Back when MMA was NHB (No Holds Barred) and The Heavyweight Champion of the World was the Ultimate Fighting Championships Champion, or even the Superfight Champion, it had something that it doesn't have anymore: Real People. Maybe not real, and certainly not people living in reality, but everyday people. Fat guys, skinny guys, bodybuilders, power lifters, truckers, arm wrestlers, ninjas, sumo wrestlers, mullets, mysterious martial artists whom often turned out to be more art than martial, and the guy who played Random Task from Austin Powers. There was the sense, if not the actuality, that anyone could show up early to the arena and make it on the card.
There wasn't a lot of skill to be had, and often one or two guys on the card took up most of what was there, but there was a perverse sort of parity, or safety in their innocence in the ways of face punching. They would land obscene blows, but without the training they lacked power; without skill their intent and heart didn't do the damage that it could have.
That is not to say people didn't get hurt, in fact there were some pretty cavalier actions regarding the health and safety of the fighters, but think what would happen if Jon Jones of today entered UFC 1? (If Jon Jones of 1993 entered UFC 1 he'd have been 6 years old and somewhat less competitive)
What we have now are some of the finest athletes in the world, with state of the art fitness and nutrition and years of combat sports experience. We have Anderson Silva dodging a former world champion's punches like he is moving through air and his foe is moving through water, and we have Jon Jones breaking orbital bones with single, precise elbows and we have Demian Maia and Fedor and GSP and everyone else doing what they do at the peak of human achievement. What we have is the best, but is it better? Are the gains in athleticism worth the losses in identifiability and raw human exhibition? Is human chess better than Human Cock-fighting?