Mixed Martial Arts might seem like a sport that appeared out of nowhere during the last few decades, but MMA is actually a hybrid of the ancient Greco-Roman sport pankration, which was a combination of grappling and striking and part of the most ancient Olympic games.
Instances of fights similar to modern mixed martial arts continue to appear in historical records throughout Europe, particularly during the 1800s, where there are many recorded instances of no-holds-barred fights that incorporated many different styles of wresting, as well as boxing skills. Perhaps the first American MMA-style fight was a match between heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan and his trainer, William Muldoon, who was a champion Greco-Roman wrestler. This 1887 battle ended with Muldoon throwing Sullivan to the mat in just two minutes.
As the sport progressed, there are records throughout the Pacific Rim, Asia and Europe of mixed-style fights. In Brazil, the Gracie family was hugely influential in the beginnings of vale tudo fighting, which included their own signature form of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. These vale tudo or “everything allowed” fights included Jiu Jitsu as well as many other styles of fighting.
Although many assume he was mainly a Kung Fu fighter, Bruce Lee is often hailed as the father of modern mixed martial arts. He created his own philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, which combined Kung Fu with many other fighting styles. He believed that a fighter should be able to use many styles of fighting, including kicking, punching, and grappling. This well-rounded fighting style has evolved into the style of mixed martial arts that we see today.
MMA gained a mainstream following in the early 1990s with the creation of Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC. UFC has become the largest MMA promotion company in the world, with many of the world’s top fighters on its roster. The group rose to prominence after the first UFC championship, when legendary fighter Royce Gracie defeated three other fighters in just five minutes. From there, interest in the sport grew exponentially, as well as concerns about the general lack of regulations within the sport. In 2000, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were created, which are used throughout the United States.
There are several other MMA organizations, aside from UFC. The most well-known is perhaps Strikeforce, which got its start as a kickboxing organization. Strikeforce began hosting MMA events and is notable for holding the record for the highest attended MMA fight in history, a record that stood for five years. A powerful counterpart to UFC, Strikeforce was purchased by the owners of UFC in 2011. Although some have concerns that the owners will merge the two, they have said that UFC and Strikeforce will be separate at least through 2012.