The UFC's dark period is over and it has done nothing but grow in leaps and bounds since then. As it spreads further and further across the globe you can expect the UFC to simply tighten it's grip on MMA.
As for personal experience... I remember watching UFC 1 alone because none of my friends at the time cared about it. Now every PPV house fills up and we sit back, smoke something and watch the fights. Hell, even my wife watches and enjoys MMA. Big difference.
Personal Top Five
1. Brock Lesnar
2. Roy Nelson (KFP BAYBEE)
3. Clay Guida
4. Dan Henderson
5. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović
"In fact, professional wrestling is strong"
Kazushi Sakuraba - Ultimate Japan