The More Distant History of MMA
In a sense, all martial arts styles and therefore martial arts history in general has led up to what we now refer to as MMA. Along with this, those that practice fighting techniques have been testing their skills against one another likely before history even began to be recorded. Still, Greek Pankration, a fighting event that became a part of the Olympic Games in 648 B.C., is the first documented full contact, few rules combat competition in history. Pankration events were known for their brutality; even more so were the Etruscan and Roman pancratium events that sprouted from it.
More recently, there have been many examples of full combat fights designed to measure one style against another. One of the more notable occurred in 1887 when then heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan took on Greco-Roman wrestling champion William Muldoon. Muldoon reportedly slammed his adversary to the canvas in just a couple of minutes. Reinforcing this, many other reported matches between famous strikers and grapplers also took place in and around this time, with grapplers often demonstrating a significant advantage over their striking or stand up fighting counterparts.
Interestingly, MMA style competitions also sprouted up in England in the late 1800’s via Bartitsu events. Bartitsu pitted Asian and European fighting styles against one another. The inclusion of the Asian fighting styles made them somewhat unique for the time period.
In the early 1900’s, full contact combat with mixed styles began happening in a variety of places. However, there were two spots that were perhaps more noticeable and noteworthy. First, there was vale tudo in Brazil, which began in the early 1920’s. In sum, vale tudo was born of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Gracie family. The history behind this is noteworthy enough when it comes to MMA to go into it further.
In 1914, a Kodokan Judo master by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda taught Brazil’s Carlos Gracie (Gastao Gracie’s son) the art of judo in appreciation of his father’s help with business in the country. This was an amazing turn of events as the Japanese tended to hide jujutsu and judo from the western world. From there, Carlos’s youngest and smallest brother Helio, refined the art that had been taught to Carlos into one that used less strength and more leverage in order to suit his more diminutive frame.
What came of this was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a grappling art that taught practitioners how to utilize joint locks and choke holds to their advantage on the ground. In addition, one of Helio’s major accomplishments was in refining how fighters could compete from their backs utilizing a technique called the guard.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu performers did exceptionally well in mixed style vale tudo matches in Brazil, one of which was Helio Gracie.
In addition, there were mixed martial arts matches being put on by Antonio Inoki in Japan in the 1970’s. One of these took place between Inoki himself and famed heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali on June 25, 1976. In reality, it appears that this 15 round draw, which netted Ali six million dollars and Inoki two million dollars, was staged. Further, several rules were put into place to help Ali just before the fight went off (including a rule that only allowed Inoki to kick if one of his knees were down). However, the match certainly generated a lot of interest in mixed style competitions.
Eventually, all of this led to the first UFC event in 1993.