Mixed martial arts (MMA) is an unarmed, full combat sport combining various classical martial arts and western fighting elements. What results is a kind of east-meets-west sport that audiences can't get enough of. MMA allows athletes with different martial arts backgrounds to showcase their combined skills. Fighting matches have become a cable network sensation, and can be accessed by pay-per-view. The sport has enjoyed increasing popularity in the US, rivaled only by boxing and professional wrestling.
While the art forms from which MMA is derived are ancient, modern mixed martial arts arrived in pop culture in 1993 with the founding of its largest promoter, the Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC). Fighters put their skills to the test to discover the best fighting art for use in actual unarmed combat. What resulted was not one discipline but many; a composite of two or three disciplines, particularly boxing, wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. (Wickert, 2004) But the new sport needed to be regulated to ensure its safety. What followed was a uniform set of rules adopted by the sports promoters and commissioners. In a very short time, MMA became an iconic sport in a new century.
History of MMA as a Sport
The idea of mixing the martial arts into one sporting event can be ultimately traced back to the Grecian sport of 'pankration', introduced to the ancient Olympics in 648 BC. Is is said to have been the earliest record of unarmed combat martial arts. Pankration combined the ancient sports of boxing and wrestling, and literally means, "all powers". 'Pan' ("all"); 'kratos' ("powers").
Pankration was one of the most watched games at the Olympics. Rules were few and simple: no eye-gouging or biting! Games were played in rings and ended when a fighter submitted, was knocked unconscious, or killed. Fighters knew few bounds, often striking the stomach, groin, knees or elbows, and using choke holds to take each other down. It wasn't uncommon for games to drag on for hours, or end in the death in one or both players by strangulation. Winners were often hailed as heroes, becoming the subjects of myths and legends, and became employed as soldiers in the military.
The sport was passed from the Greek to the Romans. Eventually with the rise if the Roman Empire the game's popularity went on the decline.
Modern MMA History
Various versions of the mixed martial arts gained popularity throughout Japan, Europe, and the Pacific coastal region in the early 1900s. Up until 1993, the mixed versions of martial arts were generically referred to as "hybrid martial arts".
Mixed martial arts history re-emerges from its ancient past with the Brazilian combat sport of Vale Tudo in the 1920s, which was brought to the US in 1993 by the Gracie family, who immigrated to Brazil from Scotland in 1801. The introduction of the discipline in the US accompanied the founding of the UFC.
Examples of early modern mixed martial arts, or hybrid martial arts, was "no-holds-barred" wrestling played throughout Europe. The unrestricted form of wrestling dabbled into many styles. Another example was the London-born Bartitsu of 1899, a sport that also combined various disciplines, including Jiu jutsu, Judo, Savate, and stick fighting, and the first martial art known to combine both eastern and western fighting styles.
In Japan, mixed martial arts competitions were called "merikan", slang for "American fighting".
The popularity of professional wrestling declined after WWI, giving rise to a new genre that emphasized the sport of professional wrestling as not an actual competition, but a show.
Bruce Lee's philosophy of Jeet Kune Do popularized the idea of combining different martial arts elements in the 1960s and 70s, when he defined the "best fighter" to be not the best boxer or wrestler or Karate artist, but one able to adapt to any style. To Lee, dubbed "father of mixed martial arts" in 2004 by UFC President Dana White, the perfect style was 'no style'.
He said, "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". (Wickert, 2004)
The top strikers in modern MMA history, according to Tapology Consensus MMA rankings, include Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell, Mirko Filipovic, Junior Dos Santos, Wanderlei Silva, Jose Aldo, Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem, Mauricio Rua, and Lyoto Machida.
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