Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has become one of the fastest-growing sports across the globe. MMA’s flagship competition, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), has moved from being a little known competition with few concrete rules – and no visibility on the sporting stage – to one of the most popular combat sports tournaments in the world.
As with many combat sports, fans of the UFC want to be part of the action, but few – if any of them – want to strip down to their shorts and gloves and get in the ring with Conor McGregor or Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Much like boxing, wrestling, and (depending on how you played) Ice Hockey before it, the UFC found a way to give its fans all the fighting action, with none of the broken bones, through video games.
In this article, we will be tracking the evolution of the games in the UFC franchise, from a few wobbly early titles to the more polished and popular UFC Undisputed series.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (Dreamcast and Playstation)
The first, licensed UFC game was released in 2000 on the SEGA Dreamcast console and the Sony Playstation. The game benefitted from the advanced graphics rendering, for the time, of the Dreamcast. Fighter models were well detailed, intros were entertaining and the game was far more polished than some of the WWE games that came out at the same time.
For an early title, Ultimate Fighting Championship had a fair amount of content, like a ladder mode, a create-a-fighter feature, and a career mode. The soundtrack was also excellent, using recognizable walk-in music, as were the sound effects.
The only downside was, ironically, the fighting, which quickly descended into button-mashing faster than you could say Eddy Gordo.
CAPTION: Early UFC games used traditional fighting game mechanics, which, over time, have transitioned into something close to actual MMA combat
UFC: Throwdown (GameCube, PlayStation 2)
Unable to build on the solid start of Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC: Throwdown only moved the ball forward in terms of a more advanced career mode that let you specialize your fighter into taking on a particular combat style, like kickboxing or groundwork.
However, the graphics took a step backward, with animations stuttering and fighters rendered as ugly meat colored boxes. The game’s ugliness, combined with the button-mashing combat brought over from Ultimate Fighting Championship makes UFC: Throwdown somewhat of a low point for the UFC games.
UFC: Sudden Impact (PlayStation 2)
Compared to its predecessors, UFC: Sudden Impact was distinctly more MMA-like. Gone were the button-mashing of the first few titles, replaced with a submission system that traded the standard fighting game mechanics with a certain level of skill that was a huge step closer to actual MMA combat.
Some people, especially non-MMA fans, found the idea that you could be beating an opponent across the octagon, only to be rolled into a submission and tapped out to be annoying. However, for most fans, that kind of reversal was both expected and part of what they enjoyed about the sport.
CAPTION: The most recent EA Sports UFC title have allowed players to build both their character’s image and their fighting skills
UFC 2009 Undisputed (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360)
The start of the hugely well-received Undisputed range, UFC 2009 Undisputed instituted a whole range of gameplay upgrades compared to its predecessors. Six major fighting styles were added: Boxing, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling, with each fighter having access to one striking and one grappling style.
There was a huge range of fighters too, from the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, Welterweight, and Lightweight divisions. The career mode was both long and detailed, while the fighting required you to both learn the controls and perfect your timing, rather than just mashing the pad.
EA Sports UFC 3 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
The most recent UFC title, EA Sports UFC 3 significantly enhanced the career mode, adding in an optional G.O.A.T. career mode. This new career mode allowed players to promote themselves outside of matches, build their branding and even create significant rivalries with other fighters – all of which has an impact on a fighter’s career trajectory.
In terms of the actual fighting, all of the various styles are well implemented and, while the combat element does have a quite a steep learning curve, it is very satisfying once mastered. There are a number of optional modes that can be used to tune the combat to your liking. EA Sports UFC 3 introduces the Submission Showdown mode that removes all strikes and lets you focus entirely on your ground game.
The audio took a step up as well, with optional commentary by Snoop Dogg in KO mode or the more usual options of Dana White, Joe Rogan, and Jon Anik.
With some slight blips, the history of the UFC games has been one of constant improvement in graphics, gameplay and overall polish. EA Sports UFC 3 represents another step forward that allows fans to experience all the excitement of being a UFC contender, while still keeping all their teeth.