, two promotions, the UFC and Strikeforce, engaged in a cutthroat race for Affliction's crown jewel, heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko. After UFC president Dana White publicly said that he wanted Fedor in the UFC, the Russian heavyweight announced his signing with Strikeforce, setting up his debut on American primetime television. 

7. The death of Pride Fighting Championships: Talk to any longtime MMA fan, and they will wax nostalgic about Pride. The Japan-based promotion featured some of the world's best fighters in their prime, a ring, flashy entrances and the world's best MMA announcer. When they hit financial hard times, Pride was bought by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC. Instead of keeping Pride going, select fighters were signed to the UFC, and Pride died an ignoble death.

6. Brock Lesnar, wrestler-turned-pro-wrestler-turned-fighter: When Lesnar first discussed jumping from professional wrestling to mixed martial arts, purists scoffed. But they couldn't ignore his wins over UFC champs Randy Couture and Frank Mir. As the decade ends, Lesnar's career is in limbo as he recovers from serious illness. 

5. The rise and fall of Elite XC and Affliction: Elite XC, a promotion that was teamed up with CBS, touted Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano as their stars. Affliction featured huge purses for their fighters and the world's best heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko. Both had inept management that bit off more than they could chew. With Kimbo getting knocked out and Josh Barnett's positive drug test, both were gone before they could really get started.

4. "The Ultimate Fighter" introduces MMA to the masses: When the UFC was near bankruptcy, they took a chance on a reality show that would give the winner a "six-figure contract" with the UFC. On Spike TV, fledgling fighters learned the trade from Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. The finale of the first season, aired on Spike, featured a fight for the ages between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. The fight was neither technically perfect nor was it pretty, but Griffin and Bonnar left everything in the cage to try to win that contract. Both "The Ultimate Fighter" and the Griffin-Bonnar bout are credited with helping save the UFC. 

3. The adoption of the unified rules: In the fall of 2000, the New Jersey Athletic Control Board started to regulate MMA, first with an International Fight League show on September 30, and later, on November 17, 2000, UFC 28, the first two times a state board regulated MMA. This landmark opened the door for MMA to become regulated, create uniform rules, and lose the dreaded "human cockfighting" tag. 

2. Zuffa's purchase of the UFC: In February of 2001, Zuffa, a company formed by brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and their childhood buddy Dana White, bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship for $2 million. They've turned that investment into a billion-dollar-company.

1. The rise of mixed martial arts: Ten years ago, mixed martial arts was underground and on the brink of extinction. Now, it's a billion dollar industry watched by millions of people. If the past decade in sports has had any great story, it's been MMA. Mixed martial arts was on a trajectory to underground clubs and people's basements. Now, through the hard work of fighters, promoters, trainers, media, sponsors and fans, it's a sport that is on primetime television and garners millions of pay-per-views each year. 

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