Arash Markazi
Friday May 29th, 2009

Whenever UFC president Dana White is asked to pinpoint the moment the UFC and sport of mixed martial arts went mainstream he doesn't even pause before answering.

"Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar was it," he'll say. "That was the fight that changed it all. There has never been a more important fight in the history of mixed martial arts than that fight."

The fight, which was on the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 1, took place four years ago in Las Vegas. Now, as the UFC prepares its 100th pay-per-view event, White and Griffin are back together in Vegas, sitting inside a trendy lounge talking about the next turning point for the promotion.

Interestingly enough, it's a moment that won't be fully realized for a few months, and won't actually take place in the Octagon but in a virtual one that White hopes will be in millions of households by the end of the year.

UFC 2009 Undisputed, the UFC's first foray into video games in five years, debuted last week and the early returns have it topping the all-format charts in North America and abroad, knocking Wii Fit off its lofty perch.

While the instant gratification might not be quite the same for White as it was when Griffin beat Bonnar -- an epic fight that attracted more than 10 million viewers and allowed him to "literally walk out in the alley and sign a deal with Spike TV" -- it may turn out to be the most significant moment in taking UFC into a new level of mainstream.

The UFC and video-game publisher THQ, which also publishes the successful WWE video game franchise, are hopeful that UFC 2009 Undisputed will not only be a hit with hardcore UFC fans but will also attract new fans and possibly do for the UFC what the Madden video game series did for the NFL. To that end, they are not advertising it as the best MMA game but rather "the best fighting game ever," in the hopes of drawing anyone who enjoys combat.

"I think it's going to introduce a lot of people to the UFC that didn't know about it before," said White. "And for our fans, it's going to educate a lot of people on submissions."

One of White's pet peeves when sitting ringside is hearing fans boo a good fight when it goes to the ground simply because people don't understand every aspect of MMA, which not only includes the stand-up game, but other fighting disciplines such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, judo and Muay Thai. Every one of those disciples is highlighted in the game, teaching users how to use each style; much like a Madden user can decide whether he wants a Shotgun-heavy offense and a 3-4 blitz-happy defense.

Every aspect of the game looks and sounds like a UFC pay-per-view event, as more than 80 UFC fighters, referees, announcers and, of course, Octagon Girls were photographed and digitally recreated to look and sound as they do in real life. The game also allows users to create their own fighter, play in a career mode and re-live some of the top moments in UFC history in a classic-fight mode, which includes a dozen memorable bouts beginning with The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 finale between Griffin and Bonnar.

As White sits in a roped off section watching fans play the game on flat screen televisions situated around the club, he says it only made sense to have Griffin on the cover of the game (Georges St. Pierre is on the cover in Canada). "Forrest and Stephan are my kids," said White. "They'll be with me until the day I die."

Griffin simply laughed as he looked at himself on the cover of the game and jokingly observed that they made his famously large cauliflowered ears smaller and less mangled. "He who kisses [up the most] wins," said Griffin. "I've made a habit and a life for myself being in the right place at the right time and I'm going to continue to do that."

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