History had forgotten that wrestlers had done very well in past mixed martial arts matches. Besides, much had changed. Further, the mainstream United States had almost no idea whatsoever about the Gracie’s vale tudo exploits in Brazil. Which led to the following age-old question: which martial arts style was most effective?
That was the question that the original UFC competition and founders Art Davie, Robert Meyrowitz, and Helio Gracie’s son, Rorion, set out to answer on November 12, 1993. The event, which pitted eight fighters against one another in a single elimination, one day tournament, was seen on pay per view and came to the masses live from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.
The tournament had few rules (including no decisions, time limits, or weight classes) and fighters in it with a variety of martial arts backgrounds. Brazilian Jiu-Jisu (Royce Gracie, son of Helio), Karate (Zane Frazier), shootfighting (Ken Shamrock), Sumo (Telia Tuli), Savate (Gerard Gordeau), kickboxing (Kevin Rosier and Patrick Smith), and professional boxing (Art Jimmerson) were all represented. In sum, the event ended up showcasing Gracie Jiu Jitsu, as Royce defeated three fighters via submission in less than five minutes combined to take home victory. A total of 86,592 spectators witnessed his dominance via pay per view. In fact, the 170 pound Gracie won three of the first four UFC tournaments, proving in the eyes of many that his style of fighting was king.
Interestingly, Royce was chosen by the Gracie family to compete in the competition because of his diminutive size. Given this, if he won—which the family believed that he would— then the Gracies felt there would be no choice but to accept Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as the greatest fighting art in the world.
The UFC and MMA Blackout
The founders of UFC competition, particularly Rorion Gracie, believed that MMA should be conducted with fewer rules to make it more lifelike. Thus, groin strikes, headbutts, and pulling hair were allowed. However, when senator John McCain came across the event, one that he labeled “human cockfighting,” he worked hard and successfully to get it banned from pay per view and sanctioning in many states. This MMA blackout resulted in the UFC almost going bankrupt. Further, it allowed Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships, a now defunct organization, to rise up and become popular. Along with this, many former UFC fighters, including Royce Gracie, went to fight for them.
Since the blackout, MMA and the UFC have instituted rules designed to help their appeal in the United States. Gone are the days when headbutting, hair pulling, and striking to the groin were legal. Along with this, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta bought the failing UFC in 2001. They formed Zuffa as the parent company of the organization and appointed Dana White as president. Frank’s ties to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, of which he was once a member, helped him to get the UFC sanctioned in Nevada once again (along with the rules changes). With that and the return of pay per view, the sport began to make a resurgence.
In 2005, the organization aired The Ultimate Fighter Reality television show (TUF) for the first time on Spike Television. Competitors on the show (up and coming fighters) trained in a house together with either Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell as coaches. Then they fought in a single elimination style tournament, with the winner set to receive a six figure UFC contract. The light heavyweight battle between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar during the show’s finale is widely considered to be one of the greatest MMA fights in history. What’s more, the show and the fervor with which Bonnar and Griffin went at each other, is often given substantial credit for boosting MMA’s popularity.
MMA Today and Female MMA Competition
Though the UFC is still by far the gold standard organization when it comes to the sport of MMA, there are many other organizations out there. Some of the more popular are Affliction, Strikeforce, and the WEC. Further, MMA is seen on television regularly and enjoys excellent pay per view buy numbers, especially via the UFC.
Interestingly, the now defunct EliteXC organization made history when their event EliteXC: Primetime became the first MMA event to be put on major American network television. The organization also did a lot to help the growing interest in female MMA, by broadcasting female MMA matches on both CBS and Showtime. In fact, one of the organizations’ big draws was the ever-popular Gina Carano.
Basic Goals of MMA
Depending on the MMA organization, the rules of mixed martial arts combat may be slightly different. Regardless, MMA is a sport where combatants attempt to either defeat their adversary via stoppage (submission or (T)KO) or by decision. Decisions are rendered by judges and are based on the criteria of winning the fight.
Characteristics of MMA
MMA matches are characterized by the variety of martial arts styles it draws from. Specifically, matches often go through a variety of scenarios including stand up fighting (punches, clinch work, knees, kicks, and elbows), throwing or takedowns, and ground fighting (ground control, submissions, and submission defense).
Since MMA fighters come from a variety of backgrounds, their training regimens do differ. However, all successful MMA fighters must train to fight both on the ground and on their feet. Further, most practice submission fighting, wrestling, and kickboxing to a significant degree due to their past effectiveness in competition.
Another very important aspect to MMA training is conditioning. MMA fighters must be in outstanding shape to fight for what sometimes amounts to 25 minutes over five rounds.
Some Martial Arts Styles That Contribute to MMA
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
- Kung Fu
- Russian Sambo
- Russian Sambo
- Tae Kwon Do
Some Popular MMA Fighter Biographies