Pankration was a Greco-Roman Olympic combat sport that used a combination of grappling and striking skills, similar to today's Mixed Martial Arts competitions. Originally, this sport took place in Greece. Later, it became a part of Roman sports.
In the 1880s, there were no holds barred fights taking place. The wrestlers who competed in these matches used various different fighting styles. Wrestlers would use catch wrestling styles and Greco-Roman wrestling. There were many matches that took place in music halls throughout Europe. In 1887, the earliest competition between a boxer and wrestler took place when, the boxing heavyweight champion, at the time, John L. Sullivan, entered into a match with his trainer, William Muldoon, who was the Greco-Roman wrestling champion. John L. Sullivan was slammed down on the mat within two minutes. In the late 1890s, the next publicized match between a boxer and wrestler took place. Bob Fitzsimmons, who would later become the heavyweight boxing champion, entered a match with Ernest Roeber, the European Greco-Roman wrestling champion.
In 1899, Bartitsu, a form of mixed martial arts, was founded by Edward William Barton-Wright in London. Bartitsu combined many different fighting styles, including judo, boxing, savate, and canne de combat, a form of French stick fighting. This was the earliest known martial art fighting style to combine Asian and European styles. There were competitions throughout England using this MMA style of fighting. The competitions would have European and Japanese champions challenging competitors who represented different European wrestling styles.
The modern versions of the MMA competitions we see today have a history that go as far back as the early 1990s where mixed style competitions took place throughout Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. Merikan, a Japanese slang term for American fighting, was what the Japanese competitions were called. The rules to win Merikan included a point system, best of three throws or knockdowns, or a victory by knockout or submission.
After World War I, the popularity of professional wrestling suffered. As a result, it split off into two separate genres. The shoot style of wrestling allowed fighters to compete. The show style of wrestling was more for entertainment, which is what professional wrestling is today.
Kingfish Levinsky, a heavyweight boxer, and Ray Steele, a professional wrestler, fought in a mixed match in 1936. Ray Steele defeated Kingfish Levinsky 35 seconds into the match.
Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do was a philosophy that became popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The concept of the philosophy was to combine different martial art styles. Bruce Lee believed the best fighter was one that could adapt to different styles of fighting, not just a boxer, karate, or judo man. He said a fighter should be formless, like water. A fighter should be able to adopt their own style of fighting, not follow a system of styles. Dana White, the UFC President, called Bruce Lee the father of mixed martial arts in 2004. White said if a person were to look at the way Bruce Lee trained and fought as well as the things he wrote about, they would see that Bruce said the perfect style of fighting was to have no style at all. He continued to say that taking a little of something from everything was the best way to fight. A fighter should take the good elements of the different disciplines, use what works for them, and discard the rest.
MMA of Today
Brazilian Jui-Jitsu and shoot wrestling were the two connected subcultures and grappling styles that brought about the creation of the American and Japanese mixed martial art style competitions. In Brazil, there were the Vale Tudo events that took place. In Japan, there were shoot style wrestling competitions that took place.
In the 1920s, the Vale Tudo competitions began. It was dubbed as the Gracie Challenge. Carlos and Heilo Gracie issued challenges to other competitors. The descendants of the Gracie family continued the competitions through the years. In the 1970s, Ishu Kakutogi Sen, which translates to heterogeneous combat sports bouts, were mixed martial arts themed professional wrestling matches. These matches became popular with the help of Antonio Inoki. Rikidozan and Karl Gotch trained Inoki in different fighting styles, including catch wrestling.
In 1993, the earliest Ultimate Fighting Championship was broadcast, introducing the United States to the world of mixed martial arts competitions. Royce Gracie, a jiu-jitsu fighter, won the earliest Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament by getting three challengers to submit in five minutes, resulting in a revolution in the martial art world. The Ultimate Fighting Championship gained publicity and international exposure after this fight took place.
In 1985, the evolution of the mixed martial arts discipline, Shooto, from shoot wrestling began in Japan. In 1993, the evolution of Pancrase, founded as a promotion, from shoot wrestling also began. In 1994 and 1995, the earliest tournaments of Vale Tudo occurred in Japan. Rickson Gracie won both of these tournaments. The WVC, VTJ, IVC, and UVF were International Vale Tudo competitions that began to take place in 1995. The Pride Fighting Championships, created in 1997, were a result of a surge in the interest of mixed martial arts. Rickson Gracie competed in the Pride Fighting Championships and continued his winning streak.
The Regulations of MMA
The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were created in April of 2000 after the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) had a unanimous vote in favor of regulating the sport. The rules were turned down by California's capitol, because the capital found the CSAC had no jurisdiction over the sport.
In New Jersey, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) began allowing mixed martial art promoters to put on mixed martial art competitions in September of 2000. The NJSACB attended events, gathering information in order to create a comprehensive set of rules to regulate the sport.
The NJSACB conducted a meeting on April 3, 2001 to discuss the rules and regulations of future mixed martial arts events. The purpose of the meeting was to unify the rules and regulations used throughout the different mixed martial arts organizations. The NJSACB, regulatory bodies, promoters and other interested parties agreed to the unified rules and regulations proposed. Mixed martial art competitions had a governing body at the conclusion of the meeting.
The rules created by the NJSCAB are the standard rules for professional mixed martial arts events across North America. The Association of Boxing Commissions adopted the rules created by the NJSCAB as the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts on July 30, 2009 through a unanimous vote.
The US Army Combatives School began holding Army Combatives Championships, a sanctioned mixed martial arts competition, in November 2005, thus solidifying the recognition of the sport.
Growth of Mixed Martial Arts
The rematch between Chuck Liddell, the UFC light heavyweight champion, and Tito Ortiz, the former champion, rivaled the PPV sales of the biggest boxing events, helping the sport to reach a new peak in its popularity in December of 2006. The UFC's 2006 PPV gross beat all other PPV promotions in the history of PPV events. The owners of the UFC MMA promotion, Zuffa LLC, purchased the MMA brand, Pride FC, the Japanese rival, which merged the contracted fighters under a single promotion. This merger drew a comparison of the MMA to other supports that had previously merged, such as the AFL-NFL Merger in American football.
There have been few companies that have given the UFC competition since they exploded onto the scene in 2006. The merger of Pride FC and the purchase of WEC have left UFC as the dominant organization. There have been some organizations that have held shows with a significant showing of promise while competing with the UFC's popularity.
For instance, some of the most notable competition includes:
Strikeforce, which began in 2006 and continues to run.
International Fight League, which ran from 2006 to 2008.
EliteXC, which ran from 2006 to 2008.
Bellator Fight Championships, which began in 2008 and continues to run.
DREAM, which began in 2008 and continues today.
The North American MMA attendance record was set at UFC129 on April 30, 2011. The Rogers Centre in Toronto drew 55,724. The event also set a new gate record, bringing in $12,075,000. This is the highest amount brought in for any Toronto event.
The Evolution of Fighters
There has been an increase in the number of fighters, training camps, information sharing, and modern kinesiology, resulting in a further understanding of the combat effectiveness of different strategies. Joe Rogan, a UFC commentator, stated that since 1993, martial arts evolved more than in the previous 700 years.
An accelerated evolution of the sport has been fostered by the high profile MMA promotions, UFC and Pride. There were a wide variety of traditional styles that competed in the early 1990s. There was varying levels of success throughout the early competitions amongst the separate styles.
Fighters who used the grappling styles of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling dominated the sport in the early 1990s throughout the United States. Fighters who used boxing, kickboxing, and karate were not prepared to deal with the submission grappling techniques. Fighters who specialized in a shoot wrestling style offered more of a balance of amateur wrestling and catch wrestling based submissions. This allowed for a well rounded skill set. In Japan, the shoot wrestlers were very successful. Notable upsets against the more dominant grapplers began to take place as the strike based fighter began to cross train in the different arts that specialized in takedowns and submission holds. The fighters specializing in grappling techniques began to train in striking styles. Fighters began to become multi-dimensional and well rounded through the various cross training taking place.
Dan Severn, Don Frye, and Mark Coleman are the fighters who created the new fighting technique of ground and pound, which is the hybrid of grappling and striking fighting styles. The incorporation of strikes needed for keeping a fighter on the ground as well as while standing upright was realized by these three fighters. At UFC 14, Mark Coleman said that his strategy was to ground him and pound him about his opponent. This was possibly the earliest use of the term.
Successful MMA fighters have been strikers and grapplers since the late 1990s. The most successful fighters have been cross trained in striking and grappling, rarely has there been a fighter who is not cross trained both that has reached the highest level of success.