Article by London Fight Factory
MMA is currently the fastest growing sport of this century. Coming from humble beginnings, professional mixed martial arts has become a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. This comes as a surprise to some, but fighting is literally part of human history and genetics.
The MMA of yesteryear
Recordings of wrestling can be found in the remains of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilization. Stone carvings detailing wrestling techniques and holds that are still used in modern times have been discovered in tombs. The skulls of humans are even theorized to have developed to better deal with pugilism.
It’s well documented that through human history combat sports have been used to keep warrior sharp in peacetime and entertain the masses. Wrestling in some form or fashion is the sport of choice for many cultures. The most famous example that closely resembles modern mixed martial arts in Greek pankration.
Pankration was introduced into the Greek Olympiad and many hail it as the clear predecessor of modern MMA. Having developed from a military combat style, pankration was adapted to use strikes with the hands and feet as well as wrestling and grappling techniques. In competition, there were fewer rules than modern MMA and competitors were routinely injured.
The Greek empire fell but wrestling remained in Europe. It became a way to compete and entertain for carnival performers. A Frenchman created “flat hand” style wrestling. This was later to become Greco-Roman as it spread across Europe.
Europe as a whole fell in love with flat hand wrestling, but the British weren’t too keen. This lead to the development of “catch-as-catch-can” or catch. This form of wrestling would be developed into modern freestyle as it caught on globally.
As the carnival wrestlers grew tired of getting injured in real contests, they began upping the theatrics and scripting wins and losses. This was the birth of professional wrestling. Around this time a young Judo prodigy was making his way to Brazil to join a Japanese colony.
A tale of two styles
As professional wrestling picked up, it’s top practitioners became national stars and heroes. The Gracie family was following a similar track by challenging all fighting styles in Vale Tudo competitions in their native Brazil. A meeting between professional wrestling and Gracie Jiu Jitsu was bound to happen eventually.
Style vs style matchups were the trend and after athletes like Antonio Inoki fought Muhammad Ali, the spectacle was reaching a fever pitch. A wrestler from Japan issued a challenge to a young Rickson Gracie. He was ignored until he decided to pull a media stunt by flying to Brazil to challenge Rickson in his gym. The challenge didn’t end well.
Rickson had made an enemy of the Japanese pro wrestling community with his win and was invited back to compete in the first Pride Grand Prix. This event was the initial spectacle that sparked the mixed martial arts takeover. He won and continued to do so and his relative Royce Gracie had in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship earlier on.
While the UFC came before Pride FC, legal trouble in the states made Pride the event until Pride closed. The UFC was bought by Zuffa and began it’s path to becoming the number one mixed martial arts franchise today.