What are the Origins of MMA?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) has a considerably older history than countless popular sports. In fact, its roots may be traced back to the dawn of man, but it really took hold in Ancient Greece. 

At its foundation, mixed martial arts  is an integration of all combat techniques that have been harmoniously merged to make a single, unified system. Some argue that it is the truest form of unarmed combat since it combines the best components of numerous martial systems.

Countless fans have become infatuated with MMA’s obvious charm, and the sport has grown to be as popular as any other, rivaling the popularity of basketball and football. Let’s take a look at how the sport came to be, where it all began, and where it’s going. Today, MMA Dude tells the narrative of MMA’s beginnings as well as its rich and colorful past.

Where Does MMA Come From?

The origins of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) can be traced back to the ancient Greek Olympics. 

MMA bouts were also conducted in hand-to-hand combat in a sport known as pankration, which comes from the Greek terms pan and kratos, which indicate “all forces.” There were only two restrictions for the Greek competitors: no biting and no eye gouging. Pankration was a well-attended event, and the competitors became folk heroes and legends.

Another type of MMA that was developed early on was established by the Chinese military as a form of hand-to-hand combat to be employed in warfare during the Han Dynasty in ancient China. Shuai Jiao was the name of the art, which mixed wrestling and kung fu techniques. It was one of the earliest martial arts to combine striking and grappling techniques, such as kicking, punching, tossing, and applying various joint locks.

Alexander the Great’s propensity of enrolling athletes as troops because of their strength and fighting knowledge carried the lessons of ancient Greek pankration to India. A Buddhist monk going through India picked up on components of pankration and carried it to China, where Asian martial arts like kung fu, judo, and karate were born.

People took these disciplines and developed on them when they expanded into new regions, frequently establishing a new style or form of martial art. For example, a judo specialist traveled the world and eventually settled in Brazil to share his teachings, giving rise to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Mixed-style events grew in popularity as martial arts spread. A practitioner of one martial art would frequently confront a practitioner of another for ultimate bragging rights. For decades, these mixed-style events were held all over the world, eventually reaching enormous popularity in the United States.

Participants in these competitions learnt from their opponents and realized that they needed to study any combative art form that could offer them an advantage in the game in order to become well-rounded warriors.

If a kickboxer is paired with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, for example, the kickboxer will recognize that he needs to improve his takedown defense, driving the fighter to train with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters. (Various submission grips, like joint and compression locks and chokes, are used in jiu-jitsu ground fighting.) Competitions were no longer between athletes who focused on a single martial art, but between two mixed martial arts athletes from that moment forward.

MMA in the 19th Century

French Savate practitioners faced warriors who practiced other martial arts in the mid-nineteenth century in order to put their combat skills to the test.

By 1852, English bare-knuckle boxers competed against French Savate combatants in a tournament, and for the next few years, the interest in comparing martial arts persisted, and the concept of mixed martial arts quickly gained traction around the world.

Bartitsu, which was developed in London in 1899 by Edward William Barton-Wright, is the first martial art known to have merged European combat skills with Asian arts. Catch wrestling, Judo, western boxing, Savate, and Jiu-Jitsu were all incorporated. With the surge in popularity of MMA concepts, many mixed-style tournaments have been held in the past.

In a no-holds-barred bout in 1963, famed judoka and wrestler “Judo” Gene Lebell, who would later teach popular female MMA fighter “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, faced professional boxer Milo Savage. Lebell submitted Savage with a rear naked choke, knocking him out. In the United States, it was the first televised mixed martial arts battle. Three Kyokushin Karate practitioners from Japan flew to Thailand in the same year and competed against three Muay Thai fighters at the famed Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

Bruce Lee, nicknamed “The Dragon,” a martial artist turned Hollywood actor, became world-famous for his extraordinary martial arts prowess in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had created his own style, Jeet Kune Do, which was based on the MMA notion of combining all that works in all martial arts to build a single unified fighting style. Many consider Jeet Kune Do to be the forerunner of modern-day mixed martial arts, and Lee is often regarded as the “Father of Modern-Day MMA.”

Modern Day MMA

Modern day MMA is fueled with martial arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Taekwondo.

The “Gracie Challenge,” which was held in numerous gyms, began in the early 1900s when Carlos and Helio Gracie, founding fathers of the legendary Gracie fighting family who had established Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, issued the challenge. Fighters from all over the world would go to Brazil to take on the Gracie challenge, but they would frequently lose due to their lack of skill with this high-level grappling method. This legend sowed the seeds of what would later become contemporary mixed martial arts.

The UFC was founded in 1993, with the first event held at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, on November 12 of that year. The UFC held a one-day, eight-man tournament with no weight classes, rounds, or fighting breaks, as well as no judges, in front of a crowd of roughly 8,000 people. No biting and no eye-gouging were the only two restrictions. Submission, knockout, or corner stoppage by towel throw were the only ways to end a match. Royce Gracie, Helio’s son, won the competition and took home $50,000.

Fast forward two decades, and mixed martial arts (MMA) is now one of the most popular sports on the planet. Aside from the UFC, many large global MMA organizations, including ONE Championship in Asia and Bellator MMA in the United States, have emerged in recent years.

MMA is now a highly regulated sport with a solid rule framework that has made the sport safer for participating athletes while still keeping the raw excitement and spirit of mixed style combat.