The history of modern MMA competition can be traced to mixed style contests throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s; the Gracie family's vale tudo martial arts tournaments in Brazil starting in the 1920s; and early mixed martial arts matches hosted by Antonio Inoki in Japan in the 1970s. The sport gained international exposure and widespread publicity in the United States in 1993, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie handily won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, submitting three challengers in just five minutes, sparking a revolution in the martial arts. Meanwhile in Japan the continued interest in the sport resulted in the creation of the PRIDE Fighting Championships in 1997
The movement that led to the creation of the UFC and PRIDE was rooted in two interconnected subcultures. First were the vale tudo events in Brazil, followed by the Japanese shoot wrestling shows. Vale tudo began in the 1920s with the "Gracie challenge" issued by Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie and upheld later on by descendants of the Gracie family. In Japan in the 1970s, a series of mixed martial arts matches were hosted by Antonio Inoki, inspiring the shoot-style movement in Japanese professional wrestling, which eventually led to the formation of the first mixed martial arts organizations, such as Shooto, which was formed in 1985. Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz broke PPV records with their rematch at UFC 66.The concept of combining the elements of multiple martial arts was pioneered and popularized by Bruce Lee in the late 1960's to early 1970's. Lee believed that "the best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style." His innovative concepts were recognized in 2004 by UFC President Dana White when he called Lee the "father of mixed martial arts." Recognition of it's effectiveness as a test came as the United States Army began to sanction mixed martial arts with the first annual All Army Combatives Championships held by the US Army Combatives School in November 2005.
The sport reached a new peak of popularity in North America in the December 2006 rematch between then UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and former champion Tito Ortiz, rivaling the PPV sales of some of the biggest boxing events of all time, and helping the UFC's 2006 PPV gross surpass that of any promotion in PPV history. In 2007, Zuffa LLC, the owners of the UFC MMA promotion, bought Japanese rival MMA brand PRIDE, merging the contracted fighters under one promotion and drawing comparisons to the consolidation that occurred in other sports, such as the AFL-NFL Merger in American football.
As a result of an increased number of competitors, organized training camps, information sharing, and modern kinesiology, the understanding of the combat-effectiveness of various strategies has been greatly improved. UFC commentator Joe Rogan has claimed that martial arts have evolved more in the ten years following 1993 than in the preceding 700 years.
"During his reign atop the sport in the late 1990s he was the prototype — he could strike with the best strikers; he could grapple with the best grapplers; his endurance was second to none. "
— describing UFC champion Frank Shamrock's early dominance
The early years of the sport saw a wide variety of traditional styles - everything from sumo to kickboxing - but the continual evolution of the sport saw many styles prove ineffective, while others proved successful on their own.
In the early 1990s, three styles stood out for their effectiveness in competition: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, amateur wrestling and shoot wrestling. This may be attributable in part to the grappling emphasis of the aforementioned styles, which were, perhaps due to the scarcity of mixed martial arts competitions prior to the early 90s, unkown to most practitioners of striking-based arts. Fighters who combined amateur wrestling with striking techniques found success in the standing portion of a fight, whilst Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists had a distinct advantage on the ground: those unfamiliar with submission grappling proved to be unprepared to deal with its submission techniques. Shoot wrestling practitioners offered a balance of amateur wrestling ability and catch wrestling-based submissions, resulting in a well-rounded skillset. The shoot wrestlers were especially successful in Japan. As competitions became more and more common, those with a base in striking became more competitive as they acquainted themselves with takedowns and submission holds, leading to notable upsets against the then dominant grapplers. Subsequently, those from the varying grappling styles added striking techniques to their arsenal. This overall development of increased cross-training resulted in the fighters becoming increasingly multi-dimensional and well-rounded in their skills.
Olympic recognition efforts:
It was thought that Olympic recognition would be forthcoming for the 2004 Summer Olympics, held in Athens, under the banner of pankration. However, the International Olympic Committee was unconvinced that Greece could handle the total number of sports proposed. To placate the IOC, the organizers removed all new medal sports and pankration was excluded.
The rules for modern mixed martial arts competitions have change significantly since the early days of vale tudo and Japanese shoot wrestling and UFC 1 and even more from the historic style of pankration. As the knowledge about fighting techniques spread among fighters and spectators, it became clear that the original minimalist rule systems needed to be amended. The main motivations for these rule changes were protection of the health of the fighters, the desire to shed the image of "barbaric, no rules, fighting-to-the-death" matches and be recognised as a sport.
Rules included the introduction of weight classes, as knowledge about submissions spread, with more fighters became well-versed in submission techniques and avoiding submissions, differences in weight became a substantial factor. Small, open-fingered, gloves were introduced to protect fists in punches, reduce the occurrence of cuts (and stoppages due to cuts) and encourage fighters to use their hands for striking, to enable more captivating matches and time limits were established to avoid long fights with little action as competitors conserved their strength, matches without time limits also complicated the airing of live events. Similar motivations produced the "stand up" rule, where the referee can stand fighters up if it is perceived both are resting on the ground or are not advancing toward a dominant position.
Gloves were first mandatory in Japan's Shooto promotion and were later adopted by the UFC as it developed into a regulated sport. In the U.S., state athletic and boxing commissions have played a crucial role in the introduction of additional rules because they oversee MMA in similar way to boxing. Smaller shows may use more restrictive rules because they have less experienced fighters who are looking to acquire experience and exposure that could ultimately lead them to getting recruited into one of the larger, better paying promotions. In Japan and Europe, there is no regulating authority over competitions, so these organizations have greater freedom in rule development and event structure.
Victory in a match is normally gained either by the judges' decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee (for example if a competitor can not defend himself intelligently) or the fight doctor (due to an injury), a submission, by a competitor's cornerman throwing in the towel, or by knockout.
Mixed martial arts competition requires training in striking, wrestling, and submission fighting.
The techniques utilized in mixed martial arts competition generally fall into two categories: striking techniques (such as kicks, knees and punches) and grappling techniques (such as clinch holds, pinning holds, submission holds, sweeps, takedowns and throws). As mixed martial arts has no international sanctioning body, rules may vary between promotions. While the legality of some techniques (such as elbow strikes, headbutts and spinal locks) may vary, there is a near universal ban on techniques such as biting, strikes to the groin, eye-gouging, fish-hooking and small joint manipulation.
Today, mixed martial artists must cross-train in a variety of styles to counter their opponent's strengths and remain effective in all the phases of combat. For instance, a stand-up fighter will have little opportunity to use their skills against a submission artist who has also trained take downs. Many traditional disciplines remain popular as a way for a fighter to improve aspects of their game.
Stand-up: Various forms of boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and forms of full contact karate are trained to improve footwork, elbowing, kicking, kneeing and punching.
Clinch: Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, Sambo, and judo are trained to improve clinching, takedowns and throws, while Muay Thai is trained to improve the striking aspect of the clinch.
Ground: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, shoot wrestling, catch wrestling, judo, and Sambo are trained to improve submission holds, and defense against them. These styles are also trained to improve and maintain ground control.
Some styles have been adapted from their traditional form, such as boxing stances which lack effective counters to leg kicks and takedowns, or judo techniques which must be adapted for No Gi competition. It is common for a fighter to train with multiple coaches of different styles or an organized fight team to improve various aspects of their game at once. Cardiovascular conditioning, speed drills, strength training and flexibility are also important aspects of an MMA fighter's training.
While mixed martial arts was initially practiced almost exclusively by competitive fighters, this is no longer the case. As the sport has become more mainstream and more widely taught, it has become accessible to wider range of practitioners of all ages. Proponents of this sort of training argue that it is safe for anyone, of any age, with varying levels of competitiveness.
The following terms describe hybrid styles a fighter may use, over the course of a fight, to achieve victory. While some fighters can score victories by striking, ground-and-pound or submission, most fighters will rely on a smaller number of techniques while adopting a style that plays to their strengths.
Sprawl-and-brawl is a stand-up fighting tactic that consists of effective stand-up striking, while avoiding ground fighting, typically by using sprawls to defend against takedowns.
A sprawl-and-brawler is usually a boxer, kickboxer, Thai boxer or full contact karate fighter who has trained in wrestling to avoid takedowns to keep the fight standing. Often, these fighters will study submission wrestling to avoid being submitted, should they find themselves on the ground. This style can be deceptively different from traditional kickboxing styles, since sprawl-and-brawlers must adapt their techniques to incorporate takedown and ground fighting defense. Chuck Liddell and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic are examples of sprawl-and-brawl fighters. Clinch fighting:
Clinch fighting and dirty boxing are tactics consisting of using a clinch hold to prevent the opponent from moving away into more distant striking range, while also attempting takedowns and striking the opponent using knees, stomps, elbows, and punches. The clinch is often utilized by wrestlers that have added in components of the striking game (typically boxing), and Muay Thai fighters.
Wrestlers may use clinch fighting as a way to neutralize the superior striking skills of a stand-up fighter or to prevent takedowns by a superior ground fighter. The clinch of a Muay Thai fighter is often used to improve the accuracy of knees and elbows by physically controlling the position of the opponent. Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva and Anderson Silva are examples of effective clinch fighters.
Ground-and-pound is a ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, obtaining a top position, and then striking the opponent, primarily with the fists. Ground-and-pound is also used as a precursor to attempting submission holds.
This style is used by wrestlers or other fighters well-versed in submission defense and skilled at takedowns. They take the fight to the ground, maintain a grappling position, and strike until their opponent submits or is knocked out. Although not a traditional style of striking (it was first demonstrated as an effective technique by UFC and PRIDE champion, Mark Coleman), the effectiveness and reliability of ground-and-pound has made it a popular tactic. Today, strikes on the ground are an essential part of a fighter's training. Fedor Emelianenko and Tito Ortiz are examples of effective ground-and-pound fighters.
Apart from being a general martial arts term, submission grappling is also a reference to the ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw and then applying a submission hold, forcing the opponent to submit. While grapplers will often work to attain dominant position, some may be more comfortable fighting from other positions. If a grappler finds themselves unable to force a takedown, they may resort to pulling guard, whereby they physically pull their opponent into a dominant position on the ground, then attempting to sweep them.
Submissions are an essential part of many disciplines, most notably catch wrestling, judo, Sambo, pankration, Army Combatives and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Josh Barnett, BJ Penn, and the brothers Antônio Rodrigo and Antônio Rogério Nogueira are examples of submission grapplers.
The Abu Dhabi Combat Club and FILA Grappling World Wrestling Games are examples of submission grappling tournaments.
Lay-and-pray is a pejorative term for a strategy whereby a fighter can control their opponent on the ground, but is unable to mount an effective offense. They simply seek to negate the offense of their opponent, "praying" for a decision victory. In some MMA promotions, penalties may be imposed for lay-and-pray techniques if the referee determines that a fighter is stalling.
While competition in the sport is occasionally depicted as brutal by the media, there had never been a death or crippling injury in a sanctioned event in North America until the death of Sam Vasquez on November 30, 2007. Vasquez collapsed shortly after being knocked out by Vince Libardi in the third round of an October 20, 2007 fight at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.Vasquez had two separate surgeries to remove blood clots from his brain, and shortly after the second operation suffered a major stroke and never regained consciousness.While questions have been asked about the Vasquez's health before his final bout no firm indications of pre-existing problems have yet surfaced. Since he was age 35, he would have had to undergo extensive pre-fight medical screening in order to obtain a license to compete in Texas.
The only other verified fatality in MMA competition is the 1998 death of Douglas Dedge in an unsanctioned fight in Ukraine. There are unconfirmed reports that Dedge had a pre-existing medical condition.
A study by Johns Hopkins University concluded, "the overall injury rate [excluding injury to the brain] in MMA competitions is now similar to other combat sports [involving striking], including boxing. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing. This suggests a reduced risk of traumatic brain injury in MMA competitions when compared to other events involving striking."