From ancient beginnings to the world’s fastest-growing sport – a brief history of MMA

From ancient beginnings to the world’s fastest-growing sport – a brief history of MMA
Bild von David Mark auf Pixabay

Mixed Martial Arts has been around a very long time – the first documented full-contact, few rules combat competition took place at the Greek Olympic Games in 648 B.C. Known as pankration – from the Greek words pan and kratos, meaning ‘all powers’. The only rules? No biting and no eye-gouging.

From ancient Greece, the teachings of pankration spread to India when Alexander the Great recruited athletes as soldiers, due to their strength and combat knowledge. A traveling Buddhist monk then brought aspects of pankration back to China, and that saw the birth of Asian martial arts including karate, judo, and kung fu.

Mixing It Up

As many forms of martial arts spread worldwide, so did the idea of holding mixed-style competitions. Practitioners of one martial art would challenge the practitioner of another to see who came out on top. In 1887, the then-heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan took on the Greco-Roman wrestling champion William Muldoon. Muldoon had Sullivan on the canvas within minutes.

Then, in 1914, the judo master Mitsuyo Maeda taught his art to Brazil’s Carlos Gracie. Gracie’s diminutive brother, Helio, refined the art to suit his smaller frame, using less strength and more leverage. Hence Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was created.

The Rumble in the Nippon Budokan arena, Tokyo

Fast forward to the 1970s when the famed Japanese wrestler and martial artist Antonio Inoki was promoting mixed martial arts matches in his home country. On June 26, 1976, Inoki took on the heavyweight boxer Muhammed Ali at the Nippon Budokan arena in a fight that’s now considered to be the beginning of modern-day MMA. 

It’s a trend that’s continued, with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury going a slightly different and more entertainment-focused route as he entered the world of WWE wrestling in 2019. His debut in Saudi Arabia to face Braun Strowman was an inspired professional (and financial) move. The then-novice wrestler impressed fans with his newly acquired skills, even more so when he re-enacted moments from his first boxing bout against bitter rival Deontay Wilder.

Viewers were left awestruck at Fury’s ability to ‘switch sides’ and win a count-out victory with a KO to Strowman. And Fury will soon be back in the boxing ring to square up to Wilder for a third time on July 24 2021. This trilogy bout will see scores being settled and animosity aplenty, with Fury currently the favorite in the boxing betting to win the fight at odds of 1/3. The potential of a unification fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua means boxing fans will be keeping a close eye on this fight.

Brazil or Bust?

The interest the Ali/Inoki fight generated brought mixed martial arts fighting to the attention of millions worldwide. Less than two decades later the first UFC event took place on November 12, 1993. In essence, it was set up to establish which martial arts style is most effective.

The event pitted eight fighters with various martial arts expertise against each other in a single-elimination, one-day tournament which was broadcast live to 86,592 pay-per-view fans. Helio Gracie’s son Royce showcased his father’s form of jiu-jitsu and defeated three fighters via submission in less than five minutes. Combined.

Royce went on to win the first four UFC tournaments, leading many to consider the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artist king of the MMA world.

MMA Marches On

MMA is now the world’s fastest-growing sport, with men and women competing to showcase their martial arts skills. But did it start in that showdown in 648 B.C. or that epic Ali/Inoki meet-up in 1976? You decide!


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