Tracing the Evolution of MMA

Kyle Symes@ksymes88Correspondent IIIMarch 13, 2012

Tracing the Evolution of MMA

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    The sport of MMA has sure grown a lot from the sands of ancient Greece to numerous arenas throughout the world.

    Beginning in ancient Greece, MMA began as an Olympic sport and transitioned into a number of different things from bloodsport to spectacle.

    I am by no means a history major (just a minor) and I'm sure there will be plenty left out; this is meant to be a more general overview of how the sport of MMA has evolved.

    So grab your flux capacitor and prepare for a wild ride through the journey of time.


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    The earliest form of "mixed martial arts" was the sport of Pankration in ancient Greece. Pankration combined striking and grappling techniques with very few rules. It was about as "no holds barred" as one could get.

    Pankration was fought in a tournament format with the winners advancing through into the finals. Competitors used a number of striking techniques, such as kicks or a number of submission holds that ranged from arm bars to full on chokes.

    An interesting note was that Spartans were taught this art as a form of hand-to-hand in battle. Being taught to use it as a method to kill another warrior, Spartans were banned from competing against other Greek athletes in Pankration.

Gladiatorial Games

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    Although gladiators did not compete for the sake of competition and sport, it is impossible to deny the similarities between modern MMA and ancient gladiatorial games.

    Fighters may not fight to the death in today's world but the interest in seeing different fighting styles competing against one another was just as intriguing in Roman times as it is now.

    Gladiators would be fitted with different equipment and matched against another gladiator-type to see who would win.

    The modern sport of MMA seeks to distance itself from this bloodsport and for good reason as it can never grow while people consider it to be as barbaric as gladiatorial games were (even thought it's nowhere near it).


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    One of the earliest forms of martial art that combined many characteristics was Bartitsu. Practitioners would use multiple techniques that incorporated boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and a form of French stick fighting. Bartitsu also combined ju-jitsu and judo but only as a means of last resort when in close combat.

    The sport placed a heavy emphasis on boxing and understanding "the foot" aka footwork.

    Edward William Barton-Wright, the creator of the martial art, eventually formed a school where he could teach Bartitsu to its members. The club initially had many notable members but eventually interest declined as the price was simply too high; a common problem for prospective fighters in today's MMA world.

Jeet Kune Do

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    Heralded as the "father of mixed martial arts" by many, Bruce Lee created the martial art system known as Jeet Kune Do. Believing that the best fighting style was "no style," Lee created one of the true forms of mixed martial arts.

    Breaking away from the norms of more structured traditional martial arts, Jeet Kune Do has no set parameter and is ever-changing. Lee used his philosophy to set a precedent for future martial artists to branch out and seek the best of every martial art. Lee's intention was not to build a "super martial art" but rather take what worked from each fighting system and apply it to his own talents.

    Lee's famous words "Be like water" continue to be an inspiration to many martial artists today.

Vale Tudo

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    Originating in Brazilian circuses, Vale Tudo became a popular exhibition of martial arts and skill in the country of Brazil.

    Featuring an "anything goes" style of fight, Vale Tudo was both exciting and deadly. Following some incidents of brutality, the sport was forced into the underground circuit.

    The combat sport gave birth to numerous Brazilian stars like Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Marco Ruas and a number of the Gracie family members. The famed "Gracie Challenge" also emerged during the days of Vale Tudo.

Shooto and Pancrase

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    Before the UFC brought MMA to the United States, Japanese spectators were busy enjoying one of the earliest forms of modern MMA.

    Shooto and Pancrase were the two primary organizations that featured "shoot" wrestling matches. Pancrase followed a rule set much similar to professional wrestling as closed-fist punches to the head were illegal and rope breaks for submission holds were even allowed. Shooto meanwhile focused more on having matches that were not worked and were in fact, real competition.

    Notable fighters like Bas Rutten, Frank/Ken Shamrock, Guy Metzger and Nate Marquardt among many others found huge success overseas.

Modern MMA

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    With the formation of the UFC and Pride, the modern sport of mixed martial arts finally took form. The rivalry between the organizations was legendary during the 1990s and early 2000s.

    For years both sides (and fans) claimed to have the best fighters and at times UFC fighters would venture into the Pride Grand Prix events. The two promotions had different rule sets which allowed fans to watch MMA with safer rules or seeing the extreme brutality of soccer kicks and stomps.

    With the UFC's acquisition of Pride, the American organization became the undisputed No. 1 promotion in the world; a title it will likely never relinquish.

    The formation of the Unified Rules also helped the sport grow immensely as it was finally able to be regulated and thus move on from the bare knuckle brawls of the early years.

    Without the strength of the UFC and Pride along with the Unified Rule set, the sport of modern MMA would've never become the world-wide entity it is today and fans would likely still be trading DVDs of events.


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