The popularity of mixed martial arts contests like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) has soared exponentially over the last decade. However, some may still wonder just exactly what mixed martial arts is. Well, to a certain extent it’s just what its name implies. It is the combining of different martial arts and the incorporation of those techniques into one’s repertoire of fighting skills.
If mixed martial arts (MMA) is so popular, then why hasn’t it been done before. Actually, it has been done before. The ancient Greek Olympics had a sport known as pankration which involved grappling and striking and had no rules. Pankration means “all powerful.” Pankration was the no-holds-barred (NHB) fighting of its day. Vale tudo contests were popular in Brazil during the twentieth century. Vale tudo also had a limited number of rules. Vale tudo means “anything goes” in Portuguese. Vale tudo contests are probably the nearest descendant to the UFC.
As you can see, MMA is not exactly new. But, it’s been perfected and polished to a high degree over the last few decades. When the UFC first began, it was merely a contest to see which martial arts discipline was superior. The Gracie family of Brazil believed that their Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was the best. And, to some extent they proved that it was. Royce Gracie won UFC 1, 2, and 4 often fighting against bigger opponents. I still enjoy watching videos of Royce. Royce Gracie put Brazilian Jiu Jitsu “on the map.” However, the UFC evolved from its humble origins. Weight classes and other rules came into being. Competitors realized that they could combine wrestling, grappling, and striking skills. Thus, the sport of MMA was born.
For More UFC History, Check Out the Books:
- Blood in the Cage: Mixed Martial Arts, Pat Miletich, and the Furious Rise of the UFC
- A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey Through the World of Fighting
Boxing and Other Martial Arts
When I was growing up, boxers were well known in America. I was familiar with the names Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Hector “Macho” Camacho, Oscar de la Hoya, Mike Tyson, James “Buster” Douglas, and Evander Holyfield. But, the popularity of boxing has diminished over the years perhaps in part because of the increased interest in MMA. The only boxers that I am very familiar with now are Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, Bernard Hopkins, and Manny Pacquiao. Boxing movies like Rocky may have contributed to its popularity. Even now, one can still see boxing movies such as The Fighter.
The Karate Kid introduced some of us to the discipline of karate. And, the movieKickboxer introduced me to Muay Thai. Steven Seagal did some interesting martial arts in his movies. Many of us have seen kung fu movies as well. I grew up in the Midwest, so I was always interested in wrestling. I took a Taekwondo class during college. I saw kickboxing competitions on television occasionally. There seemed to be a time when practitioners of a certain martial art weren’t interested in learning another martial art and many people thought that the martial art of their choice was the best. MMA seems to have shown that a combination of fighting styles works the best to attain fighting dominance. Even the military and police forces utilize MMA techniques.
Primitive Mixed Martial Arts
The legendary Bruce Lee recognized that traditional martial arts had their limits and weren’t always practical in real world situations. Bruce Lee studied and critiqued many traditional forms. Lee’s approach to martial arts and his emphasis on practicality makes him a forerunner of mixed martial arts. “Judo” Gene LeBell defeated boxer Milo Savage in 1963 with a lapel choke in one of the first MMA type contests. In addition, Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki to a draw in 1976 in what would be considered a primitive MMA contest.
Ground and Pound, Sprawl and Brawl, Submissions
As I discussed earlier, mixed martial arts, the UFC, and other MMA competitions came into being and showed that combining martial arts could create a dominant fighter. Soon strategies developed. Some competitors were better at wrestling so they liked to employ the “ground and pound” strategy. Some were better at kicking and punching so they employed the “sprawl and brawl” strategy. And, others were experts at submissions (lock and choke) sticking with that strategy.
Mixed martial artists come from many different back grounds:
Royce Gracie – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Pat Miletich – wrestling, karate, kickboxing
Matt Hughes – wrestling
Tito Ortiz – wrestling
Randy Couture – wrestling
Chuck Liddell – wrestling, Kempo, Koei-Kan Karate-do, and kickboxing
Keith Jardine – karate
Lyoto Machida – karate
B. J. Penn – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Kazushi Sakuraba – catch wrestling
Fedor Elemianenko – sambo
Karo Parisyan – judo
These fighters, of course, combined other skills with their primary fighting style to be complete fighters.
Mixed martial artists combine many skills from many disciplines including but not limited to freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, catch wrestling, judo, sambo, Brazilian Jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing, kickboxing, and karate.
Basil the Greek
I read a book while in elementary school called The Great Brain. In one story in this book, the Great Brain (Tom) helps teach a Greek immigrant boy how to fight in America so he won’t get bullied and picked on. Tom notices that Basil isn’t very good at boxing but is great at wrestling, especially headlocks. Tom develops a fighting strategy for Basil around this.
Here’s a tiny excerpt from the book:
Tom and Basil were waiting inside the barn. “This is going to be a rough and tumble fight,”Tom announced. “Anything goes, lumberjack style.”
“Suits me,” Sammy said, grinning.
Well, Basil was able to catch Sammy in a headlock and straddle him on the ground (a la “ground and pound”). Basil was able to neutralize Sammy’s punches and win the fight. That’s how MMA works. A fighter can use his skills to neutralize the skills of another fighter. Combining skills works better than using one fighting skill exclusively.
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed this introduction to mixed martial arts. And, I hope you continue to watch and perhaps participate in this sport as it evolves and gains in popularity.