Mixed martial arts, commonly referred to as just MMA is a full-contact combat sport which combines techniques and strategies from a wide range of martial arts and fighting styles. The first use of the word mixed martial arts is said to have been in 1993 on a televised event by Howard Rosenberg.
Fans of the sport like the fast paced nature of the bouts, the intense and often gruelling training needed to compete at the top levels and the release of excitement and adrenaline you can experience even just watching the sport. Critics have claimed that it is too aggressive and promotes, encourages and/or fosters aggression in fans. Some have even gone as far to liken the sport (and similar ones such as traditional or Thai boxing) to cock fighting.
Originally, links between the Ancient Greek Olympic events and MMA can be found. Hand to hand fights were called pankratio, a combination of the words “pan” and “kratos” meaning “all powers“. With eye gouging and biting all that was off limits, the fighters could do as they please. Nowadays the sport has progressed and there are certain rules and restrictions in place (although by no means as many as found in other sports).
How Did Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Come About?
Following its initial conception in ancient Greece and its eventual removal from the Olympic ceremonies and events (as a result of a Roman emperor permanently banning the sport), MMA can next be traced to parts of Brazil in the 20th century. It is here that the famous Gracie family entered the scene. Ask any serious MMA practitioner about the Gracie family and you will surely be met by numerous facts, stories and tales of their fighting prowess. Two Gracie brothers (Carlos and Hélio) had opened a Ju Jitsu school and considered themselves to be two of the most successful and best fighters there was. They started issuing challenges to all other fighters (eventually becoming known as the Gracie Challenge) with the promise of serious injuries such as broken bones for those that accepted the challenge. As word travelled and more challenges were accepted, the crowds of excited spectators grew. Small fights turned into larger sporting events and the new competitive events were taking Brazil by storm.
Next the Gracie made their move into the US by taking their developed Brazilian Ju Jitsu (BJJ) style of fighting to North America in a Colorado fighting tournament. One of the Gracie brothers son (Hélio’s son), Royce Gracie, fought for the family in 1993 at the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC 1). Of course you will all likely recognise this name because they have come to be the go to promoter, organiser and organisation for MMA events. The name has become synonymous with mixed martial arts and the most extreme combat sport available. At this event the Gracie Challenge was in full effect but on a whole new level. Aiming to find the ultimate fighting style, organisers put fighters of completely different styles against each other and scores of adoring fans sat back and watched the results. Of course, the Gracie fighter claimed the title and secured his families name in US sporting history fame.
As the sports popularity grew of course the regulators, politicians, media and general public began to take notice and whilst there is no debating that skill comes into the sport, it was (and still is) a lot more barbaric and aggressive than more widely accepted ones. John McCain notably fought against the sport because of its hyper aggressive nature and risks of severe injury. Personally, we feel that it is the individual fighters decision whether they are happy accepting these risks and to get in the ring. I can completely see peoples point of view when it comes to how dangerous and aggressive this sport is but honestly, that is a concern for the fighters and those watching and them alone. Providing it isn’t pushed on young, easily influenced children and vulnerable individuals, it comes down to personal preference whether you want to watch it or not. If not, no worries. Change the channel! Following this new found attention, the UFC decided to introduce some stricter rules and regulations to the sport and their events to minimise risks and to prevent these parties from stopping them promoting, advertising and broadcasting their events entirely. So in 2001 new UFC manager introduced their rules. Structure from established combat sports such as boxing were adopted such as weight classes, timed rounds and fouls. Additionally, the sport started attracting more traditionally “skilled” fights from multiple disciplines such as boxing, karate, Ju Jitsu, Krav Maga and many others. Finally the regulatory bodies came to govern the sport and this led a reduced amount of criticism and lobbying to ban the sport.
As with most organisations when they first start, the UFC had growing pains in its first few years. As management became more skilled in key business processes and popularity continued to grow, so to did the organisations profits. Some big personalities and regular features on TV (see ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality TV show) introduced UFC and MMA to a wider audience and this increased interest has continued over the years. Where previously fighters could expect lower pay checks for fights (especially when compared to those received by elite fighters in other sports such as traditional boxers), elite fighters can now achieve multi million dollar purses and lucrative sponsorship contracts also. In recent times this is perhaps best evidenced by the rise of Connor McGregor who now has an estimated net worth well over $100 million. His stardom has also allowed him to branch out into his own business areas including a line of whiskey which could well grow into a hundred plus million dollar business in and of itself.
UFC as an organisation took initial steps to introduce more concise, clear and strict rules to the sport which have since been adopted world wide. Some of the most notable ones introduced includes:
- MMA fights will take place in a ring or fenced “cage” area (an eight sided cage commonly called ‘the octagon’).
- Padded, fingerless gloves should be worn when fighting.
- No head gear is to be worn.
- No shoes are to be worn.
- Opponents may punch, strike, kick or wrestle/grapple from a standing position or on the ground.
- No head butting.
- No eye gouging.
- No biting.
- No hair pulling.
- No hits or kicks to the groin/groin area.
- No downward elbow strikes.
- No striking the spine.
- No back of the head strikes/hits.
- No kicking or kneeing of the head when the opponent is on the ground.
A trained referee is to be present and observing all fights to ensure rules are adhered to and sanction the offending fighter when they are broken. In severe breaches of the rules (or multiple instances), the referee can disqualify a fighter, calling an end to the bout.
Regulation and Standardisation
In the USA, MMA started to be regulated by the same organisations/bodies that govern the sport of traditional boxing. This includes the Nevada State Athletic Commission and also the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. These regulations also introduced some standardisation which could then be adopted by international bodies when it came to organising MMA fights.
One very important standardisation introduced was weight classes. This better allowed anyone looking to organise a fight to match opponents more effectively. Although it is important to note that these weight classes can vary depending on the area and organisation organising the bout. Officially the UFC recognises 9 weight classes in male competitions:
- Strawweight – 115lbs/52KG.
- Flyweight – 125lbs/57KG.
- Bantamweight – 135lbs/61KG.
- Featherweight – 145lbs/66KG.
- Lightweight – 155lbs/70KG.
- Welterweight – 170lbs/77KG.
- Middleweight – 185lbs/84KG.
- Light Heavyweight – 205lbs/93KG.
- Heavyweight – 265lbs/120KG.
- Not officially recognised but widely acknowledged as a weight class is the Super Heavyweight for fighters above 265lbs/120KG+.