Learn More About The History of MMA
Alongside boxing, MMA (mixed martial arts) plays a huge role in today’s sporting world. Essentially, MMA can be described as a hybrid sport where techniques have been incorporated from not only boxing and wrestling but also jiu-jitsu, karate, judo, and even Muay Thai. At first, critics of the sport said it was simply a brutal game with no rules and no morals. Eventually, this image transformed and, in the 21st century, it has enjoyed significant growth.
Much like boxing, the origins of MMA can be traced back to Ancient Greece and the famous Olympic events. Originally, the combat was all hand-to-hand and the event would be called ‘pankration’ – both ‘Kratos’ and ‘pan’ were words meaning ‘all power’. With this in mind, only two rules protected fighters and they protected against eye gouging and biting. Popular for all of society, the winners were considered heroes and tales of these heroes would be passed down from one generation to the next.
How did it reach Asia? Alexander the Great was known to choose athletes for soldiers as a result of their strength. After pankration teachings spread to India during this time, a Buddhist monk traveled through the country and eventually reached China, where Asian martial arts such as karate, kung fu, and judo were forming.
As different disciplines formed, the best athletes from each discipline would often fight for ‘ultimate’ respect and to be considered the best of mixed-style competitions. Although banned from the Olympic Games by Theodosius in 393 CE, MMA eventually came back in Brazil under the name ‘vale tudo’ (anything goes).
Eventually, participants in such competitions realized that the different forms of martial art all had their benefits. Therefore, fighters would study all art forms and jiu-jitsu fighters knew how to defend from a kickboxer (and vice versa). With this, athletes who only focused on one discipline would fail and the rise of mixed martial arts athletes began.
MMA in North America
In 1993, the Gracie family decided it was time to show Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the US and this culminated in a tournament in Denver, Colorado. Known as UFC 1, MMA events were to be promoted by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and the original aim was to place fighters from different disciplines against each other (just as was the case centuries earlier).
Royce Gracie, son of Helio, won the pay-per-view event which attracted nearly 90,000 viewers. However, many in the sporting world had taken note of the event and it got people talking. By the third televised event, the audience had reached 300,000 and the ‘anything could happen’ and ‘no-holds-barred’ nature of the competition gave viewers an alternative to televised boxing.
Over the years, UFC and MMA have had its battles in the US; famously, US Senator John McCain even called this ‘human cockfighting’ sport to be banned. Although first introduced with the original two rules intact (no biting and no eye gauging), the organizers were eventually forced to make the sport safer.
At the start of the 21st century, weight classes were added and we also saw the introduction of time limits, new rules (and fouls), and rounds. Just like the transformation we saw in boxing with the introduction of Queensbury rules, MMA became more about skill, strategy, and technique, rather than brute strength and power alone. In 2007, McCain noted that the sport had made huge progress and dropped his opposition as it was now governed by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and the Nevada State Athletic Commission.