Topical History

History of Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts (MMA), is a full contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, from a variety of other combat sports. The roots of modern mixed martial arts can be traced back to the ancient Olympics where one of the earliest documented systems of codified full range unarmed combat was in the sport of pankration. Various mixed style contests took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s. The combat sport of vale tudo that had developed in Brazil from the 1920s was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The more dangerous vale-tudo-style bouts of the early UFCs were made safer with the implementation of additional rules, leading to the popular regulated form of MMA seen today. Originally promoted as a competition with the intention of finding the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat situations, competitors were pitted against one another with minimal rules. Later, fighters employed multiple martial arts into their style while promoters adopted additional rules aimed at increasing safety for competitors and to promote mainstream acceptance of the sport. The name mixed martial arts was coined by television critic Howard Rosenberg, in 1993, in his review of UFC 1.The term gained popularity when the website newfullcontact.com, then one of the biggest covering the sport, hosted and reprinted the article. Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with a pay-per-view business that rivals boxing and professional wrestling.

During the Classic Greek era there existed an ancient Olympic combat sport, known as Pankration which featured a combination of grappling and striking skills, similar to modern mixed martial arts. This sport originated in Ancient Greece and was later passed on to the Romans. No-holds-barred fighting reportedly took place in the late 1880s when wrestlers representing styles, Greco-Roman wrestling and many others met in tournaments and music-hall challenge matches throughout Europe. In the USA, the first major encounter between a boxer and a wrestler in modern times took place in 1887 when John L. Sullivan, then heavyweight world boxing champion, entered the ring with his trainer, Greco-Roman Wrestling champion William Muldoon, and was slammed to the mat in two minutes. The next publicized encounter occurred in the late 1890s when future heavyweight boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons took on European Greco-Roman Wrestling champion Ernest Roeber. In September 1901, Frank "Paddy" Slavin, who had been a contender for Sullivan's boxing title, knocked out future world wrestling champion Frank Gotch in Dawson City, Canada.

Another early example of mixed martial arts was Bartitsu, which Edward William Barton-Wright founded in London in 1899. Combining judo, jujutsu, boxing, savate and canne de combat (French stick fighting), Bartitsu was the first martial art known to have combined Asian and European fighting styles, and which saw MMA-style contests throughout England, pitting European and Japanese champions against representatives of various European wrestling styles.

Timeline of major events

  • Ancient Greece – Pankration
  • Late 19th century – Hybrid martial arts
  • Late 1880s – Early NHB and Mixed Style contests
  • 1899 – Barton-Wright and Bartitsu
  • Early 1900s – Merikan contests
  • 1920s – Early vale tudo and Gracie Challenge
  • 1947 - Kajukenbo America’s first mixed martial art created in Oahu, Hawaii.
  • 1960s and 1970s – Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do
  • Robert Beal/Fred Degerberg and Bushido
  • 1970s – Antonio Inoki and Ishu Kakutōgi Sen
  • 1985 – Shooto forms
  • 1989 – First professional Shooto event
  • 1991 – First Desafio (BJJ vs. Luta Livre) event
  • 1993 – Pancrase forms
  • 1993 – UFC forms
  • Mid/Late 1990s – International Vale Tudo
  • 1997–2007 – PRIDE FC and UFC era
  • 2000 – New Jersey SACB develops Unified rules
  • 2001 – Zuffa buys UFC
  • 2005 – The Ultimate Fighter Debuts
  • 2005 – US Army begins sanctioning MMA
  • 2006 – UFC dominance and international growth
  • 2006 – Zuffa buys WFA and WEC
  • 2006 – UFC 66 generates over a million PPV buys
  • 2007 – Zuffa buys PRIDE FC
  • 2008 – EliteXC: Primetime gains 6.5 million peak viewers on CBS
  • 2009 – Strikeforce holds 1st major card with female main event
  • 2011 – WEC merged with UFC
  • 2011 – Zuffa buys Strikeforce
  • 2011 – UFC on Fox gains 8.8 million peak viewers on Fox

The history of modern MMA competition can be traced to mixed style contests throughout Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s; In Japan these contests were known as merikan, from the Japanese slang for "American [fighting]". Merikan contests were fought under a variety of rules including points decision, best of three throws or knockdowns, and victory via knockout or submission. As the popularity of professional wrestling waned after World War I it split into two genres: "shoot", in which the fighters actually competed, and "show", which evolved into modern professional wrestling. In 1936, heavyweight boxing contender Kingfish Levinsky and veteran professional wrestler Ray Steele competed in a mixed match, which Steele won in 35 seconds.

In 1963, "Judo" Gene Lebell fought professional boxer Milo Savage in a no- holds-barred match. Lebell won by Harai Goshi to sleeper hold, leaving Savage unconscious.
In the late 1960s to early 1970s, the concept of combining the elements of multiple martial arts was popularized in the west by Bruce Lee via his system philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. Lee believed that "the best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style, to be formless, to adopt an individual's own style and not following the system of styles." In 2004, UFC President Dana White would call Lee the "father of mixed martial arts" stating: "If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away".blo
Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki took place in Japan in 1976. Both fighters refused to engage in the other's style and after a 15 round stalemate, it was declared a draw.

Modern Sport

The movement that led to the creation of the American and Japanese mixed martial arts scenes was rooted in two interconnected subcultures and two grappling styles, namely Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and shoot wrestling. First were the vale tudo events in Brazil, followed by the Japanese shoot-style wrestling shows. Vale tudo began in the 1920s and became renowned with the "Gracie challenge" issued by Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie and upheld later on by descendants of the Gracie family. Early mixed-match martial arts professional wrestling bouts in Japan (known as Ishu Kakutōgi Sen), literally "heterogeneous combat sports bouts") became popular with Antonio Inoki in the 1970s. Inoki was a disciple of Rikidōzan, but also of Karl Gotch who trained numerous Japanese wrestlers in catch wrestling.

Mixed martial arts competitions were introduced in the United States with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. The sport gained international exposure and widespread publicity when jiu-jitsu fighter Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, submitting three challengers in a total of just five minutes, sparking a revolution in martial arts.

Japan had its own form of mixed martial arts discipline Shooto that evolved from shoot wrestling in 1985, as well as the shoot wrestling derivative Pancrase founded as a promotion in 1993. The first Vale Tudo Japan tournaments were held in 1994 and 1995, both were won by Rickson Gracie. Around the same time, International Vale Tudo competition started to develop through (WVC, VTJ, IVC, UVF etc.). Interest in mixed martial arts as a sport resulted in the creation of the Pride Fighting Championships (Pride) in 1997, where again Rickson participated and won.

Regulation

In March 1997, the Iowa Athletic Commission officially sanctioned Battlecade Extreme Fighting under a modified form of its existing rules for Shootfighting. These rules created the 3, 5 minute round, one-minute break format, and mandated shootfighting gloves as well as weight classes for the first time. Illegal blows were listed as groin strikes, head butting, biting, eye gouging, hair pulling, striking an opponent with an elbow while the opponent is on the mat, kidney strikes, and striking the back of the head with closed fist. Holding onto the ring or cage for any reason was defined as foul.[19][20] While there are minor differences between these and the final Unified Rules, notably regarding elbow-strikes, the Iowa rules allowed mixed martial arts promoters to conduct essentially modern events legally, anywhere in the state. On March 28, 1997, Extreme Fighting 4 was held under these rules, making it the first officially sanctioned mixed martial arts event, and the first show conducted under a version of the modern rules.

In April 2000, the California State Athletic Commission voted unanimously in favor of regulations that later became the foundation for the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. However when the legislation was sent to California's capitol for review, it was determined that the sport fell outside the jurisdiction of the CSAC, rendering the vote superfluous. In September 2000, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board began to allow mixed martial arts promoters to conduct events in New Jersey. The intent was to allow the NJSACB to observe actual events and gather information to establish a comprehensive set of rules to effectively regulate the sport.

On April 3, 2001, the NJSACB held a meeting to discuss the regulation of mixed martial arts events. This meeting attempted to unify the myriad rules and regulations which have been utilized by the different mixed martial arts organizations. At this meeting, the proposed uniform rules were agreed upon by the NJSACB, several other regulatory bodies, numerous promoters of mixed martial arts events and other interested parties in attendance. At the conclusion of the meeting, all parties in attendance were able to agree upon a uniform set of rules to govern the sport of mixed martial arts.

The rules adopted by the NJSACB have become the de facto standard set of rules for professional mixed martial arts across North America. On July 30, 2009, a motion was made at the annual meeting of the Association of Boxing Commissions to adopt these rules as the "Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts". The motion passed unanimously. In November 2005, recognition of mixed martial arts effectiveness came as the United States Army began to sanction mixed martial arts with the first annual Army Combatives Championships held by the US Army Combatives School. Canada formally decriminalized mixed martial arts with a vote on Bill S-209 on June 5, 2013. The bill allows for provinces to have the power to create athletic commissions to regulate and sanction professional mixed martial arts bouts.

Growth

The sport reached a new peak of popularity in North America in the December 2006 rematch between then UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and former champion Tito Ortiz, rivaling the PPV sales of some of the biggest boxing events of all time, and helping the UFC's 2006 PPV gross surpass that of any promotion in PPV history. In 2007, Zuffa LLC, the owners of the UFC MMA promotion, bought Japanese rival MMA brand Pride FC, merging the contracted fighters under one promotion and drawing comparisons to the consolidation that occurred in other sports, such as the AFL-NFL Merger in American football.

Since the UFC came to prominence in mainstream media in 2006, and with their 2007 merger with Pride FC and purchase of WEC, few companies have presented significant competition.[28] However numerous organizations have held shows of significance while competing against the UFC.

The most notable competition has included:

  • Pride Fighting Championships (1997-2007)
  • World Extreme Cagefighting (2001-2010)
  • International Fight League (2006–2008)
  • EliteXC (2006–2008)
  • Strikeforce (2006–2013)
  • Bellator Fighting Championships (2008–Present)
  • DREAM (2008–Present)