Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, from a variety of other combat sports and martial arts. Various mixed-style contests took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s. The combat sport of vale tudo that had developed in Brazil from the 1920s was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The more dangerous vale-tudo-style bouts of the early UFCs were made safer with the implementation of additional rules, leading to the popular regulated form of MMA seen today. Originally promoted as a competition with the intention of finding the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat situations, competitors were pitted against one another with few rules. Later, fighters employed multiple martial arts into their style while promoters adopted additional rules aimed at increasing safety for competitors and to promote mainstream acceptance of the sport. The name mixed martial arts was coined by television critic Howard Rosenberg, in 1993, in his review of UFC 1. The term gained popularity when the website newfullcontact.com, then one of the biggest covering the sport, hosted and reprinted the article. Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with a pay-per-view business that rivals boxing and professional wrestling.
Modern mixed martial arts competition or MMA has only a short history, as the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event took place on November 12, 1993. However, martial artists of different backgrounds have been fighting for years leading up to the burgeoning modern day interest in full contact combat athletic endeavors. In accordance, this full contact combat sport is growing in popularity at an amazing rate.
The More Distant History of MMA
In a sense, all martial arts styles and therefore martial arts history in general has led up to what we now refer to as MMA. Along with this, those that practice fighting techniques have been testing their skills against one another likely before history even began to be recorded. Still, Greek Pankration, a fighting event that became a part of the Olympic Games in 648 B.C., is the first documented full contact, few rules combat competition in history. Pankration events were known for their brutality; even more so were the Etruscan and Roman pancratium events that sprouted from it.
More recently, there have been many examples of full combat fights designed to measure one style against another. One of the more notable occurred in 1887 when then heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan took on Greco-Roman wrestling champion William Muldoon. Muldoon reportedly slammed his adversary to the canvas in just a couple of minutes. Reinforcing this, many other reported matches between famous strikers and grapplers also took place in and around this time, with grapplers often demonstrating a significant advantage over their striking or stand up fighting counterparts.
Interestingly, MMA style competitions also sprouted up in England in the late 1800’s via Bartitsu events. Bartitsu pitted Asian and European fighting styles against one another. The inclusion of the Asian fighting styles made them somewhat unique for the time period.
In the early 1900’s, full contact combat with mixed styles began happening in a variety of places. However, there were two spots that were perhaps more noticeable and noteworthy. First, there was vale tudo in Brazil, which began in the early 1920’s. In sum, vale tudo was born of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Gracie family. The history behind this is noteworthy enough when it comes to MMA to go into it further.
In 1914, a Kodokan Judo master by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda taught Brazil’s Carlos Gracie (Gastao Gracie’s son) the art of judo in appreciation of his father’s help with business in the country. This was an amazing turn of events as the Japanese tended to hide jujutsu and judo from the western world. From there, Carlos’s youngest and smallest brother Helio, refined the art that had been taught to Carlos into one that used less strength and more leverage in order to suit his more diminutive frame.
What came of this was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a grappling art that taught practitioners how to utilize joint locks and choke holds to their advantage on the ground. In addition, one of Helio’s major accomplishments was in refining how fighters could compete from their backs utilizing a technique called the guard.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu performers did exceptionally well in mixed style vale tudo matches in Brazil, one of which was Helio Gracie.
In addition, there were mixed martial arts matches being put on by Antonio Inoki in Japan in the 1970’s. One of these took place between Inoki himself and famed heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali on June 25, 1976. In reality, it appears that this 15 round draw, which netted Ali six million dollars and Inoki two million dollars, was staged. Further, several rules were put into place to help Ali just before the fight went off (including a rule that only allowed Inoki to kick if one of his knees were down). However, the match certainly generated a lot of interest in mixed style competitions.
Eventually, all of this led to the first UFC event in 1993.
History had forgotten that wrestlers had done very well in past mixed martial arts matches. Besides, much had changed. Further, the mainstream United States had almost no idea whatsoever about the Gracie’s vale tudo exploits in Brazil. Which led to the following age-old question: which martial arts style was most effective?
That was the question that the original UFC competition and founders Art Davie, Robert Meyrowitz, and Helio Gracie’s son, Rorion, set out to answer on November 12, 1993. The event, which pitted eight fighters against one another in a single elimination, one day tournament, was seen on pay per view and came to the masses live from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.
The tournament had few rules (including no decisions, time limits, or weight classes) and fighters in it with a variety of martial arts backgrounds. Brazilian Jiu-Jisu (Royce Gracie, son of Helio), Karate (Zane Frazier), shootfighting (Ken Shamrock), Sumo (Telia Tuli), Savate (Gerard Gordeau), kickboxing (Kevin Rosier and Patrick Smith), and professional boxing (Art Jimmerson) were all represented. In sum, the event ended up showcasing Gracie Jiu Jitsu, as Royce defeated three fighters via submission in less than five minutes combined to take home victory. A total of 86,592 spectators witnessed his dominance via pay per view. In fact, the 170 pound Gracie won three of the first four UFC tournaments, proving in the eyes of many that his style of fighting was king.
Interestingly, Royce was chosen by the Gracie family to compete in the competition because of his diminutive size. Given this, if he won—which the family believed that he would— then the Gracies felt there would be no choice but to accept Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as the greatest fighting art in the world.
The UFC and MMA Blackout
The founders of UFC competition, particularly Rorion Gracie, believed that MMA should be conducted with fewer rules to make it more lifelike. Thus, groin strikes, headbutts, and pulling hair were allowed. However, when senator John McCain came across the event, one that he labeled “human cockfighting,” he worked hard and successfully to get it banned from pay per view and sanctioning in many states. This MMA blackout resulted in the UFC almost going bankrupt. Further, it allowed Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships, a now defunct organization, to rise up and become popular. Along with this, many former UFC fighters, including Royce Gracie, went to fight for them.
Since the blackout, MMA and the UFC have instituted rules designed to help their appeal in the United States. Gone are the days when headbutting, hair pulling, and striking to the groin were legal. Along with this, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta bought the failing UFC in 2001. They formed Zuffa as the parent company of the organization and appointed Dana White as president. Frank’s ties to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, of which he was once a member, helped him to get the UFC sanctioned in Nevada once again (along with the rules changes). With that and the return of pay per view, the sport began to make a resurgence.
In 2005, the organization aired The Ultimate Fighter Reality television show (TUF) for the first time on Spike Television. Competitors on the show (up and coming fighters) trained in a house together with either Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell as coaches. Then they fought in a single elimination style tournament, with the winner set to receive a six figure UFC contract. The light heavyweight battle between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar during the show’s finale is widely considered to be one of the greatest MMA fights in history. What’s more, the show and the fervor with which Bonnar and Griffin went at each other, is often given substantial credit for boosting MMA’s popularity.
MMA Today and Female MMA Competition
Though the UFC is still by far the gold standard organization when it comes to the sport of MMA, there are many other organizations out there. Some of the more popular are Affliction, Strikeforce, and the WEC. Further, MMA is seen on television regularly and enjoys excellent pay per view buy numbers, especially via the UFC.
Interestingly, the now defunct EliteXC organization made history when their event EliteXC: Primetime became the first MMA event to be put on major American network television. The organization also did a lot to help the growing interest in female MMA, by broadcasting female MMA matches on both CBS and Showtime. In fact, one of the organizations’ big draws was the ever-popular Gina Carano.
Basic Goals of MMA
Depending on the MMA organization, the rules of mixed martial arts combat may be slightly different. Regardless, MMA is a sport where combatants attempt to either defeat their adversary via stoppage (submission or (T)KO) or by decision. Decisions are rendered by judges and are based on the criteria of winning the fight.
Characteristics of MMA
MMA matches are characterized by the variety of martial arts styles it draws from. Specifically, matches often go through a variety of scenarios including stand up fighting (punches, clinch work, knees, kicks, and elbows), throwing or takedowns, and ground fighting (ground control, submissions, and submission defense).
Since MMA fighters come from a variety of backgrounds, their training regimens do differ. However, all successful MMA fighters must train to fight both on the ground and on their feet. Further, most practice submission fighting, wrestling, and kickboxing to a significant degree due to their past effectiveness in competition.
Another very important aspect to MMA training is conditioning. MMA fighters must be in outstanding shape to fight for what sometimes amounts to 25 minutes over five rounds.
WHAT IS MMA?
A lot of people ask this question, what is MMA? I am yet to find a good answer out there, although it should be very clear since it is time that we all realize that it is here to stay. You could sure look it up on Wikipedia, but to me, that wikipedia article is missing the whole point of MMA since it just simply talks about where it came from. I'll take a stab at it, we need to refer to it as to what it is, A SPORT.
Yes, MMA is Mixed Martial Arts. I see it as a proven reality. A reality formed by experience. MMA is a SPORT that formed because the participants of the original Ultimate Fighting Championship realized that they needed to make their fighting styles better by adding techniques from other martial arts disciplines, and the promoters tried to make it more acceptable for mainstream America by having athletic commissions regulate it and added more rules to make the fighter’s safety the number 1 priority. That is MMA. That is Mixed Martial Arts. A SPORT that consists in the regulated hand to hand combat of 2 athletes trained in various forms of martial arts.
An MMA Fighter is an athlete that trains himself to learn and use the best techniques from different martial arts (Muay Thai, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, and Sambo) and conditions himself with the best strength and conditioning methods to enter the octagon or cage and compete against another athlete under similar conditions to see who the best is. At the end of the bout, the athlete that learned the most techniques and was able to apply them correctly and was better conditioned will prevail. That to me is a SPORT. Similar to football, were the NFL athletes have to study playbooks, conditioned themselves, come up with a game plan and apply their knowledge on the field to win a game, MMA athletes do the same to win a bout. Today it would be ignorant to think otherwise, MMA is a Sport and has become a lifestyle as well. Clothing lines, training gear, training facilities, nutrition are all now part of the sport’s culture.
Now, like anything else, it is important to know where it came from. We all know that we have many different styles of martial arts out there: Muay Thai, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, Sambo, Kickboxing, Kung Fu, etc. even those crazy big guys - Sumo. These styles have fought against their own members, but no one ever thought of putting them to the test against other styles. Not until the Gracie family brought the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship to the USA. Although we have to mention that before The Ultimate Fighting Championship, as early as the 1920’s, there have been Vale Tudo matches in Brazil and some other parts of the world. But never until the UFC has it been clearly shown martial art style vs. martial art style to determine which one was the most effective. In the early days of the Octagon, you could easily see that a Boxer would go against an opponent who was a Karate master or a Kun fu expert. Or a man weighting 250lbs go against one weighting 170lbs. This was the early days of the UFC were the Gracie family showed that Jiu Jitsu was the best martial art style to know by winning 3 of the first 4 UFC tournaments. Although, in my personal opinion, it would have been a little different if Bruce Lee had been around or maybe even happened sooner. Not saying he would have defeated Royce, but even though he was older when the UFC came around something tells me he would have gotten involved somehow or even had a protégé compete. Bruce Lee in his days was one the first ones to talk about MMA by insisting that a fighter should be well rounded, know a little bit from every style and how to defend it. He developed techniques to fight standing as well as some ground and submission techniques. That is why he used to say he could defend any style.
Here is where the reality kicks in: only those who master different styles of fighting, both stand-up and ground techniques, close-up and long striking techniques, would be become successful, long term, inside an Octagon. Fighters realized that they couldn’t compete just knowing one style and then: Boom! - That is where MMA comes in. Mixed Martial Arts. You had to be a great kick boxer, judo, boxer, Kung Fu, to be successful. Initially, most fights were fought standing up, except the ones involving Jiu Jitsu fighters. Nowadays, fights can end on both ways because everyone is aware of every aspect of the game.
I understand that some people out there are calling MMA as Modern Martial Arts. No offense, but I believe that it is too early to start coining that phrase. I think that after centuries and centuries of teaching from grand masters of the different styles - it is unfair to state, in only two decades that we are to move to a new Modern Martial Arts. New styles will continue to evolve from this continuing evolution, and once consolidated, proven, experienced we may see ourselves in a new era for Martial Arts.
To add to Bruce Lee's story. He openly and publicly mentioned that he had developed a specific style which he could use to defeat any opponent what-so-ever. Of course, this caused a tremendous burden to him, as challenger after challenger continued to present himself to disprove his remarks. Hey - I still think that even today, Bruce Lee's could kick some nasty behinds out there. I am sure that, even he would eventually find an opponent that would defeat him. But talk about a perfectionist, a master of martial arts. Not one specific martial art, but many: Mixed Martial Arts.
Today, those who enjoy this sport, the intricacies of every technique, and the detail of every move being made standing up and on the ground, are proud to see how it has grown to become mainstream. This explosion, led by UFC, and closely followed by great organizations like ProElite, Maximum Fighting Championship, Bellator, Strikeforce, and even smaller ones like King of the Cage, Titan Fighting Championship, Championship Fighting Alliance, have created a complete culture around it.
Technology for fighting and training continues to improve. Nowadays fighters use very specific training "mma gear", equipment and “mma clothing” to complete their daily routines. Everything from shorts, rash guards, gloves, mits, and even special straps. Special masks have been designed to improve a fighter’s endurance, simulating high altitudes, lower oxygen content during training.
We also enjoy now with new MMA style training facilities. Organization like American Top Team, Gracie Academies, are paving the way for new fighters and those who just plain enjoy training a variety of martial arts styles.