The Brief History of Mixed Martial Arts


Mixed martial arts, commonly known as MMA, is a modern combat sport that combines strategies and techniques from several fighting styles and martial arts. For the past few decades, MMA has been one of the fastest-rising fighting sports worldwide. Today, it is a mainstream sport followed by millions of fans all across the globe.

The Beginnings of MMA

We have all heard of MMA, but not many people know that this sport dates back to ancient civilizations. It is believed that one of the earliest forms of this sport originated from Ancient China and the time of the Han Dynasty. Back then, the Chinese military developed a form of hand-to-hand fighting to be used in combat. The new discipline was known as Shuai Jiao, and combined different styles, including kung fu and wrestling. It was one of the first martial arts with such complexity, as it included punching, kicking, and throwing, but also grappling elements, such as joint locks.

Ancient Greeks had their own interpretation of the sport, called Pankration. Pankration was a mix of boxing and wrestling and was introduced in 648 BC at the 33rd Olympiad. In the beginning, Pankration did not have strict rules: The only things that were forbidden were eye-gouging, biting, and strikes to groins. Each fight had two participants and went on until one of them could no longer continue.

Later on, similar mixed-discipline combat sports appeared in other ancient civilizations, such as Egypt, India, and Japan.

The Modern History of MMA

While MMA clearly has ancient roots, it wasn’t until the 19th century that mixing fighting styles became truly popular. During that period, many new disciplines were brought to the scene. One such example is savate, a French combat sport created in the 1850s. Savate combined multiple combat sports and martial arts, with a focus on scoring points by kicking.

Another martial art known for combining European and Asian combat styles is Bartitsu. This art was invented in London by Edward William Barton-Wright, back in 1899. Bartitsu was fascinating, as it incorporated different elements of judo, wrestling, savate, boxing, cane fighting, and jiu-jitsu.

Catch wrestling, another mix of several wrestling styles, appeared in the late 19th century and has dramatically influenced MMA as we know it today.

The term “mixed martial arts” was first used by the television critic Howard Rosenberg in 1993. That year marked a breakthrough, as that’s when the first official global MMA event took place: The Ultimate Fighting Championship, also known as UFC 1, was held in Denver, Colorado, and the rest became history. The eight-man tournament format lasted only for a day, and the winner became richer for $50,000. The fights had no weight classes, no rounds, no breaks in fighting, and no judges. The only rules were no biting, eye-gouging, and groin shots, and matches could end by knockout, submission, or corner stoppage via towel throw. Royce Gracie understood the assignment perfectly and became the winner by defeating Gerard Gordeau via submission.

Since that day, MMA has evolved into a true global phenomenon and continues to increase in popularity. Vast sums of money are now being invested in this sport, and bookmakers worldwide offer some gripping odds to all those interested in wagering their money on MMA fighters. Aside from the UFC, we now have many other major MMA tournaments, including Bellator MMA in the United States and ONE Championship in Asia. The sport’s rules have evolved as well, and there is now a complex rule set to ensure a safer environment for the competitors. Some of those are:

  • Padded, fingerless gloves should be worn when fighting.
  • No shoes are allowed.
  • No headgear is to be worn.
  • No hair pulling.
  • No head butting.
  • No downward elbow strikes.
  • No back-of-the-head strikes.
  • No kicking or kneeing of the head when the opponent is on the ground.
  • No striking the spine.

A trained referee is there to observe the game and ensure all the rules are followed. If a fighter breaches one, the referee can disqualify them and end the round. Although there are some new rules and regulations in place, MMA has kept its eclectic spirit, and the excitement during the matches is as palpable as ever.

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