Mixed Martial Arts are a much-loved today, so much that a lot of people are interested in taking up the sport and get the necessary MMA hand protection and other equipment to train and become like the athletes they admire. However, the first fighters who have ever tried this style did not have an MMA punching bag or other fancy equipment. They were the pioneers and the ones who created this discipline.
MMA existed in ancient times
This may come as a surprise for you, but the truth is that MMA was not invested at the end of the 20th century, as some feel tempted to say. What happened from the 90s onward was an increased interest in the sport and a rise in popularity, together with media exposure and so on.
But MMA existed in the ancient times, as you will see right away. On the Great Pyramids, there are inscriptions and hieroglyphs describing people engaged in freehand combat. Also, other historical sources point out at Sumerian and Mesopotamian soldiers practicing some form of Mixed Martial Arts around the years 3000-2000 BC.
The Ancient Greeks, of course, were no strangers to such disciplines. During the golden age of the city-states, around 700 BC, boxing, wrestling, as well as other similar sports were competition in the Olympics.
There are even proofs that Greek Pankration was a competition in the Olympics in 648 BC. The style of fighting which combined elements of wrestling and boxing was embraced by the Roman gladiators, as well.
Of course, we can’t talk about MMA without mentioning Asian countries. In China, the history of mixed martial arts go as far as 200 BC, and the now well-known Muay Thai, the national sport of Thailand, was a fixture at events and celebrations in the country from ancient times.
The Philippines also had various forms of MMA; those disciplines evolved, and they carry different names today, but the same essential common denominator remains, which is a combination of different fighting styles.
And from the list, we cannot exclude Japan, which is, to date, one of the biggest players on the international scene. In this Asian country, MMA fighters are celebrated as living legends, and it has been often that American MMA athletes have butted heads with Japan’s biggest names.
The revival of Pankration in the 20th century
The Pankration mentioned above was banned as a sport by Theodosius I in 393 CE, along with the Olympics. An interesting fact is that this sport emerged again in the 20th century in Brazil. A type of fighting described as ‘vale tudo’ (anything goes), it was defined by the Gracie brothers who began a school of Jiu-Jitsu.
The new sport combined elements of pankration with those of other contact sports and soon became so popular that competitions were carried on soccer stadiums, to allow a large number of enthusiasts to attend.
The 1990s: MMA comes to North America
It was mainly because of the love of the sport of the Gracie brothers that MMA was introduced to North America. With the intention to showcase their fighting style, they got the attention of the audience and not only. When Royce Gracie fought in the tournament that was going to be called UFC 1, held in Denver, Colorado, a new craze was about to begin.
Under the name of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a new organization emerged that was going to promote the sport and make it rise to the popularity that it enjoys today. The idea was to make fighters of different style confront in the ring. The concept of a caged ring was also introduced during UFC 1.
With wrestlers fighting boxers, and boxers fighting kickboxers, and so on, the newly introduced sport created excitement among sports fans everywhere. The first tournament was broadcast via cable, and it had 86,000 viewers. This number was going to increase to 300,000, by the third tournament organized by UFC.
The introduction of rules
In the beginning, there were very few illegal moves. The fighters were forbidden to bite each other or try to gouge their eyes out. Otherwise, in the tradition of the Gracie brothers, anything went, which, of course, made the fights quite brutal.
The negative publicity surrounding the sport made Senator John McCain call for the banning of MMA in 2001. As a result, UFC began introducing new rules, to make the sport appear less of the ‘human cockfighting’ that was being called. Practices such as weight classes, number of rounds, time limits, and so on were introduced.
Also, the quality of the brawlers changed. The names interested in making themselves known in the cage now belonged to skilled wrestlers, boxers, kickboxers, and so on. Furthermore, organizations like the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board that govern boxing and see that the rules are enforced came to do the same for MMA.
Becoming a financial success
While today it might be a little difficult to imagine that there were many years during which UFC didn’t exactly rake in mountains of cash, during the early stages of the sport, MMA was not particularly profitable.
Exciting fights and the marketing campaigns surrounding them was going to make UFC make ends meet. Between 2003 and 2006, the matches organized between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell began bringing in the financial success.
Also, the organization of the TV show, Ultimate Fighter, that hit the screens in 2005 was going to popularize the sport even more. The format of the show that involved teams and fighters going against each other to KO managed to impress many viewers. The winner won a UFC contract, which could be the beginning of a glorious career in the ring.
In 2013, female fighters were introduced to the show, and from that point forward, the matches between female rising stars were going to bring in even more popularity.