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History of MMA
The earliest form of combat sports was Greek pankration, which was introduced into the Olympic Games in 648 B.C. In fact, it has recently been proposed that MMA be re-introduced into the Summer Olympics under the banner of pankration.
In the 1800s, no-holds-barred events took place when wrestlers representing various styles met in competitions throughout Europe. In 1899, Bartitsu, the first known martial art to combine the Asian and European styles, was created in London. This resulted in a series of MMA events in which Japanese and European champions challenged masters of assorted European wrestling styles.
In the early 1900s, Merikan (Japanese slang for “American”) fighting, which featured boxing practitioners versus jujutsu masters, was very popular throughout Japan and Europe.
In the 1920s, the Gracie family started their vale tudo tournaments in Brazil. Carlos Gracie and his younger brother Helio took great pride in defeating all challengers. Helio was the father of Rickson, Royler, Royce, and Rorion Gracie, and his children would go on to play pivotal roles in the development of modern-day MMA.
In the 1970s, Antonio Inoki began hosting MMA matches in Japan. These events were important, as they inspired the shoot-style movement in Japanese professional wrestling (“shoot style” wrestling refers to real wrestling). This led to the creation of such MMA organizations as Shooto, which got its start in 1985. Today in Japan, many professional wrestlers make the transition to the world of MMA.
Bruce Lee was also highly influential in the formation of MMA. He championed the idea of taking the best elements of boxing, karate, judo and other styles and combining them to form a superior brand of fighting. His contributions have not gone unnoticed, as UFC President Dana White has went so far as to call Lee “the father of mixed martial arts.”
The sport of MMA really started to come together with the formation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993. Royce Gracie dominated the early competitions, and a new generation of fighters started training in multiple styles in an effort to bridge the gap.
Under pressure from politicians and the media, the UFC dropped its no-holds-barred style in favor of one which was ultimately more fan-friendly. This allowed the sport to gain more exposure in the mainstream media and its popularity to flourish. In 1997, this continued popularity led to the creation of the PRIDE Fighting Championships in Japan.
With stars such as Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva, Kazushi Sakuraba, Bas Rutten, Mark Coleman and Tito Ortiz leading the way, the sport was poised to eventually break through and achieve mainstream popularity.
This happened in December of 2006, when UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell faced former champion Tito Ortiz. The show, UFC 66, had tremendous pay-per-view numbers and ranked alongside some of the most successful boxing cards of all time.
In 2007, Zuffa LLC, the owners of the UFC, rocked the MMA world when they purchased the PRIDE organization. PRIDE was in financial trouble after allegations of involvement with organized crime cost the company its television contract. While Japan’s top MMA organization remains active, the UFC now has a much larger talent pool to draw from.
But the UFC isn’t the only show in town. Organizations such as HERO’s, Pancrase, Cage Rage, Smackgirl, BodogFight, King of the Cage and Icon Sport all provide exciting and competitive fights for fans across the globe.
With regular coverage on ESPN and in the pages of such mainstream periodicals as Sports Illustrated, mixed martial arts continues its meteoric rise. It has already surpassed boxing in popularity and seems poised for even bigger and better things.