Although Mixed Martial Arts just gained strong popularity in the modern sports and exercise world ten short years ago, the initial roots of this combat sport and training equipment date back to the days of the ancient Greek Olympics.
As you'll see ahead, the evolution of MMA goes back a long time, but more importantly, it continues to evolve to this day.
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Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts
Today, mixed martial arts combat is considered to be directly related to Japanese Shootfighting and Brazilian Vale Tudo arts.
In the early 1990s, when the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) became big in the the U.S., Europe and throughout the Western world of sports, safety rules, timed fighting and referees were introduced so ensure that MMA would grow as a healthy, legitimate sport.
No longer would a karate expert face a wrestler in the modern fighting arena. Now, all participants are trained in multiple types of combat sports and are getting tougher and tougher to outsmart and defeat.
At this point in time, you’ve probably given up on trying to shield yourself from the attention that mixed martial arts is getting in our society, but this wasn’t always the case. Only recently has this sport gained popularity and recognition. Let’s take a look at how we got here.
The Origin of Mixed Martial Arts
Back in 1993 a TV critic by the name of Howard Rosenberg coined the term mixed martial arts in his review of the 1st ever UFC broadcast that took place in Denver, Colorado.
Promotion wise, it wasn’t until 1995 that the term was used to promote an event, it was Rick Blume who was the president and CEO of Battlecade Extreme Fighting which used it for promo purposes not long after UFC 7. Beforehand the sport was described with “ultimate fighting” and “no hold barred” fighting terminology.
It wasn’t until the UFC 17 meeting that the term “MMA” was officially proposed by two popular UFC referees, essentially in response to the negative rep the sport was getting by using the other names. The debate continues, however, as to who truly came up with the name.
MMA’s Link to Ancient Greece
This specialized type of fighting started out as a sport known as “pankration,” formed by combining the Greek words of “pan” and “kratos,” translating as “all powers.” In Greece, this hand-to-hand contact sport had just two rules. There could be no eye gouging and no biting. Successful fighters gained the status of legendary heroes.
This was the MMA of the old days when people were togas and robes. The sport continued on throughout history, as the Greeks passed it on to the Romans, and a Greco-Roman version of wrestling continued on to modern day as well.
Regulation of MMA
Kickboxing rules, already in adaptation, helped mixed martial arts immensely when it came time to regulate the sport. When the first regulated MMA event took place in Mississippi back in 1996, the rules proposed and eventually used mimicked those of the already established kickboxing rules used by most states.
A key moment in MMA regulation occurred in the year 2001. This is when the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, NJSACB for short, held a meeting to consolidate all the different rules and regulations that were out there for this growing sport.
Ultimately, the rules adopted by the NJSACB prevailed as the standard and official rules for pro MMA events across the United States. These rules became known as the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, they came into effect by going through a unanimous decision in the Association of Boxing Commissions.
Modern Day MMA
Mixed martial arts has come a long way as you can tell by the coverage it is getting and all of your friends talking about the next UFC event. Below are some of the ways MMA has become the norm in our society.
- Promotions: There are literally hundreds of MMA promotions out there around the world, all producing mixed martial arts events. UFC is the most recognized company and no one even comes close to them. The UFC set the highest gate in Toronto sports even history at $12,075,000 in 2011.
- MMA Gyms: Most notable impact MMA has had on our world is evidence by the emergence of omnipresent MMA Gyms across the nation and world for that matter. Currently the top 10 MMA gyms in the world have been ranked; prestige is determined by how many top ranked UFC fighters train there.
- Media: Websites covering the sport have emerged from all corners, websites such as Sherdog.com, MMAfighting.com, and the official UFC.com rank as the top sites in terms of traffic received. But there are literally tons of websites, MMA YouTube channels, forums, and MMA blogs covering the next event and debating prior ones.
The Development of Fighting Styles in MMA
As with anything else, competition breeds evolution and eliminates the inferior styles. Thus, in the mixed martial arts world, the combat-effectiveness of various styles has been tested over the years.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pretty much dominated mixed martial arts in the early 90’s in the US. this is because the style was superior in submission based techniques, which posed a challenge to those who trained Karate, Boxing, and/or Kickboxing all their life and weren’t as used to grappling.
As any professional fighter with the aim of becoming the ultimate fighting machine would realize, you have to work on your weaknesses. So the striking focused fighter began working on their submissions and the grappling fighter in turn worked on their striking abilities.
This cross-training of fight styles bred multidimensional well-rounded fighters that we see today. It is not common in modern-day to see a fighter choose only striking or only grappling as their fighting style, as the chances of success are increased by combining the two.
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Common Mixed Martial Arts Fighting Disciplines
Popular fighting disciplines can primarily be categories into these three groups: Striking, Clinch, and Ground.
- Striking discipline is trained towards stand-up fighting. Think boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and sports of that nature.
- Clinch is more wrestling and takedowns based. Throwing your opponent around is the key to this discipline. Think judo and Sambo.
- Ground style is all about having position while you are on the ground and controlling the fight from there. Submission and defending submissions is the primary focus of training in this discipline. Think Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Boxing is used in MMA by every fighter. It is the foundation base for striking an opponent in MMA. It’s how, for the most part, fighters get knocked out, as it counts for the greatest percentage of KO’s. Important boxing elements fighters need to work on is combos, footwork, and defensive techniques.
Legs, knees, elbows, and fists, give this style the name “art of eight limbs.” Probably the most popular discipline taught in mixed martial arts, as it serves as the foundation for striking. Muay Thai is very versatile, and this is very popular among fighters. Long range, short-range, close combat, throwing and holding your opponent are some of the elements this style offers.
As mentioned above, this style ruled the MMA world in the 1990’s due to its superior grappling techniques. It deserves credit for shining light on the importance of on the ground fighting. Mainly because with this style you can take down and submit much larger opponents, which looks impressive on camera and is a true art delightful to watch.
Ground grappling and standing grappling, Judo does it both, with superiority. Some of the most notorious fighters in UFC history are Judo masters. Most notably, Anderson Silva, considered by many to be the greatest UFC fighter of all time, holds a black belt in Judo. As well as the other all-time-best contender Fedor Emelianenko.
Freestyle wrestling, previously mentioned Greco-Roman wrestling, and American Folk style are the most common types encountered in the mixed martial arts industry. This style has earned its respect in the MMA world due to many fighter exhibiting their skill sin it and coming out on top.
Wrestling is most important for critical takedowns, lower body takedowns in particular.
Karate is traditionally known to us as the core foundation for its sister sport, kickboxing. Karate’s specialty is in striking, therefore any fighter working on improving their striking ability is encouraged to dabble and study Karate.
Many notable fighters have practiced and continue to practice various Karate styles. Most notably, George St-Pierre who practices Kyokushin.
Some of the most famous and successful fighters in the MMA sports history have a deeply rooted background in Taekwondo. Anderson Silva, previously mentioned as one of the greatest fighters of all time is a 5th dan black belt.
In one of his books, Silva admits that Taekwondo was instrumental in his forming of his fighting style early on in his career.
Throughout the sports history it is not uncommon to see a fighter use Chinese martial arts in a fight. Cung Le, who is the most popular and widely known fighter to use this style, defeated Ken Shemrock and Rich Franklin with it.
Both of them were former UFC champions. Sanshou incorporates striking and stand up takedowns.
Techniques Utilized In Mixed Martial Arts
Different fighters adapt different strategies to suit their mental view of fighting. This is the true beauty of the sport, fighters have different philosophies on what works and what doesn’t and are willing to put it to the test in the octagon.
Generally speaking, however, all of their strategies can be placed into two groups, the striking techniques, and the grappling techniques groups. Even though a fighter may prefer one over the other, nowadays, they must train both in order to be an effective, versatile, and worthy opponent.
This style tends to avoid ground fighting at all costs if it can. Fighters using this style use sprawls to avoid being brought down to the ground by an opponent. Typically, these fighter come from a striking discipline such as Karate and/or Kickboxing.
This is not to say that these fighters do not train in wrestling styles, they have to! In order to avoid being taken down and continue fighting with their preferred style. Mirko “Crocop” Filipovic is a good example of a fighter who successfully and continuously used this style to notoriety.
Just as the name suggests, this style is all about getting your opponent on the ground, jumping on top of them and then pounding away at them with your fists and/or elbows. This is called obtaining a dominant grappling position. Submissions typically follow this maneuver.
The goal is to pound on your opponent until they present you with an opening into a submission move; either that or an opening to knock them out. It’s not a traditional style by any means, but it is too effective for any fighter to pass up; so it is common place in UFC nowadays.
To most fans dismay, however, as it is considered to be the most boring style in a lot of cases.
Fighters utilizing this style too much have been criticized and accused of being afraid of stand up fighting and simply stalling fights. The devil’s advocate view is that it is up to the downed fighter to get out of it and back on their feet.
This technique entails grounding your opponent by way of throwing them or using some takedown move, then going in for the kill by getting them to submit, using a submission maneuver.
Submissions are a very popular technique and were popularized early on by Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie, who utilized them successfully to attain MMA titles.
Score Oriented Fighting
Essentially, you takedown your opponent for points. This technique is popular among fighters with a strong wrestling background and who are superior takedown experts. They will take down the opponent, get the points on the judges’ score card, and typically allow the opponent back up; and repeat.
Additionally, score oriented fighters aim to land perfect clear punches. To be a successful score oriented UFC fighter, one must be very skilled at avoiding punches and takedowns.
Clinch Fighting Style
Clinching your opponent is about keeping them close to you, not allowing them ample room for striking distance. Typically, an MMA fighter using this style will pull in their opponent, preventing them from backing away, while pounding at them with knees, elbows, punches, and stomps.
This technique is used to control and neutralize an opponent, but when used successfully it can also be a stepping stone for a takedown and/or submission. Fighters who use this style to slow down their opponents and drain their endurance into later rounds are called MMA grinders.
MMA Injuries and Safety Concerns
One would have to be delusional to go into mixed martial arts without realizing that they will get hurt at one point or another. It’s no surprise then, that the injuries in MMA outpace all other combat sports, given the popularity and increase in participants over the years as well.
Let’s break it down and jump into the statistics that continue on outside the octagon.
Rates of Injury in MMA
Recent data, analyzed by looking at the available MMA injury stats, listed the injury rate for MMA fighters at almost 229 injuries per 1,000 fights. Other combat sports, such as Judo, is at 44 injuries per 1,000 fights; nearly 5 times less the rate of MMA.
Professional boxing comes the closest, with 118-250 injuries per 1,000 boxing matches.
Another common thing MMA has with boxing, injury and safety wise, are the injury patterns. Interestingly, MMA injury patterns are unlike those of Taekwondo and Judo. Between 66.5-78% of reported injuries, are head injuries! Followed by wrist/hand injuries, which are at 6 -12%.
Most common types of injuries are laceration, fracture, and concussions.
Mental Health Concerns
Dr. Charles Bernick of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Rouvo Center for Brain Health is doing an ongoing study on 109 professional boxers and MMA fighters. The preliminary results of his study showed significant memory loss and alertness in fighters who spend more than six years in the ring.
More importantly, Dr. Bernick has released a statement saying that studying the more frequent jabs, or lesser blows, will probably lead greater results than studying concussion that take place infrequently.
To date, MMA has produced seven known fatalities. Two of which occurred between 2007 and 2010. On October 20, 2007 in Houtson, Texas Vince Libardi fought Sam Vasquez. Libardi knocked out Vasquez in the third round; Vasquez subsequently collapsed and had to undergo two surgeries to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Unfortunately, shortly after the second surgery, he suffered a fatal stroke. The second unfortunate event was that of a 30-year old fighter by the name of Michael Kirkham, who never regained consciousness after being knocked out; and being officially declared dead a few days after the fight.
For those interested in pursuing a career in MMA, it is extremely important to take into consideration the injury rates, types, and mental health concerns.
Are You Ready to Rumble!?
MMA is an exciting, challenging sport and a healthy athletic activity that is ideal for staying limber, agile, fast-moving and fit. At the present time, there are more MMA gyms, camps and training programs in the U.S. than there are martial-arts classes and studios.
Well-trained MMA fighters of all ages are engaging in supervised physical combat today. As long as you use the right MMA clothing, protective gear and accessories that are recommended by experienced coaches and experts, you will enjoy continued success in dynamic, satisfying and safe MMA combat.
Before venturing into the world of mixed martial arts, you should consult with your doctor about any medical issue you have, that you may not have been aware of. The sport is extremely intense and competitive, and any/all medical issues should be cleared with a licensed doctor before stepping into the ring.
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