Ever wondered where MMA began? We give a brief insight into its' roots!
People think of mixed martial arts, or MMA, as a relatively new sport as the first real recognized MMA competition was the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) back in 1993. Although the modern version of MMA has such a short history, the roots of the sport are buried in ancient history.
The Greeks had a similar event called the Pankration, which was a fighting competition with only two rules – no biting and no eye gouging. In 648 B.C., the Pankration was incorporated into the original Olympics. The event was particularly brutal, in a day when brutality and cruel arena sports were common. It was not unusual to have many participants be maimed for life or even die by the end of the competition.
Since that time, there have been various events where the idea has been to pit one style against another, such as the 1887 bout between boxer John Sullivan and wrestler William Muldoon. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, Bartitsu competitions were popular in England. This event would pit Asian versus European fighting styles. With the Asian cultures still considered strange and exotic, this was an unusual movement for the time period.
We see examples of mixed martial arts styles of competition cropping up all over the world in the first part of the 20th century. Judo was introduced to Brazil in about 1914, which was highly unorthodox, with the Japanese rarely sharing such things with any westerners. Mitsuyo Maeda, a Kodokan Judo master, taught Brazilian Carlos Gracie in gratitude for Gracie's father helping him with business. Carlos, in turn, taught his younger brother Helio the art and discipline of Judo.
A small man, Helio Gracie approached Judo with creativity and developed it into a style that focused less on strength and more on leverage. Gracie's new fighting style became known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Out of Jiu Jitsu came methods of using choke holds and joint locks to gain the upper hand over one's opponents.
The first of the Ultimate Fighting Competitions was partially founded by Helio Gracie's son, Rorion along with Americans Art Davie and Robert Meyrowitz. The event was held at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado and was broadcast live across the country via pay-per-view. Three of the first four events were won by another of Helio's sons, Royce.
The early competitions had few rules. There were no weight classes or time limits. Almost anything went, including headbutts, hair pulling and groin strikes. The public ate it up, as shown by the over 86,500 people who paid to see the live broadcast from the packed arena. However, some people found the no hold barred fighting to be too brutal. Spearheaded by Senator John McCain, who called MMA “human cockfighting” a movement began with the goal of getting the “new” sport banned.
Once McCain and his proponents succeeded in getting the UFC banned from pay-per-view and outlawed in many states, the fledgling organization came within a hairsbreadth of going bankrupt. In 2001, the company was bought by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. Since then, the sport has prohibited some of the earlier allowed moves, such as groin strikes, and added more regulation to make it more acceptable by the public.
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