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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Roots of MMA- How it all got started

We're headed into 2012, and people take so many things for granted, without knowing where they came from, or why. Even simple things like sports- take baseball. Do you know how baseball got started? When? By who? What about ping pong? Who created that game, and who set up the rules? Were they the same people that invented volleyball? I don't know the histroy of many sports and games, now that I think about it. What I do know is Mixed Martial Arts, and if you've ever wondered about it's history, lineage, and rules, today is the day you'll learn about them all.
Pankration. That's the name of the style of mixed fighting that first took hold in sports. The word itself, Pankration, is a combination of pan- meaning "everything" and kratos- meaning "strength".
This first sport fighting was a combination of boxing and wrestling, and was actually the most popular Olympic sport for a long time. The combatants were revered as heros, and legend has it that Hercules was a pankration competitor. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 B.C., he had a large number of pankration competitors in his army. It is believed this lead to most Asian martial arts, as they are generally traced back to India around this time period. Pankration's downcline was aligned with that of Greece's. The combat sports were separated as the Roman Empire was taking power. Boxing and wrestling were Western favorites, and the Asian martial art forms rose in popularity and practice. These trends continued until the early 1900's, when Judo was introduced to an individual living in the Para province in Brazil, by a Japanese man named Mitsuyo Madea.
Mitsuyo Madea had come to Brazil to establish a Japanese community. He was a government official in Japan, and he was also a Judo champion. He befriended Gastao Gracie, who was in Brazilian politics, and began teaching Judo to Gastao's son, Carlos. After 6 years of teaching, Madea retunred to Japan. Armed with his new knowledge, and lacking the martial art rules governing Judo in Japan, Carlos taught his brothers his own version of Judo. In 1925, Carlos and his youngest brother Helio moved to Rio, and established the first Jiu Jitsu academy. To get established, Carlos issued the now-famous "Gracie Challenge". He and Helio (and their children after them) welcomed all comers in a style of fighting called Vale Tudo. They were basically no holds barred matches, the closest thing to Pankration in about 2000 years. People all over the world began to hear about these matches, and all sorts of Martial Art instructors and practioners would come to test their skills. As the popularity grew so much in Brazil that only Soccer was more popular, the Gracies knew they wanted to penetrate the market of the best country in the world, the United States.
In 1980, Helio Gracie's son Rorian moved to California to begin teaching Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Rorian also issued a "Gracie Challenge", but he spiced it up for the USA- he offered $100,000 to anyone who could beat him in a fight. This offer gained his school, and Jiu Jitsu as a whole so much popularity, Rorian knew he had to create a "league" for fighting in the USA, similar to the major sports here.
In 1993, his dreams came to a reality, and the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was held. This was a new style of fighting that only disallowed fish hooks, eye gouging, and biting. The fights were ended only by a knock out, referee stoppage, or a "3 tap" submission, where the fighter would tap the floor or their opponent 3 times with a hand or foot. The fights were structured with no time limit, and no judges. As it was a single elimination, one night tournament, the winning fighters would continue fighting until a champion was crowned. Royce Gracie, son of Helio Gracie, won UFC 1 with his amazing Jiu Jitsu skills. Although only 178 pounds, he was able to defeat men literally twice his size. Everyone took note of his skills, and began the ground fighting practice. Even so, Royce won 3 of the first 4 UFC tournaments. The lack of rules and the brutal fighting that ensued garnered a lot of interest, very quickly. It was also due to the lack of rules that the UFC nearly came to a close, and we likely wouldn't have MMA as we know it today.
Pictured is Royce Gracie going for an armbar/triangle on Kimo Leopoldo at UFC 3.
In 1997, Senator John McCain (may he rot in eternal hell) was successful in nearly stopping the UFC, or as he called it, human cockfighting. He was so avidly against the lack of rules and UFC in general that he made many political moves that would lead to the UFC being dropped from cable Pay-Per-View. This cut off the main revenue, the funding for more events. The UFC was on life support, functioning only with the support of DirecTV pay per view. To stay alive, the UFC had to react to the reasons they were banned, and attempted to create more rules and regulations for themselves. At UFC 12, weight classes were formed. At UFC 14, head kicks to a downed opponent were banned, and fighters now had to wear gloves. UFC 15 eliminated groin shots, hair pulling, headbutting, punches to the back of the head and neck, and small joint manipulation (finger locks, etc). At UFC 21, with the introduction of 5 minute rounds and a 10 point per round scoring system, the UFC was seen as making the transition from spectacle to an actual sport. UFC's first event to be sanctioned under the new "unified rules of MMA" was UFC 28, held in New Jersey. These rules included 5 weight classes, time limits, 31 fouls, and 8 ways to win.
On January 1st, 2001, Zuffa, LLC purchased the UFC. Among the leaders of Zuffa was Lorenzo Fertitta, a former member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Lorenzo was instrumental in getting the UFC sanctioned in Nevada. Due to the sacntioning and regulation, the UFC was allowed back on cable pay per view. On September 28th, 2001, UFC 33 was presented as the first sanctioned, regulated, cable pay per view UFC event, aptly named "Victory in Vegas". With the regained exposure and a larger force behind advertising, the UFC continued to rise in popularity. The UFC and most of the smaller United States MMA promotions used generally the same rules, as dictated in the Unified Rules of MMA. Pride Fighting Championships in Japan, however, used some different rules. They allowed kicks to the head (or anywhere) of a downed opponent, this includes stomps and soccer kicks. Elbows to a grounded opponent were disallowed. In 2007, the UFC bought Pride FC. That followed the UFC's purchase of the WEC in 2006, and preceeded the purchase of Strikeforce in 2011. Similar to the NFL and the NBA, the UFC has been consuming the competition and establishing itself as the predominant organization in MMA. With a new 7 year cable television deal with FOX, exposure in over 150 countries and a new televised "The Ultimate Fighter" show in Brazil in 2012, MMA (and the UFC) is headed only one direction.
MMA fighters now train mixed martial arts literally - because they have to. Gone are the days when competitors train in a primary aspect, a single martial art, and then add to it for MMA competition. Well rounded is the best way to be, as holes in any area of a fighter's game will be exploited at some point. The fighters have all evolved so much that a black belt in Jiu Jitsu isn't as important as having years of dedicated MMA training. Cardio is playing a bigger role in fights as fighters become more skilled, as are smaller details like using the cage to one's advantage in certain situations, like using it to help you stand back up from a takedown. MMA is truly a sport- and a great one at that. The competitors go through the most insane training to compete, more than any other sport on earth.
Hopefully you learned something new today! This article is dedicated to user "socal57chevy" on the TundraTalk forums, he suggested I write a piece on this topic.


  1. WOW...never knew the rich history of grappling and fighting in general. As a practitioner of chinese martial arts...I have not been exposed to many aspects of BJJ but have been taught how to defend against it. Back in the day of Genghis Khan and Hannibal...several of their warriors used grappling and a mix of various styles to gain an advantage over their opposition too. I am sure that the origin of many of their disciplines derived from India or other areas near them.
    Great article about the history of MMA. I understand why certain disciplines are not allowed but it would truly be an interesting tournament to see an even wider array of styles...sounds like a videogame that has come to life!

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  4. UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz Helio Gracie's son Rorian moved to California to begin teaching Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Rorian also issued a "Gracie Challenge", but he spiced it up for the USA- he offered $100,000 to anyone who could beat him in a fight. This offer gained his school, and Jiu Jitsu as a whole so much popularity, Rorian knew he had to create a "league" for fighting in the USA, similar to the major sports here.

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