10 Biggest Influences on Modern MMA

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIJanuary 4, 2012

10 Biggest Influences on Modern MMA

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    There's more to modern MMA than Zuffa and the UFC. 

    The current incarnation of the sport has been influenced by many figures and happenings in the past that have been forgotten or were never known well in the first place. 

    However, this doesn't mean that more recent developments don't impact modern MMA—they do.

    But, were some of these modern events as important as the older ones? Which developments in MMA history are most responsible for bringing us the product we have now? Read and find out but keep in mind one can't quantify "influence," so the slides aren't ranked in any way.

Gene Lebell

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    Judo legend Gene Lebell is sadly an unsung hero in American sports history (although he's been gaining increasing recognition in MMA circles).

    Lebell participated in the first televised MMA fight in the United States against boxer Milo Savage in 1963, winning by choking the boxer unconscious. 

    Lebell was one of the first men to embrace knowing all aspects of fighting—what would later be called "mixed martial arts"—and helped to train other prominent martial artists of the era such as Chuck Norris, Kickboxing phenom and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez and even professional wrestlers like Rowdy "Roddy" Piper.

    He helped to plant the seed of MMA in the culture. Lebell therefore deserves to be remembered as more of an influence on modern MMA than any other so called "pioneer" (although they, too, have their place).

Bruce Lee

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    Bruce Lee is credited by many to be the father (or grandfather) of MMA. 

    While such claims are a bit exaggerated (where is Bruce Lee's televised MMA fight(s)? Where are his fights against other martial arts practitioners on the streets of Rio/wherever The Gracies filmed?), the philosophies behind his martial art of Jeet Kune Do embodies the spirit of MMA decades before the sport became established. 

    Furthermore, full-time fighters and weekend warriors were (and still are) inspired to train in martial arts because of his actions. 

The Gracie Family

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    Since it's difficult to pick out just one Gracie who helped influence modern MMA, I'll just give credit to the whole family. 

    It's true that you can give a lot of credit to Royce Gracie for winning UFC 1 and showing the world they needed to know grappling—and therefore igniting a martial arts revolution. 

    But by the same token, Royce was only there because of Rorion Gracie—who traveled to the US, struggled initially, but then set up a school and ended up founding the UFC along with Art Davie and Bob Meyrowitz. 

    So, to simplify things, let's just give the whole Gracie clan some credit for teaching the striking-enamored world that there was more to martial arts than "dim-mak" and crane-kicks.

John McCain and Uptight Politicians

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    Hear me out before you write a scathing comment.

    If John McCain never lead an army of uptight politicians and "won't somebody please think of the children" busybodies against MMA and the UFC in the 1990s, the sport would've had no incentive to adopt rules and ultimately become a legitimate contest—rather than a form of freakshow entertainment.

    By trying to kill the sport, McCain and his ilk guaranteed that it would evolve, survive and take the world by storm. 

Tito Ortiz

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    Former UFC light heavyweight Tito Ortiz showed just how far a fighter could get by trash talk and outside-the-cage antics. 

    In doing so, he paved the way for current "heels" like Josh Koscheck, Nick Diaz and Chael Sonnen to achieve the level of notoriety (and infamy) that they have today.

Dana White and the Fertita Brothers/Zuffa

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    Love them or hate them, Zuffa (the company that owns the UFC and is run by Dana White and brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertita) has elevated MMA onto a higher pedistal than ever before.

    It took the UFC—an entity seen as an organization that wasn't much better than FX Toughman—to then unimaginable heights and it spread the seed of MMA across the world.  

    Not that the previous owners of the UFC (Semaphore Entertainment Group), nor the owners of the vaunted Pride Fighting Championships (Dream Stage Entertainment), can boast such a feet: They didn't put MMA on the map like Zuffa did. 

    Zuffa is still influencing MMA daily and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Twitter/Social Media

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    The UFC has perfected the use of twitter. Dana White has even called the social networking site "the greatest marketing tool in the history of the world." (via TechCrunch).

    Even though it can sometimes get fighters into trouble, twitter allows fighters and fans to communicate like never before. Fighters can build and cultivate loyal fanbases and interact with trolls and fanboys alike. 

    This gives the sport a tremendous "grassroots" feeling and appeal, whereas with the NFL, you can't help but feel like each player's twitter account is being monitored/run by a PR intern.

SpikeTV

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    It's doubtful that the UFC and MMA would've ever gotten to the their current level of popularity without SpikeTV.

    The network picked up a UFC reality series titled "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2005 and the MMA world was never the same. 

    The show was an unbelievable success and it made such fighters like Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar household names amongst the coveted males age 18-34 demographic overnight. 

    The Ultimate Fighter lasted 14 seasons on SpikeTV and created many a star for the UFC. Now that the UFC and Spike have parted ways, you might be inclined to think their influence on MMA is over, but that's wrong. 

    Recently, USA Today reported that Bellator Fighting Championships would be moving to SpikeTV in 2013, thus SpikeTV still has a part to play in the rise of modern mixed martial arts.

The Ultimate Fighter

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    It may seem strange to separate SpikeTV and The Ultimate Fighter, but they each have a unique role in influencing modern MMA. 

    TUF and Spike simultaneously influenced the sport in previous years, but now the show has taken on a new task: global expansion. 

    Dana White has previously expressed that a global incarnation of TUF is his dream. It would serve as a recruitment vehicle for foreign fighters, as well as spread the MMA gospel across the world—and  it's already happening. 

    There is a Brazilian Ultimate Fighter going on with Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort being the coaches. 

    The TUF format will eventually expand to other countries—becoming one the most influential ways the sport and the organization expanded.

FOX

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    Not much of an explanation needed here. 

    The FOX network will carry the UFC and MMA to new heights in the next seven years. 

    The sport will be exposed to more eyes than ever before. As a result, more people will tune in to UFC pay-per-views and some will even begin training, which will support the UFC's fighters and the gyms they train at. 

    This will put more money into the sport and help it keep growing in a cycle of perpetual expansion until the entire world is captivated by the purest form of competition known to man: mixed martial arts.

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